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Paying Attention to People in The Division

As soon as The Division released, there was a mad rush of people clamoring to get in their thoughts on the subject. Some praised the graphic detail of a New York City in the aftermath of a disease that killed millions almost overnight. Some talked about the interplay of single-player experience with team and PvP options for those who want to share the game together. However, I can’t honestly talk about any of that as my long-overdue-for-an-upgrade PC wheezes and chugs just trying to play this demanding title. In spite of this, I continue to play, pushing through the choppy frame rate. What keeps me coming back to what can rightfully be called a grind across Manhattan? I roam the streets of the empty city because it feels embodied and I want to know what it has in store.

“Alright everyone, form a line. If we’re gonna get verified and move forward, we’ve all got to wait our turn in an orderly fashion. Otherwise we’ll never get out of here.”

Like many others on launch day—that was what I walked into on my first ‘mission’ in the game. A room full of men and women called up to active duty, as it were, all pushing and shoving to get to the one laptop we all needed to click on to finish our mission and get into the game. It wasn’t an NPC trying to shuffle through some lifeless sprites through a line. Equal parts annoying and interesting was the fact that the players themselves were filling the chat window with calls to sanity and order.

In a strange way, I look back on it as part of my immersion into the world The Division was trying to portray. The Division is supposed to be a unit only called up as a last resort. They are the ones that bring order back into the world against madness and lawlessness. So when you activate hundreds or even thousands of them in the middle of city-wide panic, why on earth would there be anything BUT chaos and anarchy? An infamous usability nightmare that made its way past the playtests and into the full release actually set the tone for my gameplay experience.

Sobbing, the only words she could get out were “they killed him.”

The game is filled with moments that have nothing to do with your agent’s story, but everything to do with the situation they find themselves in. A man was trying to steal a woman’s bag, proclaiming that he needed it to help feed his kids. A woman ran down the street as looters chased her, bullets flying past her head. When she ran right at me, drawing me into the fight, I thought I had wandered into one of the game’s many random quests, but it wasn’t. It was just a woman fleeing for her life from those who were threatening it. A woman collapsed in the middle of the street. A soldier came alongside her, asking if she was ok. Sobbing, the only words she could get out were “they killed him.” There was a heaviness in the soldier’s voice as he helped her up, guiding her to the sidewalk and trying to encourage someone dealing with the worst kind of loss.

At one point I sat with people and listened to them tell stories of their experience at a refugee camp when the cleaners—one of the game’s factions—came through and burned the lot of them. He got choked up talking about it, and refused to say anything else. Again, this wasn’t a quest. There was no proverbial exclamation point over his head as is a trope in MMO style games. It was just part of the narrative of a world in transition. I wanted to know more. And now, having dealt with the terrifying experience of a Cleaner’s flamethrower, I still remember that guy’s story.

In my growing collection of heartbreaking moments, I found myself exploring an abandoned apartment building. The door was opened, so I decided to search its contents. I wandered in, grabbing any canned food and supplies I could get my hands on, and then I found him. The man was lying dead there in the bed, blood still all over his shirt and bedsheets. His dog was beside the bed, keeping watch over the body. I still don’t know that man’s story. Don’t know that dog’s name. But I’d like to think if I were killed by looters—my dog would still be sitting there in silent vigil too. Sad, scared, but not willing to leave me there. I wonder what someone would think if they found him like that? Found me like that?

If you have played MMO games before and find the gameplay repetitive and tedious, this game won’t change your mind about that. I realize that The Division 2 just launched last week, but its predecessor is underrated and a lot cheaper at the moment. If you are interested in a world that lives and breathes whether you go there or not—filled with stories that are being told regardless of whether you take the time to listen to them, then check out The Division. Just keep the line organized and I’ll maybe I’ll see you in one of the safe houses.

Mike Perna is the founder of Innroads Ministries, a nonprofit that helps churches and organizations use games to bring people together in meaningful community. He also hosts the Bard and the Bible podcast, and co-hosts the Game Store Prophets podcast. Mike leads gaming events, speaks at retreats and conferences, and generally acts as a proponent for the power of the gaming table. He is blessed with a loving wife who puts up with him as he pursues a life of sharing God with gamers.

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