SPOILER WARNING: In order to talk about the things I’m about to talk about, I’m going to be dropping more than a few spoilers. If you haven’t played the game yet but intend to later (fair enough), or haven’t finished the story campaign yet (seriously?), you may want to stop reading here if you care about spoilers.
For a game that I didn’t quite pan so much as gave a stern talking to, I’ve indeed been taken with The Division (much, I’m sure, to Nick’s chagrin.) It has its problems – many, many, many problems – but I like the idea of a game that lives for much longer than it’s initial shelf-life with constant updates, an evolving world, and isn’t Destiny. But more than that, the world of the Division is pretty damn dark, and I stories where, even if they win, the outlook for the heroes once the credits roll is still rather grim. For all the stuff on the surface of The Division that might make you balk at the implications, however, there’re some pretty scary notions at play that aren’t immediately apparent. I’m talking about things like…
As an agent of The Division, you get access to some friggin awesome technology and hardware. You wield weapons that turn people into clouds of fine red mist, explosives that will chase after marked enemies, and projectile grenades that cling to surfaces or even people. You can deploy ballistic shields that fold up into a small metal bar on your arm and take dozens of shots before becoming too damaged, and even medical bags that seem to magically heal you. Yes, life in The Division is pretty sweet (if you’re into murdering indiscriminately while being shot at yourself) but by far and away the best piece of tech is ISAC – an Intelligent System Analytic Computer. In-game, it represents the very greatest in technological advancement and the very worst in how far governments will go in a supposed “free world” just to keep tabs on people.
“Especially in the shower – our research suggests that’s where most terror plots are formulated, so we need to keep watching. Just to be sure.”
The capabilities and applications of ISAC seem outwardly harmless at first: It warns you about incoming enemies, potentially hazardous or contaminated areas, and it even acts as a GPS. Even if you’re not a fan of the Microsoft Sam voice it uses (which I’m not), you learn to appreciate its presence fairly quickly. Things start getting a little bit creepy though once you stumble upon your first ECHO and realise the real power of what ISAC does, which is tapping into so much surveillance that it would make Orwell’s head spin. ECHO’s are holographic reconstructions of isolated incidents, pulled together from just about anything in the area that had a microphone or camera recordings. These recordings are then coalesced into a frozen image, allowing you to get a rough idea of what happened based on the critical visualised moments and associated voice recordings.
Sometimes it makes sense that this information would be on hand for certain situations, like car accidents at a busy intersection, or incidents in a sports stadium. These are places that would have lots of cameras and where recordings would likely be held for posterity sake regardless, so accessing them doesn’t seem so weird. Then there are times when you can walk into a person’s apartment and hear intimate conversations while they’re sitting around in their underwear. These ECHO’s appear in private residences, places of business, in run-down warehouses and many other places you wouldn’t expect a whole lot of surveillance.
“Yeah, it’s weird, I feel like I’m being watched and listened to all of the time.”
“That’s nonsense, citizen.”
I mean, if it’s possible to see what people are doing in their most intimate moments then holy crap, did the government just have cameras everywhere!? That’s probably unlikely, given the logistics to wire every-damn-where with cameras and microphones. The much more likely, and frightening option is that they were just tapping into everyone else’s personal communications and turning everyone into an unwitting spy for the government. When you realise this, it makes you wonder if the Division was even necessary, since they could have basically Minority Reported Amherst’s ass during the planning stages of his attack. Not that it really matters now, since the old world is gone and in its wake is left a massive power vacuum.
The suffering of the people is talked about a lot in The Division but when it comes down to brass tacks, the only ones truly suffering are those not willing to pick up a gun. There’s supposedly food and water shortages but the various violent factions stomping NYC’s streets seem to be doing alright for themselves, enough to put up a decent fight at least. The people who are really suffering are the average citizens you see stumbling about, clutching their sides, begging for food and water, and are primarily reliant upon the mercy of anyone they meet. Whether right or wrong, packing firepower – and lots of it – is basically the only way to ensure that you and yours are staying toasty warm and fed.
“Here’s a great survival tip – once you’re done mowing down innocent civilians in their droves, the searing hot muzzle can be used to fry whatever you pilfer from their cold, dead bodies!”
I mean, the people of this NYC could be civil and appeal to the authorities for assistance but those authorities aren’t exactly in a position to help anyone besides themselves. Half the story of The Division is about how the city practically crumbled under the control of the JTF, those who were charged with preventing exactly that from happening. The situation only begins improving again once the Division agents show up, and whether “improve” is really the appropriate word is questionable. A vast majority of the first wave took advantage of the situation (for one reason or another) and joined the LMB, running things their own way, while those still “helping” are slaughtering people en masse.
With the exception of the LMB, who’s to say any of these factions are actually evil? They all have their own goals and ideologies, many of them justifiable from a particular perspective. The Rikers are arguably monstrous and depraved but their mission is one of desperate revenge for the ways they feel they’d been wronged pre-outbreak. When you consider the kind of treatment US prisoners receive – both in-game and in the real world – it’s hard to blame them for feeling that way. The Cleaners are messed up and crazy for sure, definitely a few sammiches short of a picnic, but their ultimate goal is eradicating the disease. They achieve it by setting people on fire and literally want to see the world burn around them but that’s not far off from what The Division are doing, plus they still have to defend themselves.
Psychopaths need to feel safe too.
The only people not fighting for an ideological cause are the Rioters and that’s because they’re generally fighting because they’re afraid, starving, and have realised all of the above. Causes and ideals are all well and good but when you need to eat, and you’re not a sadist, then options become very limited but they have the right idea. Survival at all costs is going to quickly become a very useful trait in the world of The Division, as best exemplified by the LMB. They’re essentially 21st-century storm troopers but have (or had) an ambitious and realistic vision of the future. Remember that power vacuum I mentioned before? Well, their actions throughout the game suggest that they’re trying to fill it, and carving out your slice of the world at this point in the timeline might not be such a bad idea, considering…
This is probably my favourite part of The Division, and it took me awhile to realise, but all your efforts throughout the game to save New York are basically moot since the world is completely fucked. Not sure what I’m talking about? Let’s go back to the chronological beginning of the narrative, not from where the game starts out, but from the moment Amherst first lets the Green Poison loose upon New York City. Once the effects got bad enough and people realised this was more than just a strain of your average influenza, Manhattan was placed into quarantine lockdown and the chaos really kicked off. However, based on the extra information available in the game through ECHO’s and recordings, that doesn’t happen for at least a few days to a week.
“Chill out man, you’re killing the vibe – go make out with Coughing Candace, or something.”
Let’s look at some real world stats for a moment. In 2014 alone, there was an estimated 12 million international visitors that passed through New York City and 44.5 million Domestic visitors. This means that literally millions of people would have passed through the city on the day the outbreak started, with (potentially) hundreds of thousands of those people leaving for other countries. If the game is clear about one thing, it’s that it doesn’t take much for the disease to spread among people so the chance that most of, if not all of these visitors were contaminated is roughly 100%. Sure, the game does also state that there are people immune to the disease but you can still be a carrier of a virus without necessarily feeling the effects. See where I’m going with this?
New York might have been the hardest hit by the disease but that’s only because they’ve been dealing with its effects the longest. By now, the majority of America should be feeling a little more than just some pre-apocalyptic sniffles and would be getting well into the swing of a full blown epidemic. Sorry, did I say epidemic? I meant pandemic because those international visitors will have spread it around by now to just about every continent and major city. For those of you who’ve played the game, imagine the chaos and strife that’s been running riot through NYC. Now, take that mayhem, then copy and paste it onto every major city in the world until an unthinkable proportion of the world’s population are dead, and those left are killing one another.
All except Russia – if YouTube as taught me anything, this might actually be an improvement.
And this is even before Keemer starts using the Russian to manufacture new viruses, ones that those still alive won’t have a natural immunity to, which will also begin to spread beyond NYC. Earth, as it’s portrayed in The Division, is completely and utterly doomed, and civilisation as they know it is in its death throes before giving way to a total post-apocalypse scenario. What we’re seeing is basically the creation of a Fallout-like world in slow motion but with bio-weapons instead of nukes, and skipping the international warfare part. I can’t imagine that the militaries of the world will be able to fight one another when they have to start doing as The Division do and put down their own contagious, violently revolting populations.
So remember Division agents, when Faye, the JTF and the stumbling NPC’s tell you that you’re making a real difference, keep in mind that it’ll be a short-lived and hollow victory.