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Guest Column: Turning in the Badge

Guest contributor Heather Alexandra wanted more from The Division than another license to kill.

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The first time I killed someone in The Division, it was a very deliberate act. They were holding someone at gunpoint in the middle of an open yard. Careful not to attract attention, I scaled a nearby fence and hid on top of a shipping container. Pressed against a small box, I popped up and took aim with my government supplied MP-5 submachine gun and place the baddie’s head in my sights. A few light taps of my trigger, a few bursts of gunfire. The perp crumpled to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. Rushing down to see if the hostage was alright, I was greeted with a cheer: “That was AWESOME!”

In that single moment, the game revealed more about itself than it did in the innumerable hours that followed. What did that civilian do after I saved them? Did I receive thanks? Did the victim confide in me how horrible their captivity was? Did they panic and run off into the city? They did none of those things. They just told me how cool I was and left me to rummage for loot off the fresh corpse as they walked back into the warzone that used to be Brooklyn.

Perhaps the greatest lie that games tell us is that we need to be awesome. Extraordinary. And not just “extraordinary” in the casual way, as in “really great,” but in that other, special way. We’re told that the things that apply to “ordinary” people don’t apply to us. “We have no rules,” boasts a Division agent in the game’s opening cinematic. I was special because I didn’t have to answer to anyone; I was special because I had no rules. And because I didn’t have to answer to anyone, I was free to do what games often make us do: kill.

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The Division isn’t the first game to call me a hero for coldly and pragmatically gunning down a foe, but it is possibly the most egregious. I was free to shoot any and all threats to society without question. I was special. I was the player. The ruins of Manhattan were a playground where I could hurt to my heart’s content, but where I could never heal anything. I really did want to heal too. The most I could do was give a shivering civilian a can of soda. Could I use my super science nanotech healing gun to bring them away from the brink of death? Sadly, no. I just gave them an energy bar and watched them walk off into the snow.

The Division doesn’t bother to find many ways for players to actively affect the world outside of expending thousands of bullets and leaving behind a trail of bodies. Beyond embracing my most violent urges, I’m able to upgrade a base and take delight as more civilians flock to it for safety, but I can’t talk to these people or take quests to help them personally. For some players, it might be enough to watch their base fill with civilians, to watch children play in the refuge you’ve created or see the wounded receive care, but I wanted to do so much more. The reality of my base was not a reality expressed anywhere in the game. Why couldn’t I personally do more for these people other than leave them behind while I wandered off to hunt more enemies to shoot?

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Playing with Power

Power fantasies of this type aren’t anything new (nor are they limited to games), but it’s worth understanding what makes “extraordinary” heroes unique. Some heroes are defined by what tools they have: They might have a magic sword, special gadgets, or super powers. Others are defined by their dedication to achieving the impossible: Gallant knights ride off to slay dragons, naval captains face armadas with a single ship and a ragtag crew. But these sorts of heroes need not be given anything else than freedom. They are free from the rest of the rules that normal members of society (like you and me) are bound to abide by.

In The Division, I am given express governmental permission to act as I deem necessary, but the “free” hero isn’t limited to the military shooter genre. In Dragon Age: Origins, I am a Grey Warden with various powers and political rights; in Knights of the Old Republic I have incredible clout and moral authority as a Jedi, with strangers across the galaxy deferring to my judgment; in Battlefield: Hardline I might be able to tell a perp to freeze but I’m also not particularly discouraged from shooting them dead and moving on. After all, I’m the one with the badge.

What makes Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard such a dangerous enemy to have isn’t her combat prowess, her cadre of companions, or the knowledge she’s gleaned from an ancient alien beacon. It is the fact that she functionally has free reign to do whatever it takes to get her job done. There are other crack soldiers in the galaxy, other great scientists, but they can’t take a cutting edge starship and a sniper rifle and decide to make things right. Commander Shepard exists outside of the law because that’s one of the ways you make a character ‘magical’: You free them from any obligations to preexisting mores. You let them kick in the door, blow away the bad guys, and no matter how vicious they become, never take away their authority.

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Games go out of their way to anoint me with exceptional jurisdiction while going to great lengths to assure me that the power I wield is rightly invested and granted. Very rarely am I asked to wrestle with the grand powers I have been given in any significant way. Exceptions exist and include the examinations of power found in Dragon Age: Inquisition’s judgment scenes, the endless management of The Phantom Pain’s Mother Base, and the good cop, bad cop pull of Sleeping Dogs.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this technique sees a lot of use in 21st century media; it’s a natural reaction to fears of terrorism and other nebulous evils. It is an understandable anxiety that arrives across political leanings: Could something have been done before tragedy struck? Could I (or someone else) be doing something now before it strikes again? And so, to combat enemies that don’t follow particular moral codes, we look to heroes who are similarly unbound. However, the paths these heroes walk isn’t as black and white as games may lead us to believe. Nothing is ever that simple.

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Freedom to Feel

There is a fundamental tension between games and real life: Games are player centric and as a necessary consequent of that fact, their worlds and their values revolve around the player. But there can be a major disconnect when a game assumes which values the player is bringing to the table, what sort of freedom they’re hoping to fantasize about. Games like The Division want me to be “awesome” so badly that they give me a badge and a license to kill without ever asking if that’s what I want.

For all its skill trees and upgrade paths, for all its guns and weapon modifications and puffy jackets, there is very little I can do in The Division that doesn’t begin or end with a corpse. It tells me again and again that I’m awesome, that I’m free in a way that no one else in this post-disaster New York is. After all: I can kill people with explosives or drones or one of my fifty different guns. But having multiple ways to kill isn’t freedom. It’s just variation on a single activity.

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This focus on “legitimized” violence leads to a tragic (and likely unintended) implication, too. Exceptionalism puts the player outside of the bounds of responsibility, and in doing so, it divides them from the rest of the world’s inhabitants. If The Division ever “secures” New York for the everyday civilians left standing, it would mean game over. Like so many other games, The Division isn’t interested in accomplishing the mission. It would rather have the conflict last forever.… And like so many other games, The Division is interested in conflict much more than it’s interested in empathy.

This isn’t a necessity. Action games aren’t intrinsically tied to “exceptional” heroes. They can be empathetic. They can move away from flimsy justifications for excessive player empowerment and instead place heroes into digital spaces where they are still essential but not necessarily exceptional. Heroes don’t always need to be special. Heroes don’t always need to be awesome. They, we, need to be good.

Games can give us more than just variety, they can redefine notions of what freedom is. They can give us the freedom to express ourselves and to feel; the freedom to destroy and to build. The freedom to kill, yes, but also to save. Properly inserting the player into gaming ecosystems where they have a measure of accountability for their actions as well as a real diversity of possible expressions and interactions will not only provide greater game experiences, but it will go a long way to combating latent empathy issues in game culture as a whole. The sooner I am allowed to express heroism with nuance, the sooner I get to truly be free.

Heather Alexandra is a Giant Bomb contributor whose work has also been featured at Paste Magazine, Kotaku, ZAM, and more. You can listen to her chat with Austin about The Division on this episode of Giant Bomb Presents. She can be found on Twitter at @transgamerthink or at her personal blog, TransGamer Thoughts.

148 Comments

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gbuchold

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Edited By gbuchold

The first Mass Effect asked interesting questions about what might happen if an agent is given carte blanche to do "what must be done" in the character of Saren; he is corrupt and actively harming the organization he should be protecting, but there is no way to revoke his powers since one of them is "ignore any attempts to have your power revoked". Then those questions were completely bypassed and any interesting paths they might have led down were slammed shut when the solution turned out to be "just shoot him a bunch, I guess".

In retrospect, that should have told us everything we needed to know about how the trilogy would end.

Great and interesting article.

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Fear_the_Booboo

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Loved your review of the Division over at Zam and I'm happy to see this text here. Thank you.

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Colonel_Pockets

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Interesting article. I guess a lot of people aren't happy with the politics in the division. Since I'm either playing it while listening to a podcast or talking to my friends, I don't hear any of the dialogue that Austin talked about in the Beastcast. I guess you could technically say I turn my brain off while playing this. I'm just shooting and looting.

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SadisticWOlf

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A well written and articulated article, but my two responses are a mix of "Well, I disagree" and that the kind of moral depth and weight being asked for is never going to come out of mainstream media baring a huge swing in the tastes of the typical media consumer.

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Cluter

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Can't help but wonder if this article is trying to shame me into not liking this game. Cause I do. A lot. Does that make me a bad person? I don't see the game as some morality compass. I see it as an RPG where I want the numbers to get bigger, and I want those numbers to get bigger with friends.

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ExZippo

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I too love to murder, thanks video games.

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FinalDasa

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FinalDasa  Moderator

@shatteringlast: I don't think anyone is telling others how they should feel when playing a game, but rather to be open to other feelings. Not everything game needs to be a morally blind shooter and it's a shame that games that incorporate more complex story lines and situations ignore emotionally deeper circumstances that could be included.

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HAlexandra64

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@shatteringlast: It's totally fine to like The Division! I like it too. The Dark Zone is some of my favorite stuff. There's nothing wrong with liking the game. But we can critique the things we love too!

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TimeFugitive

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Thank you for your article, after watching Batman v Superman, I've been having similar thoughts in my head with power fantasies and freedom.

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graf1k

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Edited By graf1k

Games like The Division want me to be “awesome” so badly that they give me a badge and a license to kill without ever asking if that’s what I want.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of times this argument is made against violent games as if it's the ultimate trump card. The Division never hid what it was, never disguised its true nature to somehow "trick" you into buying a game that has killing as a core mechanic. They don't need to ask you if that's what you want because it's assumed that if you are buying and playing the game, you're already down to slay some fake people in a digital sandbox. If that's not your bag, now more than ever, there are tons of games that will fit your niche of whatever you think gaming should be or must be. This game just simply isn't one of them.

Another game that is in the zeitgeist right now is Stardew Valley, a game ostensibly about farming, building, and making relationships. That sounds right up the author's alley. On the flip side, to me that sounds rather tedious and boring. Would I be any less in the right to write an article questioning why Stardew Valley doesn't let me settle any problem I have in the game by murdering an NPC? Maybe the mayor is being a dick and rather than deal with their bullshit, I'd rather just kill them and get my reward faster. Is Stardew Valley derelict in it's duty to me as a gamer by not letting me do that? Of course not! It never billed itself as a game where killing people is going to solve the problems it hands me, so why would I take issue with the game for not letting me do that?

Additionally, I take exception to the idea that playing a game that involves killing as a core mechanic has anything to do with a person's actual real-world empathy. Just because I think shooting fake digital people in a game is fun doesn't mean I have any deep-seated yearning to actually harm people, just like I wouldn't assume the type of people that enjoy a game like Stardew hold secret ambitions to run a real life farm.

That said, I like when games play with expectations and offer various ways to deal with the issues they present me with. It would be great if The Division let you attempt to reason with rioters or interact with the NPCs back at the BoO to get more missions rather than getting the same 4-5 mission types off a board in the safehouses. I also wouldn't mind if the game let you go further down the amoral path and gave you the option of torturing for information, especially if the information you could gain as a result only has a maybe 50/50 chance of being truthful and reliable. It'd make for an interesting moral dilemma for the player and would be a nice subtle commentary on torture for information at the same time. I completely understand why the game does neither of these things with Ubisoft being a publicly traded company and all.

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ev77

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At this point unless there is something constructive, I'm really tired of hearing the same old criticisms.

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Ford_Dent

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This type of MMO (which is also replicated by Destiny really) suffers from the problem of needing its characters to exist in a static world to keep things going. New York can never get better because other people are going to need to do that same thing over and over again. In Destiny they kind of get around that by instancing content - so you get set pieces like opening the comms satellite in one of the early missions - but at the same time that satellite closes right back up as soon as the mission's over, and you'll never see it open while out wandering the wastes, because it's an MMO and MMO worlds have to be static.

Of course, LOTR Online actually did change that a bit by instancing everything, and even World of Warcraft's Frozen Throne expansion had instanced content as well (also the last time I paid attention to World of Warcraft), so it always boggles my mind when newer games don't do something like this. It would be nice in a game like The Division if you could see more stuff coming together and actually like, have people talk to you - like in Mass Effect, where people would talk to you in between murder sessions and thank you for doing them favors.

Ultimately I think something like The Division's failing is a combination of not being able to interact with the people you're saving and not being able to show real progress beyond your headquarters looking more cleaned up.

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HAlexandra64

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Edited By HAlexandra64

@graf1k said:

Games like The Division want me to be “awesome” so badly that they give me a badge and a license to kill without ever asking if that’s what I want.

Additionally, I take exception to the idea that playing a game that involves killing as a core mechanic has anything to do with a person's actual real-world empathy. Just because I think shooting fake digital people in a game is fun doesn't mean I have any deep-seated yearning to actually harm people...

I'm not particularly making that argument. I don't think that games facilitate explicit violence in the real world. We're beyond that point; we know it isn't true save that aggression can increase. What I am suggesting is that the more that games tell us that being "exceptional" also means being completely divorced from traditional mores, they also put forth a value system which suggests it is important or even necessary to be removed from accountability to a larger community. I won't go so far as to suggest this accounts entirely for examples of insularity in games culture but it also probably doesn't help.

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DutchElvis92

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@halexandra64: Really enjoyed your piece, as well as your ZAM review! I also think this other ZAM piece on why the Division is a weird Tom Clancy game is valuable to this discussion.

The operational concept of the Division as a government entity simply seems to be a direct action one, so why are they "deep undercover" (a highly expensive and unnecessary measure) ? Why do they have to scrounge for basic warfighting equipment while having state-of the art maps and communications? Why do they exist at all when there's a number of law enforcement and military agencies and units that could easily perform the same role?

Most of the Clancy sub franchises started with a reasonable level of plausibility. Team Rainbow is a international counter-terrorism unit backed by NATO designed to deal with incidents involving multiple nations that has parallels in some real life task forces. The 'Ghosts' of Ghost Recon are pretty much just a renamed Delta Force. And while it's stretching it to have Sam Fisher infiltrate places on his own, the Splinter Cell games (at least the first three) acknowledge the importance of signals intelligence and the emergence of information and cyber warfare.

A game more successful at communicating the Division's supposed purpose would focus on a Green Beret-esque role of fostering relationships and providing training and resources to residents of the various communities. They could even use the silly undercover conceit to offer a little more personal and emotional narrative for the player character, as spending years embedded in a neighborhood may complicate your decisions when your government orders put you at cross-purposes with the people you've lived with for years. To me, that'd be a more interesting game.

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Cluter

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@shatteringlast: It's totally fine to like The Division! I like it too. The Dark Zone is some of my favorite stuff. There's nothing wrong with liking the game. But we can critique the things we love too!

Yeah I getcha now. I wasn't really too sure on what you were meaning, then your response to @graf1k kind of cleared it up.

@shatteringlast: I don't think anyone is telling others how they should feel when playing a game, but rather to be open to other feelings. Not everything game needs to be a morally blind shooter and it's a shame that games that incorporate more complex story lines and situations ignore emotionally deeper circumstances that could be included.

True. If there's one qualm I have with The Division, is its storytelling. All the best storytelling, to me, are the pieces of environmental storytelling, or the ECHOs that you pick up. I wish some of that kind of stuff was in the critical path storyline.

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graf1k

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@graf1k said:

Games like The Division want me to be “awesome” so badly that they give me a badge and a license to kill without ever asking if that’s what I want.

Additionally, I take exception to the idea that playing a game that involves killing as a core mechanic has anything to do with a person's actual real-world empathy. Just because I think shooting fake digital people in a game is fun doesn't mean I have any deep-seated yearning to actually harm people...

I'm not particularly making that argument. I don't think that games facilitate explicit violence in the real world. We're beyond that point; we know it isn't true save that aggression can increase. What I am suggesting is that the more that games tell us that being "exceptional" also means being completely divorced from traditional mores, they also put forth a value system which suggests it is important or even necessary to be removed from accountability a larger community. I won't go so far as to suggest this accounts entirely for examples of insularity in games culture but it also probably doesn't help.

Well that's an improvement over most commentary on such games, but playing the game myself, I felt the removal of accountability was more of a framing device, as if to say "yeah, things are that bad". Martial law was attempted and even that couldn't get the job done. Now extreme measures need to be taken, "the gloves come off" and you don't have to worry about consequences. Personally I found that to be completely unnecessary as games like Call of Duty do exactly the same thing and feel no need to justify the lack of accountability and it never took me out of the experience there either. As for the exceptional thing, it's basically the same thing, for me anyway. I don't need anyone to tell me I'm awesome for shooting people in a game about shooting people.

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vanfarley

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Not sure if I agree that for a character to be a hero they need to be "good". Look at the characters of Martin Scorcese movies, Ray Liotta's version of a real life gangster in Goodfellas is not what most people would classify as good and indeed he acts with a high level of impunity. We care about him though because even when he's pistol-whipping a dude in the street he does it to protect Lorraine Brocco's character from the man who beat her up. You can make the argument that he is presented as a bad guy from the start but so is Nicolas Cage's Bad Lieutenant and yet even when this cop is cutting off an old woman's breathing tube you know he's doing to bring a murderer to justice. I don't want to go as far as saying the ends always justify the means but for me to relate to a character I simply need to understand their motives and the devil is in the details. The Division gets many of those details muddled but it at least presents the player with a strong motive

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MindChamber

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Edited By MindChamber

I think its more of the fact that its an action rpg game with a budget for such, than the developers being limited in scope to more emphatic situations.

Personally I wanted more scenarios in division where I helped people that didnt require shooting.

My first reaction when I saw a stray dog was to try and feed it, I would've loved a scenario where I found a lost child and huffed it back to the parents at the base,or talked to citizens about whats going on in their neighborhood. But that takes a serious coding and animation budget and it needs to be an action/ shooter first. and the variety of these scenarios would need to be substantial as to not feel stilted.

(which happened to me in GTV)

For now,

I understand why these moments are limited to camera recording, cellphone conversations, and echos.

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monkeyking1969

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Edited By monkeyking1969

A valuable point of view, that I hope people will think about. It is interesting to think about what games ask us to do, what agency they give us to the proceedings, and what we as individual players take from these experiences.

I can empathize with the wish in The Divisions to render more aid to civilians, talk down more gang leaders, or even bluff my way out of a fight. Those would be certainly more engrossing options, but I also suspect hat in a very real way it would make the game harder for some people. If you are not good at pulling of a complex bluff or saying the right thing in a sensitive dialogue exchange that might make teh game seem too hard.

Thank you, Heather for an interesting thought for my day.

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zorak

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Well written, thanks.

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dreiszen

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This is a good read, Heather. It's a shame that a few people only seem to be able to interpret it as a personal attack against them for enjoying The Division.

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SpaceInsomniac

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Edited By SpaceInsomniac

@halexandra64 said:
@graf1k said:

Games like The Division want me to be “awesome” so badly that they give me a badge and a license to kill without ever asking if that’s what I want.

Additionally, I take exception to the idea that playing a game that involves killing as a core mechanic has anything to do with a person's actual real-world empathy. Just because I think shooting fake digital people in a game is fun doesn't mean I have any deep-seated yearning to actually harm people...

I'm not particularly making that argument. I don't think that games facilitate explicit violence in the real world. We're beyond that point; we know it isn't true save that aggression can increase. What I am suggesting is that the more that games tell us that being "exceptional" also means being completely divorced from traditional mores, they also put forth a value system which suggests it is important or even necessary to be removed from accountability to a larger community. I won't go so far as to suggest this accounts entirely for examples of insularity in games culture but it also probably doesn't help.

You're asking for accountability and traditional mores in game designed to remove those things, specifically by using a near apocalypse for its setting. I would imagine that if you were placed in that "kill or be killed" type of environment, you would become divorced from traditional mores and accountability yourself. I think that's the point.

As far as a social push for everyone to be special goes, that goes far beyond video games. There's celebrity obsession, modern music (especially pop and rap), all the "look at me, I'm awesome" t-shirts they make for children these days, the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality, the envy of the rich, etc.

@monkeyking1969 said:

I can empathize with the wish in The Divisions to render more aid to civilians, talk down more gang leaders, or even bluff my way out of a fight. Those woudl be certainly more engrossing options, but I also suspect hat in a very real way it would make the game harder for some people who are not good at pulling of a complex bluff or saying the right thing in a sensitive dialogue exchange.

I can accept that not every game needs to be "but maybe if we could just TALK to them, they would see the error of their ways, and we could all live together in peace, and love, and understanding of one another." I can accept the fact that some conflicts do need to be solved with violence, and I can accept the fact that The Division isn't the game for "but maybe if we could just talk to them." I also don't think the game needs to be criticized for not being that type of game. There are those types of games out there. If you want to play one, you can.

But MAN, what you're talking about pretty much ruined the ending of Fallout 4 for me. If ever there was a game where "but maybe if we could just TALK to them," should apply, it's Fallout 4. Instead, you're absurdly required to destroy the best hope for the future of humanity, and you can't even TRY to talk things out with your own son. It's ridiculous.

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LavenderGooms

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"If The Division ever “secures” New York for the everyday civilians left standing, it would mean game over. Like so many other games, The Division isn’t interested in accomplishing the mission. It would rather have the conflict last forever.… And like so many other games, The Division is interested in conflict much more than it’s interested in empathy."

This is the main thing that made me stop playing The Division after I completed the main story missions and got all the collectables. I don't particularly have any interest in endlessly running around in the Dark Zone or repeating missions on more challenging difficulties because there's no progress being made there. Even though I was only interacting with the world through shooting people, as I was doing those missions and expanding the base more I was still making it better for the civilians trying to survive. Each faction leader I killed made that faction less of a threat (story-wise, at least. In reality and gameplay-wise nothing about the factions roaming the streets changed), and each power plant I secured, checkpoint I defended, or supply drop I retrieved made life that much easier for the people living in that area.

But now those things are done and the world is now stuck in a completely static place. My job is finished, but because of the multiplayer focus of the endgame content the game itself can never really end.

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fetterdave

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I think I take Heather's very well-written piece not as an indictment of The Division for failing to be a different type of game than it is, but rather using that fact to illustrate that it would be wonderful to have more games that tackled similar themes and conflicts in other, less violent ways.

I love The Division and have been playing it almost every night since it launched. However, I'd also love to have a game of similar scope and scale in which I primarily went around saving lives and fixing problems, with combat only a very minor aspect. A "walking simulator RPG" companion to The Division would be pretty cool.

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Blaccuweather

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@gbuchold: It's worth noting that it was possible to talk Saren down in the final confrontation. You could just gun him down if you wanted to, but talking was equally viable (provided you were paying attention to your paragon/renegade choices through the rest of the game). That's not to say Mass Effect completely transcended this issue, but I wouldn't say it faltered completely at the end either.

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HAlexandra64

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You're asking for accountability and traditional mores in game designed to remove those things, specifically by using a near apocalypse for its setting. I would imagine that if you were placed in that "kill or be killed" type of environment, you would become divorced from traditional mores and accountability yourself. I think that's the point.

It very well could be but if it is the game fails to communicate that in any appreciable way. Austin and I talk a bit about this in the podcast we did alongside this piece. Even the semi post-apoc setting of The Division exists to justify the mechanical limitations of players. Granting the player government sanction to act as they want is one way to do it but another it to place them in a setting where there is no valid power for them to answer to. No laws, no consequences, therefore "freedom". That sort of thing.

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gbuchold

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@blaccuweather: Honestly in context that seemed like a failure as well, which is why I didn't mention it; giving him the "mind control" excuse and making his True Self shine through so he can choose suicide removes the question of how to stop a person with unlimited power who just chooses to use it in a harmful way - he takes his carte blanche to do anything and chooses to off himself, so he remains in control. Either solution (you shoot him or he shoots him) implies that the only way to stop a person you've given unlimited power is for someone with unlimited power to stop him - essentially what Heather brings up as "And so, to combat enemies that don’t follow particular moral codes, we look to heroes who are similarly unbound."

Can we stop ourselves from being destroyed without stooping to our enemies' level? Can we bear the shield but break the sword? Mass Effect seems to set itself up to ask the question, then doesn't. Only bullets can solve this.

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aktivity

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Edited By aktivity

@gbuchold: Saren made the choice himself to go down that road though. He wasn't indoctrinated from the start. He was aware of the Reapers and made a choice that would cause massive deaths hoping to save a handful. The mind control doesn't undo his choice or diminish his realization that maybe Shepard had a chance to win.

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Strife777

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Yeah. Games are kind of hard to do as both "deep" well thought out worlds with consequence and consistency, and also fun, popular, "addictive" entertainment that sells well to the general masses.

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Hotspray

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Is the only "interesting" take on video games going to continue to be articles like this?

So a bunch of people not from the USA made Escape from New York 2016, it sold a bunch and it reaffirms that people love to see big damage numbers popping up above enemies.

And?

It's at a point where I feel like some of these people need to step back, and get a life. There's a ton of variety, and not every AAA release needs to conform to a specific worldview or say something profound. Believe it or not, some people want to get off work, hit the bong and dump clips on NPCs with their friends.

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HAlexandra64

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@hotspray said:

It's at a point where I feel like some of these people need to step back, and get a life.

Writing stuff like this...is my life?

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Hotspray

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@halexandra64:

I wish you good luck going forward if you plan on camping comment sections like this and replying to critics.

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austin_walker

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@gbuchold: Just wanted to say that I love how you phrase this. Nice work!

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Corvidus

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@halexandra64: What in your opinion is the game or games that does this nuance of heroism the best?

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HAlexandra64

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@hotspray: I prefer to think of it as community engagement! Giant Bomb's a great community full of cool folks with interesting thoughts! :D

Besides, I don't think writers should be distant. I think they should be accessible and willing to interact with readers.

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gbuchold

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@austin_walker: Considering how much I enjoy reading your work, that's a hell of a compliment and much appreciated :)

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HAlexandra64

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Edited By HAlexandra64

@corvidus: Alpha Protocol is probably up there in terms of examining the overreach of government while also leaving the player free to give into their darker desires. Deus Ex gets there, if a bit fantastically in the original. Human Revolution can be read as fairly critical of corporate and capital privilege. Dragon Age: Inquisition, particularly its final DLC, deal with questions about what it means to wield a significant amount of political power. Morrowind is comparable in examining religious authority.

Outside of this line of thought, I actually think Red Dead Redemption is a very good AAA title when it comes to morality. The "I Know You" side mission is a very tightly focused microcosm of what that game wants to say.

Binary Domain is a good game as well insofar as its concern about what is or is not human makes us ask questions about digital entities. As an example: that game has you shooting tons and tons of robots before giving you a robotic squadmate. Heck, mechanically, it functions a lot like The Division does but it uses those mechanics (like the ability to talk to squadmates using the Kinect) to make points while also letting you fight crazy bosses and stuff!

I point out that last part because I'm afraid people reading might get the idea that I'm against big, action fill shooter games but I'm not. Hell, right now I'm blasting people away in the Doom Beta. It's cathartic and there's no bigger message. Not everything has to! But I've also see titles (like those above) that have offered amazingly fun play while also asking me to contemplate strong themes and concepts. So it's not zero sum. It's not "have fun" or "have meaning". You can have both!

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SpaceInsomniac

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Edited By SpaceInsomniac

@halexandra64 said:

@hotspray said:

It's at a point where I feel like some of these people need to step back, and get a life.

Writing stuff like this...is my life?

While I might ultimately disagree with you, and the need or desire for The Division to be the game that you want it to be, I'm still appreciative that there's an actual dialogue here. That's a lot more respect than many social issue critics give opposing thought, so thanks for that.

I also do understand where you're coming from, and agree that playing a game with more value assigned to every human life would also be interesting. To be honest, I might have even liked that game more than what The Division ended up being.

But not every game needs to be Undertale, and that's just not the game they decided to make. Personally, I'm okay with that.

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mems1224

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Interesting article. I guess a lot of people aren't happy with the politics in the division. Since I'm either playing it while listening to a podcast or talking to my friends, I don't hear any of the dialogue that Austin talked about in the Beastcast. I guess you could technically say I turn my brain off while playing this. I'm just shooting and looting.

Same here. I've put about 80 hours into The Division and I could not tell you anything about the story or name a single character. Thats how insignificant they are to the game

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Corvidus

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@halexandra64: Thanks for giving a detailed response. It is appreciated when an author is willing to respond.

I needed your views on what good is (in the context of games) in order to process your criticism. Without a this is good and doable section I wasn't sure what you were asking game developers with budgets to realistically do. So thank you. :)

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apoloimagod

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What a great post. I hope to keep seeing more of this here at GB.

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Turambar

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Edited By Turambar

While I can nod along with agreement for the bulk of what is written in the article, the ultimate conclusion that Heather arrives at is...kind of disappointing. The prescription that serves as a solution is simply desiring games to give players more ways to interact with the world beyond mere violence.

It is a desire that we have heard many times now, a desire that more and more types of games are providing at this point in the industry, and a desire that causes me to ask "then why are you playing the Division in the first place."

Aside from this, there is one line that I actually disagree strongly with.

Heroes don’t always need to be special. Heroes don’t always need to be awesome. They, we, need to be good.

That isn't true. Good is the one thing we don't need our heroes to be because we do not, in our modern day, look to heroes as sources of morality to mirror, for better or for worse. We desire efficacy more than nuanced introspection, and we desire flash and entertainment more than we do efficacy. The heroes we want are not meant to save the world, they are meant to save us from the mundane.

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Turambar

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@gbuchold said:

Can we stop ourselves from being destroyed without stooping to our enemies' level? Can we bear the shield but break the sword? Mass Effect seems to set itself up to ask the question, then doesn't. Only bullets can solve this.

What if the answer to the question is "No"?

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Nardak

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Edited By Nardak

Some people just really like telling other people "how to play video games " and also "what not to play". Never mind the fact that countless murders are committed in movies, tv series and books but for some reason when this same thing happens in video games it is somehow something totally new in the span of human entertainment history.

Maybe the author should rewatch a few plays by a certain author called William Shakespeare. There are some corpses involved also in those plays.

And compared to real human history it is far better to kill digital humans than real ones. Video games didnt cause world war 1 or world war 2.

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furiousjodo

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I was actually thinking about this a lot not too long ago (before I was aware of this) - and even tweeted a quick clip from my latest Division session at Austin. It's really hard to feel like the hero in a game where you really are just murdering people. I like a lot of things about this game but it makes it really hard to care at all about my role in the world when I'm basically going around shooting people in the back because they are near someone else's abandoned cellphone.

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