War Photography in The Division 2

The difficult and thrilling part about photography in The Division 2 is that the game continues to run as you use the photo mode.

For many games, when a single player or “offline” mode is available, the game pauses when a photo mode is activated.

For a live service game like The Division 2, no such affordance exists.

As such, when you decide to take a picture, you really do run the risk of being identified and engaged with.

Combine this with the general anarchy on the streets of Washington D.C. and you have a pernicious desire to collect the contemporary feeling of the crisis.

In a recent article from the August 2020 edition of Harper’s Magazine titled “On Moral Injury,” many war journalists and photographers report an ever rising degree of PTSD, much of which is largely ignored or pushed aside.

Most of the attention instead is given to soldiers, who can experience one or more tours of duty.

For career war journalists, their experience culminates into upwards of fifteen to twenty years of close quarters combat, which is a much higher amount than even some career soldiers. As promotions take front line soldiers further back into war rooms, training simulations, and committees, the sole subject and task of a war journalist is to provide personal experience of a conflict. They must go to harrowing conflicts and render them on celluloid or printed words.

Granted, in the reduction of large scale world wars between countries, these conflicts have taken a back seat, and we should be grateful and humble for our ability to remain in relative peace.

But there are also proxy wars and civil conflicts which continue in response to globalized capitalism displacing its debts geographically.

And while the concept of “moral injury” changes as we modernize from the ultra-violence of the Trojan War as told in The Iliad, to the violence against protesters in the 21st Century, it still resides in a decision by powerful entities to choose force over conversation.

Still, continuous exposure to combat can threaten our ability to see what the power of institutions and civil discourse can provide for health and well-being. In one such group in The Division 2, their exposure to the front lines of combat on a long enough timeline produces draconian and mercenary responses.

The True Sons

I have previously mentioned a faction in The Division 2 known as “The Hyenas.” These represent the most lawless and unorganized cadre of individuals. They are young, hot headed, totally devoid of a rational set of rules that govern them, and are generally the easiest to point to as a visual reminder when society breaks down. These are the fraternity assholes who were always waiting in the wings of democracy to get a chance to bully again like they did in high school, and the loss of a “Leviathan” as Thomas Hobbs says, to provide a middle man to the law, the result is that “The Hyenas” scavenge and take what they like.

But I have made it far enough into the game to encounter a second group of individuals, and these are a direct contrast to “The Hyenas” but they no less represent a pernicious response that is worth analyzing. Above you can see in my photography the “True Sons.” Here we are at the Viewpoint Museum, a location the True Sons use as an electronic hub to communicate and distribute propaganda to assist in their cause. Compared to The Hyenas, the True Sons are highly regulated in clothing and discipline. Notice the militarized weaponry, the standard uniform of khaki and navy blue. In the above photographs, they can be seen systematically clearing an atrium floor by floor.

The True Sons are trained to use heavier equipment. Compared to The Hyenas, pictured on the right using haphazard tactics and equipment on civilians, the True Sons can even use light-machine gun tactics on the player, along with the “suppress and maneuver” strategies that coincide.

The True Sons are an organized and highly lethal opponent who know the strategies of the player in and out, as they are a rogue unit who broke away out of disillusionment with the goals and aspirations of the United States. Violence to them is the only solution to bringing about change, as they believe the forefathers had done long before. Oftentimes this makes them a horrific “winner take all” entity like ISIS. Their legalist bent is so alarming that they will routinely execute those who disobey the will of the True Sons to send a message and maintain order.

The space in which the True Sons inhabits is far more robust as well. The player encounters routine bodies on display alongside barbed wire, sandbags, as well as concrete and HESCO barriers. In moments of strife or political decline, conventional notions of strength in force is the easy answer.

The Hyenas and The True Sons frequently clash, as the predatory accumulation of trinkets overlaps with the exclusionary and harsh violent response to any attempt made to break the chain of discipline. Here a Hyena looter carelessly engages a True Son out of cover. The defenses bottleneck the attacker directly to the True Son defender, who remains in cover and possesses far greater firepower to thwart the attempt.

In returning to normalcy, the methods to bring The Hyenas back into civilization is the easier task, as their squabble is monetary. When employment and wages are available, their violence would cease.

The issues with the True Sons are far more ideological, and because of that, their hold on violence and their unwillingness to compromise makes them the more difficult conflict.

Bringing it Home

One might argue that the True Sons are the better answer to the problems of society falling apart in The Division 2, but this group represents a clandestine ambiguity to the role of the player in the game. The only real reason the player can lay claim to his or her might is the desire to reconnect the United States to its unalienated state. This comes from building up the White House base of operations as well as settlements. Completing tasks in the game award hydroponic gardens for the hungry, “gaming corners” as distractions for the children (in order to preserve their interest in society rather than break to the Hyenas as they come of age), and in the restoration of goods and services. This sort of “bottom up” bootstrapping of the public space is different compared to the True Sons, though their means are the same (using violence to restore order).

Through the same violence, the True Sons institute a “top down” brutalizing the public into “falling in line.” They do not believe in compromise, terms, or mutually beneficial alliances. Although they are highly lethal and efficient, they are Spartan in the reticence to engage in a dialog. The “Us versus Them” mentality is exacerbated to its fullest.

Timeline of alleged Wisconsin protest shooter's path - ABC News

With the disclaimer that The Division 2 represents an incredibly exaggerated situation for America to be in, this is not too far off from a problem in general human thinking. We have always had a problem with “pragmatic” “action first” responses, to such an extent that radicalization is easy. In the United States, couple this with easy access to high-powered firearms, and young people can be easily led to believe that force and might are the best methods for what they believe to be “social unrest.” In this context, “social unrest” and “civic responsibility to lawfully assemble” conflate.

Still, the ugly truth of The Division 2 is that the player is complicit in violence against American civilians.

Many times in history, we wonder if it takes a “bad guy” to deal with the violence waged by “evil” people. This easy turn comes out of doubt in institutions, and that can be dangerous. If the history of the 20th century is to be remembered, we should understand how the supposedly sanguine ideals of “discipline” and “loyalty” and “strength” can be coopted into autocratic ends like that of the True Sons in The Division 2.

Oftentimes the great stories of video games occur based on what they show, rather than directly tell. The Division 2 continues to be an excellent example of the trend.

I dread the kind of rhetoric coming out of the 2020 presidential election, where they pose the logic of The True Sons as a viable option.

Despite the violence of recent movements being a vastly small minority compared to the general population of Americans who desire nothing more than to live without suffering and to respond to each other with generosity, it seems as though urban centers like Kenosha are being used to leverage very atavistic responses.

It reminds me of an excellent bumper sticker I saw while driving: “Make hockey violent again.”

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