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‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’ is both morally repugnant and a dull chore

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Tom Clancy's "The Division." (UbiSoft)

Tom Clancy’s “The Division.” (UbiSoft)

Every work of art, regardless of the creator’s intentions, has a set of beliefs, outlooks and ideologies embedded in its text. Video games, from “Call of Duty’s” celebration of American militarism to the snide consumerist satire of the “Grand Theft Auto” series, have never been exempt from this rule.

Games that force the audience to become an active participant (as opposed to the passive observer of cinema) deserve better than what AAA developers have reduced them to: celebrations of juvenile carnage and meathead gun porn.

That we are conditioned to judge a game’s merit solely on how “fun” it is demonstrates the utter failure on the part of both consumer and critic to engage with games in a meaningful way. When we view art from such a reductive perspective, it becomes easy to see why most mainstream video games have such a rigid, retrograde adherence to the status quo.

Thankfully, if “fun” is the sole factor that informs our judgment of video games, then “Tom Clancy’s The Division” fails on that front alone. Yet once one examines the moral odiousness of what the game chooses to condone, and, furthermore, what it compels the player to revel in, it demands further examination. Once that lens is applied, it becomes clear that “The Division” is little more than another example in a long list of generic, cover-based third person shooters that uncritically endorse fascism.

“Tom Clancy’s The Division” (though given that Clancy died only shortly after the game’s announcement, his involvement in the project seems minimal) sets itself in a paint-by-numbers dystopian universe devastated by a plague of smallpox. Though the American government has collapsed and civilization has fallen to pieces, you, the player, must “protect what remains.”

As part of the titular “Division” – an elite force of sleeper agents inexplicably trained for this highly specific scenario – you act as a government agent meant to defend private property from the “looters” that seek to defile it. Who is the main enemy that the game requires you to kill without remorse? Desperate poor people.

Based on the premise alone, the developers seem like the type of people who would look at Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent comment and applaud. In an instance of wretched dehumanization, the game clads its hoard of indistinguishable enemies in hoodies so that killing them becomes all the more easily stomached. This type of content would appear out of place in even the most jingoistic Michael Bay movie. Here though, such reprehensibility seems par for the course, and that fact casts a truly damning light on modern video games.

Imagine yourself a mercenary hired to defend private property from lower-class citizens of New Orleans, rendered desperate and hungry in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Imagine yourself hailed a hero as your body count nears the thousands. This frame of mind is one that “The Division” unapologetically sanctions. This mercenary is our hero. It salivates over its commitment to authoritarianism, and views your enemies – people who simply wish to survive – as vermin that beg for extermination.

There is no subversion or moral framing that justifies these grievous acts à la “Spec Ops: The Line.” Every time you commit an act of evil, every time you pepper a faceless non-player character with lead, the game assuages any moral misgivings you might have as it assures you that it is all for the greater good. We are in the right, the game says, because we are blessed with the most “stuff.” The weak are meat that the strong eat, and all resistance to these power dynamics must be stamped out of existence.

Even if one were to excuse the game’s adoration of mass slaughter (and given the uncritical mindset of most gamers, I doubt this hurdle will be a problem for them), I fail to see how one could derive enjoyment from such basic schlock. When enemies shoot at you, you hide behind cover. Then, when the opportunity arises, you shoot at them. This is the game, ad infinitum.

Given that “The Division” has broken sales records, it seems clear that lack of mechanical innovation is not so much an encumbrance, but a quality to be desired. There is comfort in the familiar I suppose, and if “The Division” refuses to challenge the status quo on a moral plane, it fits that it refuses to innovate on a technical level either.

Rampant fetishization of gear is on full display. The game rewards your acts of genocide with more mods, more guns and more “stuff.” One-fourth of the game will likely be spent with your eyes glazed over a hideous, cluttered crafting screen. You kill so that you can get cool upgrades, and you get cool upgrades so that you can kill some more.

Stray dogs populate the streets of “The Division.” They don’t attack you. You can’t pet them. You can’t play fetch. You can gun them down if your heart desires it, though. This mentality is what “The Division” cherishes – one where the only the form of interaction manifests through violence. Here exists a video game that spits on the plight of the marginalized and sees compassion as a greater plague than the smallpox that drives its plot.

Nate Taskin can be reached at [email protected]

About the Writer
Nate Taskin, Assistant Arts Editor
Current media is way too hooked on past glories and it’s part of a wider toxic cultural mentality.
11 Comments

11 Responses to “‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’ is both morally repugnant and a dull chore”

  1. James on March 28th, 2016 4:23 am

    If you actually allow the story to progress, one finds that it is actually quite critical of fascisim and the absolute power given to the division agents, where you as the player have to unravel a mess caused by rouge division agents working with the PMCs

  2. Allan on March 28th, 2016 4:48 pm

    I have to say, after reading this article. I disagree on all points. I think it is fun game and challenging. The dark zone area could be nerved a little bit.
    My knee jerk reaction to your article is that it is your opinion and not review. And there is clear cut line between the two.

  3. rachel on March 28th, 2016 4:51 pm

    Why is this on the front of the website?? It’s funny I’m glad I saw this article because I’ve wanted to read the news and be informed of current events, receive impartial,factual reporting into what happened and be aware. This article makes me realize it will never happens; journalism is dead.

  4. D on March 28th, 2016 4:52 pm

    James, you’re assuming Nate here actually played The Division as anything other than something to be outraged by. The only political ideology on display here is his own.

    No, Nate. Not everything is political. Art can stand on it’s own without a political message behind it and insisting otherwise belies your own agenda. You attach some form of ideology, no matter how disingenuous or contrived, in order to use it as a vehicle to push your own.

    When you are conditioned to judge everything on a political spectrum in relation to your “virtues”, then have utterly failed as a critic. You only demonstrate how incapable you are of analyzing a piece objectively, of looking beyond your own political lens. You have blinded yourself to the merits of anything that does not align with your ideology. You are an ideologue.

    You’re complaining that people are downtrodden in an admittedly dystopian society, that a violent game is indeed violent, that people are shot in a shooter, and that there is a wide selection of gear in a game with a loot system. You have zero arguments of merit, only pearl-clutching and finger-wagging.

    But above all, the fact that you use this game’s less than sunshine and rainbows setting as a way to judge the developers as dehumanizing, morally bankrupt individuals shows your own hypocrisy.

  5. Academia on March 28th, 2016 5:32 pm

    I came across this article looking to see whether or not I should buy this game and I appreciate your thoughts. I can see that you have considered this game critically and make your points effectively, but I think you need to reconsider the position in which you dole out criticism.

    To begin with, a little background on why I should believe your authority on the game would be helpful. What games have you played that avoid these cliches – better reflect the gaming industry’s capacity for innovation – and provide an experience that isn’t just another third person shooter? As a reader I would love to hear what your solution and game preferences would be instead of just the moral problems in The Division. The article comes off as an opinion on the “absolute truth” regarding the criticism of shooters. Think about it…is it actually a person’s responsibility to view a video game through a moral lens?

    Also, your beginning statement about “art” does not provide you the opportunity to dismiss the creator’s intention. In fact it undermines the good analysis you provide throughout the rest of the article. True intention means everything in the context of a creator, and it must be considered if available. If nothing else, perhaps their reasons behind the inclusion of fascist under-tones will better inform your opinions. What if the team that created this game wanted to provide a doomsday scenario with faceless, racially charged killing as an example of our broken justice system rather than a vote for its perpetuation. Too far? Probably…but the point is that the creator’s opinion matters…and no less than yours by the way!

    Lastly, some “art” is not for everyone, so how can you dismiss this game so easily because of its militaristic tendencies? For example, if you prefer realism as opposed to abstract expressionism, that doesn’t make someone else’s preference for abstract art less valid. What about the person who worked all day spending 14 hours “engaging meaningfully” with his job, and just needs to relax for an hour and shoot a few “baddies” to decompress? In that way, this game is perfect for such a person. Tom Clancy’s The Division isn’t about dehumanization, it is a game that others might enjoy for very different reasons.

    Good article, I suggest you think about other perspectives in the future to strengthen your considerations.

  6. Zac Bears on March 28th, 2016 8:05 pm

    Brilliant review, Nate.

  7. Kyael on March 28th, 2016 8:27 pm

    Rather enjoyed the review. Felt like it had plenty to say about a pretty bland game. Anyone who disagrees is just upset that a critic did his job and performed a critque. Relying on ad hominem because you don’t like the ideas presented in it is so boring, much like your silly apocalypse shooter.

  8. Mike on March 28th, 2016 9:27 pm

    This article is nothing more than pretentious drivel. I can’t believe what an extreme light this paints video games in. As everyone else here has said, video games should be judged on the merit of their narrative and design, not according to your biases and political agenda. This isn’t journalism and you’re no journalist, Nate. Hang it up.

  9. Joshua on March 29th, 2016 10:37 am

    Nate, I feel sorry for you, honestly. You can’t enjoy this incredible game because of your personal political beliefs that you project onto a canvas that has been left intentionally open to interpretation. You sound like you are a single player gamer without any friends playing an online co-op multiplayer shooter by yourself. Alot of the things you find fault with and the reasons why – it’s a miracle someone like you likes to play video games, period. Everything you wrote could have been gathered by an extremely opinionated person who has never played the game but seen a commercial or two, or been following its development enough, or dare I say… been on reddit or read someone else’s reviews. There’s nothing in your review that convinces me that you ACTUALLY played this game, outside of a few minutes at most. In fact, it’s not a review at all, it’s an opinion piece. A true review provides opinions, but is backed up by factual information and a desire to be unbiased, what you wrote is so heavily opinionated and distorted through you’re own politics, you come off sounding like you think you are one of the smartest people you know and that anyone who enjoys this game is brainwashed into enjoying the glorification of fascism, racism and violence or is just too stupid to care and that the developers are pushing or promoting these things, where in reality, they absolutely are not. The morality in the narrative does come into play. You would have known this if you actually bothered to complete the video game you were ‘supposedly’ REVIEWING. There’s so much more to The Division than what you speak of, I’m sorry you can’t see it, or get past the political bullshit that keeps you from enjoying it. I love The Division for all the reasons you hate it, and my political leanings are radical center and I’m voting for a democratic socialist, go figure that one out, Nate.

  10. star city on April 25th, 2016 4:43 pm

    this is not a review. its a political opinion. i watched people get lined up and shot on street in the game. if you can excuse things like that because of economic status that is morally repugnant.

  11. that is terrible on April 26th, 2016 4:50 pm

    did you…..really just excuse looting because of of poverty?

    that’s…..more offensive towards the poor than anything. and this is from a guy that was on the street for two years.

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