Tom Clancy's The Division uses the present day United States as a setting, but it runs roughshod over the real and troubling issues facing American society. It glorifies totalitarianism and the use of force against citizens whose rights are ignored and whose humanity is stripped away by mechanics that directly equate racial and class stereotypes with villainhood. (---More below)
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Police violence, vigilantism, and struggle between security and liberty are core issues facing America today, and Tom Clancy's The Division addresses all of them - but it does so in a callous and unthinking way. The game takes place in the real world, with no war to throw a pall of justification over its violence, nor convenient alien or zombie enemies to direct it towards. Instead, the villains are US citizens who have survived a bioterrorist attack and who are now accused of disrupting the government's attempts to restore order in an epidemic wasted city. The player is a newly activated member of a secret military organization which answers only to the President, and is instructed to kill these so-called thugs. This is the definition of totalitarianism, and it plays out like a game about being an SS agent under the Nazi regime. It encourages and glorifies the same type of violence associated with recent police shootings that have divided the nation, and the thoughtless way it does that disgraces both law enforcement officials and people who've died in these shootings. It also uses hoodies to distinguish an entire enemy faction: people to be shot on sight. Given that the hoodie worn by Trayvon Martin has become a symbol used to demonize people of color, one which protestors have tried to take back by wearing it in solidarity with victims, this lazy stereotype on game's part is appalingly callous. It dehumanizes these enemies by having NPCs yell pejoratives at them, and what hints it does give as to their real lives and backgrounds outside of being targets consistently reinforce class lines by showing them as working class or poor people. The Division does feature a strong and diverse cast of NPCs, but their presence only underlines how tone deaf the main story is: diversity means more than including people of color. It also means being conscious and considerate of the real issues faced in our shared culture today. To explain its decisions, the game claims inspiration from Operation: Dark Winter, a study conducted in 2001 under the Bush administration which met with heavy criticism and is now fifteen years out of date. But even those findings seem out of touch when we've seen multiple epidemics (like SARS or ebola) pass by without causing a complete breakdown on the scale that the Division suggests might happen. Regardless of intent, the game ultimately embraces totalitarianism, government brutality, stereotyping, fearmongering, and classism without applying enough thought to make a coherent message out of these volatile themes in its mechanics.
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