“What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.” ~ Tom Clancy
Warning: This post discusses the political ideas presented in the video game ‘The Division.’ If you can’t handle talking about politics and video games at the same time, this is probably a post you should avoid. Otherwise, come on in and let’s discuss.
In The Division you play as an elite government Agent “activated” after the events of Black Friday—the day terrorists release a devastating viral attack on New York City. Since then, the world has begun to crumble, with other major cities hit by the virus.
Before being activated, the Division’s Agents were just normal people living in society secretly. Not even their families knew that they were part of a secret elite force. Division Agents are America’s fail-safe, secret anti-terrorist sleeper cells to call on in the most desperate crisis.
When you, the player, get to the city you pretty quickly stumble upon looters. I came upon two men scavenging what appeared to be a corpse. They registered as bad guys and I started shooting. It turns out that as Division Agents your job is pretty much one thing and one thing only: To go out and kill criminals, looters, and other vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells.
This is peculiar to me. These aren’t enemy forces you’re encountering. These aren’t the terrorists who set the virus into the wild. These are American citizens trying to make it, trying to survive, in a post-apocalyptic world. The government’s response to this is to go kill everything that moves and carrying a gun.
Yes, I know, it’s just a video game. And yes, these bad guys shoot at you also. But if you were an armed US Citizen and you knew that the government was sending elite agents with a license to kill, no questions asked, you’d probably start shooting on sight also. This is no way to broker a peace or “retake” a city in crisis. There’s not even an option to arrest bad guys, or use diplomacy.
Perhaps this is in-line with Tom Clancy’s own hawkish views, and predictable because of them. Clancy’s video games, like his books, tend to filter the world through a black and white lens. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and ultimately the forces of good will triumph over those of evil, if we’re vigilant enough and brave enough and willing to make the hard, but obviously just, choices.
When you’re fighting against terrorists, pulling the trigger is easy. Same when you’re fighting against alien hordes or demons. When you’re going into New York City and shooting guys in hoodies, I find the whole affair a bit more troubling. I’m not saying it’s explicitly racist or that video games either do or must represent the realities of our own world. I’m merely pointing out that the game’s message is fairly clear: The proper response to a crisis of this scale is to send government agents by the drove into the crisis area to take out anyone with a gun. The military itself isn’t enough—we, as players, are constantly flattered by the game’s NPCs who remind us incessantly that if we hadn’t shown up things would have gone very badly—and so special, elite Agents must take the field to kill and ask no questions and take no prisoners.
This is a pretty dystopian vision of a future crisis, one that relinquishes ideals of democracy and human rights in favor of a brash and unthinking militarism. It might make for a fun video game (I’m still playing, still on the fence about that) but it’s a weird glorification of the biggest, most violent sort of government.
When we first signed the Patriot Act into law, many observers rightly worried about what it meant for individual liberty, about the potential advent of a surveillance state. In the intervening years, our police forces have only grown more and more militarized. I don’t want the government to have this kind of power, even in a crisis when most would agree governments sometimes do need to take on a more active and ruthless role at times. The power to kill on sight, to ignore our entire justice system, to wage war against American citizens. That’s not the America of the Founding Fathers, it’s the America of gross authoritarianism.
I’m not saying you play as a bad guy in The Division, but I’m not going to say you’re a good guy either, no matter how many NPCs tell me what a hero I am for killing all these people.
This article was written by Erik Kain from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.