What flavor is your social anxiety?  Preppers?  The formerly incarcerated?  Your own neighbors?  Fear not (or fear on?), Tom Clancy’s latest gem has an Other for you.  Each gang in this parallel apocalyptic world represents a particular reductive category, a different repository of stereotypes.  As your cannon fodder, they populate NYC illegally and without the capacity for reason.

 

To continue fleshing out The Division’s worldview is to pantomime the most extreme but nonetheless logical conclusion of Trumpism.  Clancy’s perspective has long been defined by a brand of fear mongering not dissimilar to what the presumptive Republican nominee is peddling.  Isolated from the rest of the world, there’s no choice but to double down on hard power and purge the city’s various malcontents as a system of order is built. The calculation responsible for the operating ‘them and us’ mentality (i.e. The Division’s narrative) is tirelessly refining itself, continually shrinking that circle of inclusion until ‘trust no one’ is all that’s left.

The pervasive subtext running through both the Trump campaign and The Division’s dystopian near future is that this was all inevitable.  The tragedy that beset Manhattan hastened its onset, but the seeds were sowed long ago.  Given the means and opportunity, society’s communal reptilian brain would take over and realize the worst possible atrocities.

And so only the most draconian courses of action are viable; a preemptive mindset is fully warranted.  In other words it’s the perfect backdrop for a shooter.

Shooting nameless baddies is nothing new.  In fact it’s pretty much required if you assume the scale and pacing of a game like this one – there’s not much room for a nuanced expose of all parties involved.  And that’s the key to the problem here.  Other games of similar ilk wouldn’t even bother trying to flesh out their antagonists.  But The Division earmarked an insufficient amount of time to do just that, then promptly squandered it by spreading prejudiced slander far and wide.

As one final parallel between this shooter and Trump's single minded focus, The Division is 100% motivated by collecting loot.  Get that money Donny boy.

As one final parallel between this shooter and Trump’s single minded focus, The Division is 100% motivated by collecting loot.  Get that money Donny boy.

Let’s run down the list of walking charades and their unfortunate real world counterparts. I’ll go ahead and include excerpts from the ‘Ubisoft official’ descriptions as well for each of these goon squads:

 

SHD (Strategic Homeland Division)

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(the ‘honorably superior, do-whatever-it-takes’ types)

[you have one] goal in mind – taking back New York.

That’s right, you play the self-assured moron. Only you possess the moral fiber to indiscriminately kill everyone in front of you. Good luck soldier.

 

Rioters

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(the ‘I need to feed and protect my family’ types)

Citizens, who are always confrontational and are not necessarily part of a well-known faction…. These enemies are low-life criminals, who took advantage of the fall of society to take control of parts of the city.

[Their goal]: Survival by any means

These reprehensible humans do things like loot grocery stores for food and fire on crazy looking people carrying guns (like you) that approach their homes. Shoot first and ask questions later. I wish there was another way, but nope.

 

Cleaners

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(the ‘white, xenophobic, America-left-me-behind’ type)

The Cleaner-faction is made up of former citizens New York’s, who have teamed up after the breakout.  

[Their goal]: Cleanse the city with fire

These are former firefighters, cops, cable guys – the thankless blue color workers that keep NYC going. Their us-versus-them mentality couldn’t be more simplistic. The line between their maxim of purging with fire and the variety of harrowing narratives surrounding ethnic cleansing is so paper thin that it must be intentional.

 

Rikers

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(the ‘all-prisoners-are-rapist-murderer-thieves’ type)

They enjoy their freedom in the ongoing chaos as “Kings of New York”, are extremely violent and loot as much as they can.  Their identifiers: Prison wear, tattoos

[Their goal]: Destructive chaotic threat

Imagine you got busted with drugs on a routine speeding ticket, or you did a stint for not paying your taxes.   In three months you only hope is to keep your head down and eventually get out and get on with life.

So it follows that your premature taste of freedom carries with it the urge to group into a super gang and perpetuate violence for violence’s sake across a whole city of undeserving people, yeah?

 

Last Man Battalion

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(the ‘living proof that PMC’s will murder everyone without remorse’ type)

…this unit has no allegiance to anyone but themselves. The LMB will use any and all means necessary to make sure they make it through the storm, and use their newly formed nation of only the strong to usher in a new world order where only the strong survive.

[Their goal]: Fascist rule

These baddies represent the long disenfranchised vet, drawn away from their fragile  allegiance to the USA and now completely broken over one final profound act of exploitation at the hands of their employer.

And so now they’re maniacally evil to the point that they’d rather stick around to shit on everyone instead of fleeing a virus hotbed? Rather than use their (somehow) equal armaments to the American military to force their way out, they decided to sacrifice their lives to make the world a shittier place?

 

I just can’t think of another game that so systematically embraces typecasting, one that incorporates it into its narrative DNA. Crackdown’s foes were too generically bad guy; inFamous’s corrupted enemies evoked a tinge of pity; GTA, Far Cry, and certainly Saints Row are far too goofy to get caught up on stuff like that; classier games like Oblivion have always endeavored to confront racism intelligently, even if they allowed players to gloss over details.

 

The Division fails to develop as you play through it. As a metaphor for it’s main character’s worldview, the environment never evolves and the dimensions of interaction almost never transcends the duality of ‘stuff happens if you shoot me, you should shoot me’ versus ‘nothing happens if you shoot me, shoot other stuff’.

The Division fails to develop as you play through it. As a metaphor for it’s main character’s worldview, the environment never evolves and the dimensions of interaction almost never transcends the duality of ‘stuff happens if you shoot me, you should shoot me’ versus ‘nothing happens if you shoot me, shoot other stuff’.

A more blithe attitude would have gone a long way here. But the Division takes itself too seriously without bothering to think about how it represents the factions that comprise its world. Couching this offensive worldview in New York just exacerbates the problem: this is the melting pot, the singular vision of equality for the world, Ellis Island, etc etc.

Why focus on this one small aspect of a AAA release? Mediocrity is the culprit behind this trained spotlight – almost no other element of The Division stands out as noteworthy. Establishing a solid experiential loop would have been a great distraction but it just never came together.

As an IV drip of ghostly, impoverished pleasures, this shooter steals other loot-based genre’s least valuable assets. The farce of being a Destiny killer – on its face outrageous for a game itself DOA – The Division never even offers a hint for how that might pan out. It does however continue Tom Clancy’s long, dark march towards total fatalism.

 

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