A recent Twitter post has revealed that Santa Claus will in fact be coming to town, at least in the form of a Battlefield 2042 skin. Some people are — both surprisingly and unsurprisingly — very mad about this. Surprising because…well, it’s Santa, and it’s weird to get mad at a kind old man). But it’s unsurprising because the ever visible (and ceaselessly vocal) hand of the Gamer™ market will always find a new thing to get riled at.
Battlefield 2042’s launch has been anything but smooth. From a mess of technical issues, to a widely dissatisfied playerbase, and its complete overshadowing by Halo Infinite, Battlefield has had a tough go of it these last few weeks. And the hits, sadly, will not stop coming because of the cognitive dissonance inflicted on some gamers by the presence of “Father Winter” in their shooty-game.
Preview of the upcoming weekly mission rewards! ????
— Battlefield Bulletin (@BFBulletin) December 2, 2021
The Battlefield series has always occupied a very strange place in the big-budget first-person shooter pantheon. Call of Duty is competitive, bro-y, and a little playful. Halo is an expressive, often-funny sandbox. Battlefield has tried to be both an extremely self-serious meditation on war and also a cartoon game about 128 GI-Joes throwing themselves out of jets to land sick sniper shots before activating their wingsuits to fly through a building.
The odd tension between the game’s explicit themes and framing devices and its moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t anything new. What is new is that Santa Claus is here, which some gamers seem to see as a bridge too far. I would argue this reaction reveals a total misunderstanding not only of Battlefield, but of the reality of the genre itself.
Battlefield is an action movie in video game form, which extends not only to its combat but the weird bullshit surrounding it. If you’ve seen Die Hard, you’ve seen this dissonance before. Weighty, heavy-handed themes and silly action bullshit are a wonderful, complementary combo. Yes, the movie is about a hostage crisis. It is also about watching one dude do weird, violent shit to many other men, quipping all the way. “Die Hard is a Christmas movie,” has become a common sentiment not only because of the film’s Christmastime setting, but also because of the joyous dissonance inherent to most action films.
The take that Santa Claus doesn’t belong in Battlefield also forgets the importance of emergent comedy in fps multiplayer modes. The mechanics of Battlefield allow you to do stupid, silly shit. The juxtaposition between that stupid, silly shit and the game’s overall tone are part of the joy. Ragdolling corpses are ridiculous and funny and totally unrealistic. Watching someone smack into the side of a building while flying with a wingsuit is funny. Watching a player surf on the hood of a jeep — because all the other seats are filled — is funny.
This is why playing video games with your friends can be more fun than just shooting the shit. Halo Infinite has left me almost cry-laughing, and Battlefield has done the exact same. No matter how seriously you treat a game, you cannot just turn it off. Multiplayer video games are awkward and silly because people are awkward and silly — the media we make is no different.
To use another recent example from Battlefield 2042, you can repair penguins. Because penguins are counted as vehicles, you can use repair kits to weld them back together. This is very funny, totally unintentional, and the reality of how games are made — which leaves you with two options, try to hide your game’s emergent comedy (and fail, because gamers will always find it) or just lean into the ridiculousness of the medium. Battlefield 2042 has clearly chosen the second path, and it isn’t the first time the series has done so either.
In eight months, when you see a single Santa Claus on a team composed of 63 normal-arse soldiers, you will probably laugh for the exact same reason you did when you watched someone throw their gun away and pull a new one from their pocket, while holding the original, empty magazine at the ready. You will have a great time.