This confession comes shortly after First Person Scholar published my critique of The Division. Basically, I argue that by depicting a United States on the brink of total collapse, the game also holds up a mirror to real-life America, which has been weakened by a complex range of global and domestic issues. A large part of this commentary, to my mind, revolves around the police/military relationship within the game’s Joint Task Force, as their vastly different public safety duties have increasingly overlapped in post-9/11 America.
Consumerism, too, is denoted by The Division as a key factor in America’s decline – both as a pandemic vector, and a real-world overindulgence. The in-world advertising for fake products retroactively takes on a sinister tone, foreshadowing the disaster to come: Bus stop ads for “everlasting” tablet PCs highlight the redundancy of technology in a world where electricity is becoming scarce. Posters compel shoppers to “be prepared” for the Black Friday sales where the disease originated. A Times Square billboard, meanwhile, carries the tagline of a forthcoming film: “When forces collide, the city holds its breath.”
Given the detail that Ubisoft Massive has put into The Division’s vast range of imaginary consumer goods, the inclusion of a real-world product (beyond the firearms, that is) is thrown into particularly stark contrast. Players can equip their elite avatar with Mechanix Wear® Original gloves, a brand I was unfamiliar with until I played The Division. The sudden appearance of a registered trademark symbol among the fake ads for dumb holiday movies like Don’t Tell Mom made me curious.
On visiting the Mechanix Wear® website, I learned that the gloves “are designed to combat daily hazards and injuries ranging from harsh abrasions, cut and puncture wounds to broken bones, joint damage, vibration injuries, and even exposure to fire and intense heat.” The brand is marketed, in part, towards military and police customers; the Wolf Grey line, for example, provides “law enforcement and special forces with low-visibility protection in urban, suburban and industrial environments” (and somehow also boosts critical hit damage by 7.5%). Purple gloves that will increase my primary weapon’s DPS and are endorsed by real-life operators? Sure, that vendor can have some credits.
My relationship with Mechanix Wear® didn’t stop at stat boosting, however. As it happened, I was in need of a new pair of gloves for work, so I stopped past eBay and – well, the system works. I’ve been won over by in-game product placement before, but that was more in the sense of playing Forza Horizon and living out the fantasy of premium car brand ownership. If I ever start making a six-figure salary, perhaps that will translate into a sale for Maserati. But for now, the best I can do is shell out AUD$20 for a pair of Mechanix Wear® M-Pact gloves. Which I can claim on tax, helping maintain the delusion that this was a genuinely necessary purchase.
Where does this leave The Division‘s subtexts, though – does it undermine the game’s messages about consumerism? Obviously a different department at Ubisoft was responsible for establishing a relationship with Mechanix Wear®, so does it really take away from the developers’ vision, and what they are attempting to communicate? It’s hardly an intrusive bit of product placement, after all. I’ve argued that the game overall is suffering a bit of an identity crisis in its stance towards violence – maybe this is just another aspect of the way in which The Division is torn between loyalties.