But every few minutes the game reminds me of its worldview and politics.
February 11, 2020 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Games That You Can't Let Yourself Think About [Vice Gaming] “So The Division has become another one of those games where I compartmentalize the experience. Most of the time I am playing a gorgeous open-world shooter with a wintry look that I love year-round. [...] But every few minutes the game reminds me of its worldview and politics (made more pitiful by the ways it assiduously tries to be apolitical). Whenever The Division tries to portray its characters as heroic, their work and mission somehow noble, it’s a tone-deaf travesty. [...] Mind you, there is a lot of media that requires a healthy dose of doublethink or skepticism. But it’s rare that I find something that is such a bifurcated experience, where my feelings only switch between appreciation and outright loathing. This isn’t a game with “problematic” elements. It’s more like a video game Dorian Gray: something beautiful and captivating that, if you glimpse its true nature, is also utterly appalling.”

• The Division 2 and the Severing of Politics from Video Games [The New Yorker]
“According to Ubisoft, The Division 2 is about political dissension in much the same way that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, at Disneyland, is about robbery on the high seas. When one plays the game, which is out on Friday, this claim can seem to break down. The Division 2 opens with a sprint across the South Lawn past insurgent fighters and toward a White House that features charred walls and pocked pillars. You are free to wander inside the Presidential residence, which has been turned into a military base. Then you head out into the surrounding shantytowns, where you find debris, dogs, and homemade banners that read “Where is the aid?” and “Fuck the government.” An assortment of virtual weaponry offers the only conduit through which peace may be restored. [...] Tom Bissell, a writer for several blockbuster video games and a contributor to this magazine, believes that it’s impossible for video-game publishers to distance themselves from politics, especially if a game revolves around guns. “All shooting games are inherently political, because they all put forth a vision of violent force being an acceptable catalyst for change,” he said. “You can contextualize, rationalize, or ignore that subtext as much as you want, but it’s there, inescapably, in every shooter.””
• The Division 2 Is Political, Despite What Its Developers Say [Kotaku]
“The idea that a game about saving the American capital has no political bent would strike anyone as absurd, even if we should not be surprised at Spier’s insistence. This has to do with how our brains process symbols. The various symbols of America—the White House, the American flag, the Washington Monument—have history attached to them. When we see these symbols, we cannot help but recall that history and the emotions they evoke. The American flag is nothing but a piece of cloth, but, depending on the individual, it’s either a symbol of aspirational ideals or the banner of imperial conquest. I don’t think it’s possible to ever completely shy away from that truth. Video games are packed with symbols, all of them evoking different thoughts in players. A withered White House viewed through the eyes of a 2018 gamer might remind them of grift and corruption. It might pluck at patriotic heartstrings.”
• The Division 2's refusal to engage with politics makes it hard to enjoy [Wired]
“Not only is this claim obviously absurd, but by pretending that the game is not political, the developers try to capitalise on the atmosphere of the current landscape – but without any of the baggage. By refusing to engage with any of the issues it so clearly references, The Division 2’s stance, or lack thereof, seems to fetishize civil unrest and societal upheaval, and this makes the game less immersive and less enjoyable. We live in an inescapably political moment in history, and creating art means addressing its context. [...] The game’s advertising has also on several occasions directly referenced current political issues. At the start of February, The Division 2 marketing team sent an email referencing the US government shutdown that was still ongoing at the time (before swiftly apologising). And in the days leading up to the game’s launch, publisher Ubisoft put out a press release written by a fictional Mexican government that announces the immediate construction of a wall across the American border to prevent the waves of refugees spilling into Mexico – an obvious mirror to the real-world situation where the Trump administration is desperate to build a border wall in an attempt to hinder movement across the border the other way.”
• My agent is the scariest part about The Division 2 [Polygon]
“First of all, The Division 2’s character builder allows for some interesting customization. I can only choose between two body types — a generally masculine or feminine frame — but I have multiple categories of tattoos to choose from. I start out by giving my agent a sick neck tattoo of a bird, because that symbolizes freedom or something. It’s apropos. Then, I realize I have the power to give her an arm tattoo of a slice of pizza, and that’s when things start to go off the rails. Here’s the thing. I make each choice about character customization very deliberately, and once I realize that my agent would get a slice of pizza tattooed on her — and I know, in my heart, that I have to go with this option — I have to extrapolate from there. That choice became the anchor of my decisions, and from there came my character, who will serve as my vehicle through Ubisoft and Massive’s carefully crafted world. Austen takes care to note that the tattoos, sunglasses that have absolutely not been scavenged from a corpse, and overall “cop” attitude really lend my character a good air of benevolence. While Austen and I agreed that Charlotte can clearly party, Austen did note that, “If she smelled drugs at a party, she would immediately shoot everyone in the room.””
• The Division 2 – a game with nothing to say but plenty of tactical bumbags [VG24/7]
“At one point, I shoot some men so I can create a fresh water source for an encampment of survivors. This is a world where people don’t have access to water or crops, but everyone has exploding remote control cars. Priorities were pretty messed up when the apocalypse went down. Of course, everyone has the most important thing you need in a survival situation: a gun. “Did you own a gun? Did your neighbour?” the intro asks, definitely not holding up a mirror to the very real gun ownership debate in the US. Multiple factions are vying for control of the city, but all you need to know is that your violence is justified. You are free to wander the city shooting down the bad guys. You are the Sheriff. You know they are bad guys because they scrawl things like “DRUG KITCHEN” in graffiti, with an arrow next to it pointing to their drug kitchen. Some of them have flamethrowers. “Did you own a flamethrower? Did your neighbour?” I ask, genuinely curious because who the fuck has a flamethrower?”
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is the same bullshit that Ubi tried to pull with Far Cry 5. They need to be pilloried until they get the message that political messages don't stop being political messages just because you say they're not.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:46 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


They need to be pilloried until they get the message that political messages don't stop being political messages just because you say they're not.

I mean, yes, and these articles are all amazing, but having played Far Cry 1-5, I would argue that there's actually two schools of thought here. The rational, obvious school of thought, of which we are a part, that a game played with a gun as the ultimate tool of solution making is inherently political because of what the nature of that kind of game says. Then, the business oriented school of thought promoted by Ubisoft, where they cover for how dogshit their story writers are with the fact that none of their characters (read: bad guys) seem to have any kind actually well considered political beliefs as opposed to being shallow caricatures of demagogues. As the one article notes about the sign that conveniently says "Drug Kitchen" and points at a... drug kitchen. These are not things that exist in reality, and as such, they do not exist as any realistic political statement, and so all the characters have these really vague undefined politics that allows them to easily pigeonhole "good guys" vs. "bad guys."

It really comes down to corporate suits being shitheads without critical thinking skills so the deepest they go is how to make is mass marketable, which is hey, to water everything in the story down to its most base and everyman attitudes, and make the good guys and bad guys easily distinguishable through actions and nevermind any philosophical substance to why they commit evil, or why its so good that you, the hero, have a gun to stop them. It's just a shallow, superficial understanding of the whole issue, which doesn't fucking surprise me coming from a corporation.

Long story short they also need to be pilloried for absolutely shit writing. Maybe it's not that they're not purposefully political, but that they're bad writers, or good writers hamfisted by suits who won't let them be thoughtfully political, because money.

Also sidenote I once matched with a girl going to a Digipen-type school where it was all about game design and game making and my English Literature-educated ass thought I was gonna die inside when she legit told me that they taught them to write the most everyman characters possible, because they needed to sell the most units. Fuck individuality or interesting characters, it was all about selling the most units and tailoring the story to that. It legit made me want to die inside and I didn't talk to her much after that (we actually got in a really big argument about it where I defended the value of unique art. It went... badly.). It's a horrible aspect of the entire industry.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:59 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Maybe it's not that they're not purposefully political, but that they're bad writers, or good writers hamfisted by suits who won't let them be thoughtfully political, because money.

That's the core of it - it's shit because they refuse to commit. And I don't think it's just about money, either - Broderism is A Thing, and the interviews I've seen with Ubi devs have shown that they have it bad.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:04 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


That's the core of it - it's shit because they refuse to commit.

I think Broderism unfortunately is a natural side-effect of large groups like corporations, because there is a tendency to want to try to please everyone who is part of the group. Because they aren't all there due to their personal politics, they are at Ubisoft because they need a job. In a corporation that large, there's going to be such a wide array of personal politics that you risk offending a number of employees depending on what political stance you actually commit to. So, in the interest of harmony, they instead choose to not commit.

It's also why small indie games with smaller teams tend to have better, and more politically charged writing. They usually are a smaller group of tight-knit people with similar values to begin with, making a concerted political statement a much easier prospect.

Although then there's stuff like Disco Elysium that had a decently sized team working on it and it got very political in very thoughtful and well written ways.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:10 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


it's shit because they refuse to commit.

These games are the equivalent of summer blockbusters: extremely expensive products that need to sell as many units as possible. They can't take any kind of real-world moral stand because they can't afford to alienate any part of their audience. Whatever artistry this game may have is in its graphics and its gameplay mechanics, not the writing.

(Also: a game about trying to survive in a city overrun by the "heroes" of The Division sounds like it'd be a much more interesting game.)
posted by suetanvil at 2:18 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


I'm just over here playing Cities Skylines, worrying about the pollution levels coming from my industrial zones and trying to decide between roads with bus lanes versus roads with bike lanes. And, maybe there's a mod that will give me a gun to shoot my budget problems?

Anyway, I enjoyed The Division, for the open world exploring aspect, but it got bland and grindy fairly quick. I'd never really thought about the political aspect beyond the obvious surface level stuff, but maybe that's because I don't engage that part of my brain for shoot 'em ups?

Greedfall is an example of a recent game with some questionable political assertions. The reviews that lambasted it the most all seemed to caveat with limited play-time, but having beat the game, I'll just say that any potential message is muddied, at best. Sometimes the absence of clarity is a message itself, though.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 2:59 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


(Also: a game about trying to survive in a city overrun by the "heroes" of The Division sounds like it'd be a much more interesting game.)

Not trying to completely derail but The Boys is a comic/tv series that attempts to kind of play with this idea. It's a bit grim-dark and it's not perfect but if you're interested in something like this, you should consider the comic and the series, it's on Amazon.
posted by Fizz at 3:00 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Tangent: I love games like Rimworld and Stellaris, but the glee with which their fandoms embrace the ability to simulate ever-more-baroque abominations is... troubling.
posted by BS Artisan at 3:29 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to be able to clear the corpses and waste piles from the street. It's been months, can we start doing some clean-up?
posted by nfalkner at 4:03 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I just started playing Stellaris recently after playing Endless Space 2 and I was kind of skeeved out by the bewildering array of policy options there were for oppressing and committing genocide against different species. And this is just after coming from a game where my empire of bloodthirsty ultra-traditional warrior birds who are only made happy by violence and sacrificing people to the gods ended up a bastion of galactic mutliculturalism because my scoutships ended up repeatedly finding bands of refugees - which honestly was great even for bloodthirsty sociopaths. Rapid population increase early on to help build new colonies and populate new planets, and the species in Endless Space 2 each have their own niche specialty: some are good at fighting and defending your colonies, many are specialized to a different type of environment and produce more food or do more research on worlds that are less hospitable to others. And on top of that, if you maintain a certain level of population of a given species, you start getting bonuses for your entire interstellar empire. Put side by side, these game mechanics make very clear statements about whether the game thinks you should consider other species desirable or not.

You can't really say your game doesn't have politics. Maybe you can say the game does intend its politics, but that's really quite a different thing.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:10 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


I'd just like to be able to clear the corpses and waste piles from the street. It's been months, can we start doing some clean-up?
I choose to believe that this is the plot of Bloodborne. It's canon in my head.
posted by Fizz at 4:52 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Since it came up: Far Cry 5 breaks down on issues of basic causal relationships in the main plot. There's simply no reason for the game to turn out the way it does, because that ending has nothing to do with what takes place within the game itself. I fully agree with everything said about Ubisoft trying to blur out the obvious political specifics of the game for the sake of deniability. I'm only shocked that they somehow made even bigger blunders.

And damn it, the main sequence of gameplay is so insanely fun. The shorter quests, the world, the companions, being able to pet critters...all of that was top-notch. I was angry about the sudden dodge on political statements, but then the main plot went the way it did and honestly I'm still not over my disappointment.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:03 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


There's simply no reason for the game to turn out the way it does,

There's one "reason" - Ubi has moved to a "two games out of one" model with Far Cry, where they plan a second followup to come out the next year reusing much of the assets from the first. We saw this first with Far Cry 4/Primal, where the latter reused the map design and other assets from the former.

So in short, Far Cry 5 "had" to have the shitty ending it did, because the next game was in production, and it needed to be tied in.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:25 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


And damn it, the main sequence of gameplay is so insanely fun.

Eh, I dunno, I completed FC3 & 4 but bounced off of 5 (and not for political reasons). I just got fed up with
spoiler being kidnapped every few missions so I could be served a cutscene and (sometimes) forced to fight my way through a corridor shooter. A corridor shooter is absolutely not what I want out of a FC game.

posted by juv3nal at 5:36 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I'd just like to be able to clear the corpses and waste piles from the street. It's been months, can we start doing some clean-up?

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

- "The End and the Beginning" by Wislawa Szymborska (excerpt, translated by Joanna Trzeciak)

(if you're serious about this btw, be sure to check out Viscera Cleanup Detail, not as poetic as above but satisfying in its own way)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:42 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


(if you're serious about this btw, be sure to check out Viscera Cleanup Detail, not as poetic as above but satisfying in its own way)

I got a friend the holiday version of this (where you basically are cleaning Santa's workshop after a Weird Al video was filmed there.) His comment about having to "get elf out of the carpet" made it all worthwhile.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:05 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


a game about trying to survive in a city overrun by the "heroes" of The Division sounds like it'd be a much more interesting game.

I believe you want This War of Mine.
posted by Candleman at 8:49 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


a game about saving the American capital

Not having read the full articles yet nor played the game, I suspect this is a typo and they meant Capitol. I also suspect that it's entirely apt, nonetheless?
posted by eviemath at 9:56 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


the American capital is A, it stands for Americafuckyeah
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:44 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I was going to buy Forgotten Anne around the new year and downloaded the demo. It's totally a game I would like... but I couldn't help but interpret the relationship between Anne (or the main character, if that's not Anne) and the "workers" as that of slavery. Cue some overthinking about whether I was holding myself to too high a standard or feeling like I should not buy the game so I could one day post a comment like this on Metafilter about how principled I am or whatever, and then I eventually realised that, no, I was feeling kind of weird playing it and I wasn't going to buy it. I fully expect to forget this experience and play through the demo again at some future date wondering why I haven't bought this game.

(See also Puerto Rico. Fortunately, Race for the Galaxy is essentially the same game, just with cards. Still inevitably has colonialist overtones but at least you don't have to say "We all know that the small brown 'colonist' cubes are actually enslaved people, right?")
posted by hoyland at 4:11 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


> They can't take any kind of real-world moral stand because they can't afford to alienate any part of their audience.

I thought the point of these articles is that the producers, by making these games in the way that they are, are expressing a moral stand regardless of what they claim in their press liaisons.
posted by ardgedee at 4:52 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Not having read the full articles yet nor played the game, I suspect this is a typo and they meant Capitol. I also suspect that it's entirely apt, nonetheless?

One of your main activities in the Division games is murdering "looters" (and then taking their stuff as well as, hypocritically, the stuff they were "looting"). "Capital" is the right noun.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:13 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I do wish the gameplay wasn't so enjoyable, there is something innately enjoyable about the loop of these types of games: shoot the things, get better gear, level up, get better skills, shoot more things, get better gear, rinse & repeat. It does satisfy this itch of getting stronger, getting better, getting more.

But underneath it all is a a really gross politics and so often what politics are there is very "hand-wavy". You're the "good guys" because you are there to help and the "bad guys" are evil because they're angry and shouting and wearing masks and hate the government and you represent the good part of the government. It's a very childish portrayal of US vs THEM and if you think about it too much, it all falls apart.

Which is why I think so many people just choose not to think when playing these games, because it's easier to just focus on the grind/loot.
posted by Fizz at 5:18 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Also: a game about trying to survive in a city overrun by the "heroes" of The Division sounds like it'd be a much more interesting game.
Oh, yes. A quick look around the web told me that there are 73 armed US federal agencies. 73! In addition there's state and municipal level organizations that employ armed personell. You could have battle your way through the fractions and set them up against each other etc. And in the end you have to confront the worst and baddest. Who? Why, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service of course.

(Guys, you have an armed postal service division! I don't know if it's mostly funny or tragic.)
posted by Harald74 at 5:19 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


But seriously, the amount of "no politics" shooters out there is staggering. One that has not been mentioned yet, but that I wanted to play is Ghost Recon: Wildlands but I could not stomach it being basically Death Squad Simulator: The Game.
posted by Harald74 at 5:22 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


War never changes.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:28 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


One that has not been mentioned yet, but that I wanted to play is Ghost Recon: Wildlands but I could not stomach it being basically Death Squad Simulator: The Game.

It is interesting to note that the games that are directly from the writings & files of Tom Clancy are the ones that game developers assert are the least political. It's laughable because if you've read any of his novels, you figure out what his politics are by the time you're done reading the first paragraph of his novel.
posted by Fizz at 5:28 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Glamorizing force isn’t political because no serious political faction takes the position that force is illegitimate. The right needs it to protect private property. The left needs it to appropriate private property. The center needs it to do both.
posted by MattD at 7:20 AM on February 12


This is an amazing bit of coincidental timing, as I just picked up a copy of The Division 2 for $5. I'm devoting a considerable chunk of the weekend to playing it, so I will be sure to consider these points while I do.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:29 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Glamorizing force isn’t political because no serious political faction takes the position that force is illegitimate.

This assumes it's possible for "force" to meaningfully exist independent of particular actors with particular ends, just floating out there in the ether. My understanding of force and violence has them intimately tied up with the agents enacting then. YMMV
posted by PMdixon at 11:07 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


An adjacent topic is who do you give money to? There are a few things on my Steam wishlist right now that I haven't bought yet simply by virtue of being unable to turn up more info on the developers. In the same way that I'm just not going to buy games with bad politics, I don't want to fund people with the same.
posted by curious nu at 3:46 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I have trouble with shooters set in the present day for this reason. I don't even bother trying these days; something's bound to piss me off.

Put side by side, these game mechanics make very clear statements about whether the game thinks you should consider other species desirable or not

I'd say not that clear. There's an immigrant welcoming path in Stellaris too, which gives huge advantages by allowing early settlement of planets you control but that your starting species can't settle, effectively tripling the 'size' of your empire at the mid-game point. I've played where the "Terran Interstellar Concord" (or whatever) ends up being like 20% Terran and all the leaders, cabinet officials and governors are non-humans.

The fact that there are mechanics for the player to go the opposite route is worth some discussion, but I've always found the idea of 10-20 hours playing like that totally offputting. The main impact on me is that some AI empires end up clearly evil.
posted by mark k at 9:54 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


And now this...

• Fortnite boss Tim Sweeney explains his controversial politics in video games remarks [Polygon]
“Delivering the DICE summit keynote in Las Vegas this morning, Sweeney said that games were a valid medium for making political statements. He referenced Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird as a work of art that contained messages that “makes people think about things.” But he went on to say that ”we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics.” According to a report on Gamasutra, he added: “We have to create a very clear separation between church and state,” and, “there’s no reason to drag divisive topics...into gaming at all.” He also said that game companies “should get the marketing departments out of politics,” according to a report on IGN. [...] Was Sweeney arguing that games companies can make games with political messages, but should not talk about them in any way that recognizes their political content? Seeking to clear up the confusion, Sweeney posted: “If a game tackles politics, as To Kill a Mockingbird did as a novel, it should come from the heart of creatives and not from marketing departments seeking to capitalize on division.””
posted by Fizz at 4:46 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Sweeney could be so awesome if he wasn't constantly contradicting himself and proving his only real value in life is making money.

"I want video games to be more open."

Refuses to support Linux, is even cancelling previous support for Linux after they bought Rocket League. (I played the hell out of RL in Linux for two years.)

Spends boatloads of money to get timed exclusives on his platform.

Also this is the studio behind Gears of War, so literally they're a centerpiece for the original article because Gears is about the worst of the worst "non political" shooters.

So why should I listen to a damn word Sweeney says again as if he's not saying to enrich himself and not actually practice what he preaches?

People might shit on Valve for not giving a bigger cut of profits to Devs, but Valve has never asked me to pay a dime for all the work they did on Proton or Linux. Valve spent a shitload of resources on those things without any plan to make profit from it, for the purpose of making gaming more open. And as a Linux user, that matters to me. And Sweeney taking that away from me, well... doesn't seem very open to me.
posted by deadaluspark at 7:11 AM on February 13


Refuses to support Linux

The market for linux games is not big enough to support releasing games on linux. It has nothing to do with openness or with linux as an OS (even though the graphic stack is not really that great) but everything to do with high level of support work necessary vs the number of people willing to buy games to run on linux. Even with a stadia port (which runs on linux), it's unlikely you'll see many linux games.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 5:48 PM on February 13


Interesting how Valve manages to support Linux, then.

You can justify it with economics all you want, the point is that Sweeney doesn't actually care about openness in gaming.
posted by deadaluspark at 5:49 PM on February 13


Valve tried to do its own console ecosystem and they had no choice to use Linux since they didn’t want to pay windows licenses, this isn’t about openness this is about money. Same thing with stadia.

Also Valve is a different beast where people seem to do whatever they want on game projects and it doesn’t matter as long as they take their cut of each game sold on Steam. (See lack of HL3)

Epic is drowning in fortnite money at the moment but is it not managed like Valve.

By open platforms Tim means platforms with no/less gatekeeping, like a in win32 app vs a Windows store app. Not a platform with opened source. It’s necessary for their store and it helps fortnite cross play and similar features.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 7:29 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


« Older "Capital and Ideology"   |   The Birds Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.