With the upcoming sequel to Tom Clancy’s The Division coming out very soon, I found myself contemplating the many hours I’ve spent in Ubisoft’s post-apocalyptic world. Was I enthralled or did I feel trapped? Did my agent make a difference or was all of it just a lonely grind?
I was one of the eager MMO fans who screamed, “Take my money!” on the first day you could preorder The Division. It was 2016 and I had been waiting for three long years for this modern open-world action RPG that boasted stylish customizations. I was dropped into a desolate New York City with snow drifting through the urban landscape. The graphics were enchanting even though this version of New York seemed frozen in hell. It didn’t take long to realize the world in this game wasn’t going to look any better no matter how long I played.
After two hundred hours of play on both my PS4 and PC, The Division remains a deserted cityscape in a never-ending winter. I’ve given out hundreds of consumables to shivering NPC on the street, rescued inept soldiers from locked rooms over and over, took out gang leaders and hordes of rioters and even tangled with a rogue private military in the hopes of restoring order. Yet, the snow kept falling, rioters and cleaners continue to roam the street, and what’s left of the survivors walked the street in perpetual fear. The glimpse of any hope or resolution in this game seems rare and temporary. It was like the world had stalled in its downward spiral and the city was abandoned. There were no happy endings, no possibility of miraculous interventions from a superpower like The Traveller in Destiny. Even though you can join up with other players, the supposedly cooperative play seems sporadic and mechanical. The only emotion I experienced with other players is anger as I am being gunned down by rogue agents in the dark zone. I was really hoping for a deeper co-operative experience; an experience that lasts.
While The Division is named after the government agency the player is part of as they unravel the story behind the viral outbreak, the name can also be imagined as a post-apocalyptic world where anarchy and chaos reign through the division of humankind. As law and order dissolved, the ugliness of individualism and self-centred inclinations formed fellowships of violence with each group vying for power and real estate. Even though my protagonist’s story was one of nobler aspiration, at the end of the day, I am just grinding for my own loot and vanity items. The game is determined to see humanity divided, no matter how many raids or end game content I completed, the city remained fractured, and the story never moves beyond its winter. After a few hundred hours of bleakness shooting and looting, I became quite hopeless about the world my avatar was stuck in. It may be an open world, but it does not change.
Reality is often not far from our imagination, and the game seemed like a terrifying reflection of where our society is heading. While the setting is constrained to a city limit, the geopolitical trends in our daily newsfeed tell us we are in a world divided, segregated, and ruthlessly nationalistic. Every one of us seems to be a division of our own making, and in many ways, we congregate no different than the game’s nefarious factions. We instinctively look out for ourselves and those we deem as part of our ‘in-group’. We pursue survival and prosperity at the expense of others rather than together with others. The world is full of the others, but more often than not, we ignore them and consider them expendable to our self-centred lives. It can be difficult to imagine a better future.
Even the highest geared player is just one person trapped in a cold, cold world. The bleak world of Ubisoft’s NYC can’t be changed by any loot or fancy vanity items. Honestly, a bigger gun is not going to rescue a world decimated by people who hold bigger and bigger guns. And just looking pretty, with stylish customizations, cannot wipe away the ashes and tears of our broken world. We need a hope that goes beyond ourselves. We need a kind of hope that can create change.
In The Division, profound change cannot be achievable by a single player, and, I would suggest, neither can it be achieved by a single player in our world. Unless we are the game developer or the Creator of our reality, we need others. Changing our world will require an unnatural reorientation toward unity with a wider community: a kingdom of hope-filled people. It is not a naive kind of hope, but one that accepts the reality of our finite power and at the same time reaches toward the transcendent — something beyond what we can see, and yet present. It is a hope that seeks the well-being of our neighbours across the street and beyond our borders. It is a kingdom where we hope with one another and for one another.
We can see a glimpse of this kingdom today when groups, churches, and non-profit organizations venture into poverty-stricken neighbourhoods providing not just materials needs, but also dignity and hope. We can see the effect of this kingdom as communities stand up against injustice and racism, not by violence and vengeance, but through reconciliation and forgiveness. When we live in such a kingdom, our world is full of possibilities for today and tomorrow. The Division reminds me of our longing for change in a broken world, but it is only by seeking this distinct kingdom that we can experience change that transcends us.
Have you found this kingdom?
Do you want to know more?