I’ve been mulling over this post in my head for several days now, and still haven’t formed a clear picture of what I want to say. Rather than continuing to spin on it, we’ll see if putting text to screen makes things more coherent. Here’s hoping.
I love the Division. I hate the Division. It represents a path forward for MMOs that’s been sorely lacking for a decade now. It is chock full of some incredibly high-fidelity, compelling content. It also has content that makes my stomach turn, and it is very clear that it’s doing so intentionally. At times, the game intentionally tries to make me feel uncomfortable, and succeeds.
It manages to be a surprisingly inclusive game, with characters from all walks of life– it’s casually pro-LGBT and has some really great female characters who, from my perspective, feel like powerful women, not just dudes with boobs. One such character is why a friend of mine stopped playing the game. Video games tend not to put women in “lead” roles, either as heroes or villains. In the Division (spoilers to the end of this paragraph), I wound up facing a gang leader who was a black woman, and who, during the fight, hurled a variety of poignant epithets and taunts, one of which commented “oh, so you’re a cop, and you’re going to shoot me because I’m a black woman, is that it?”
It’s a nasty line, and it’s extremely effective. So effective that, like I said, at least one friend of mine up and quit the game right there. It links into my biggest problem with The Division, one that I’ve mentioned on the podcast: it asks questions, but doesn’t give me the ability to answer them. My only solution to a problem is to shoot and kill someone.
The world of the Division is a world of desperate people trying to cling to whatever little they have, and, in the chaos, warlords of various stripes amassing followers and carving out territory. You, as the player, are literally no different– you carve out territory in the name of making it “safe” (for you and yours) and kill anyone who gets in your way. It’s exactly what every other faction in the game is doing, and in-game ambience even spells this out explicitly. There’s a talk radio station that you can listen in on, where a slowly-freaking-out host goes on about your group, the titular Division, and asks if it’s really okay for a bunch of sleeper agents to come in and start using lethal force on whoever looks at them wrong.
As a player, I have no answer to this. My only solution to a problem is to shoot and kill someone.
What I crave in the Division is a dialogue, with the game and with the people in it. I want to be the last bastion of civilization that restores order and peace, not just the successful warlord that managed to kill everyone opposing them. The game makes a number of statements– “desperate times call for desperate measures” and asks if the ends justify the means, but doesn’t give me the ability to think about and answer that question. It uses uncomfortable situations not to open a dialogue, but for shock value. It’s disturbing, and there is no way for me to take a moral high ground or even ideologically defend myself.
At the same time, this is a game that represents what I’ve wanted in MMOs for a while– a richly-detailed world that my friends and I can jump into and have fun playing. An MMO where combat is *fun* and every encounter feels enjoyable and meaningful. A group system that doesn’t adhere to the standard “trinity” roles but has the ability for party members to fill specific niches that they come up with themselves.
I love what the Division represents, I just wish it wasn’t laced with so much stuff that bothers me deeply. As mentioned in the podcast, if I could buy The Secret World set in the Division’s engine and gameplay, I would buy that game yesterday and still be playing it instead of writing this post.
I haven’t been this conflicted about a game in a while. Maybe that’s the dialogue.