An issue I've had with games for a while now is the effect increasing realism has on violence and the ability to like the heroes behind it. The Division's David Polfeldt feels the same way.
Case in point: the early God Of War games were broad pantomime splashes of brutal slapstick thanks to stylish but cartoonish visuals. Fast forward to GOW 3's head pulling scene and it's a lot less like a playground romp with stick swords.
There's a reason why so many generic bad guys wear balaclavas or masks - it dehumanizes them. You're killing an 'it' not a 'them'. But as graphics get better it doesn't matter what you put on a character's head, they look like people, making it harder to shrug off the body count.
In a recent interview with Gamasutra, David Polfeldt, the managing director of The Division's Massive Entertainment, has some encouraging and similar thoughts on the matter. When asked about the problem with more realistic violence in games this was his response:
"I think you're completely right. Photorealistic violence is troublesome, compared to low-pixel violence, which obviously is a toy. Absolutely, you're right. I hadn't thought about it before, but it does add a dimension of questioning that we didn't have before.
I think, also, that people are smart. You have to assume that people are smart, and we've been gaming now for decades, so maybe we want to know, 'Why am I pulling the trigger?
Why am I shooting this person, exactly? Do I really need to kill 1,000 people to achieve a goal? Is that morally completely fine?' I think you should assume gamers are that smart.
There are many games like that. You're the hero and you're doing the right thing... except to do that, you're killing thousands. It's a bit absurd. But you're right; it becomes more absurd if the graphic quality is photorealistic. Then it's even more strange. 'What did I just do to save humanity? Isn't that a bit contradictory?'"
He also paints an optimistic picture of the The Division being about more than shooting everything that moves:
"The Division is a game that is going a little bit beyond action and shooting, and is more about survival. And if you look at our trailer, the agent doesn't fire a single bullet, because his job is not to kill people. His job is to save people, actually.
So sure, there will be lots and lots of action in the game, and cool destruction, and everything you want from a shooter, but behind that there's a layer of "Shooting is not the answer, actually." If the agents could choose, they would not shoot anybody. That's really why they're there. I propose that we're beginning to add a couple of new dimensions to just shooting."
Let's hope that translates into a more thoughtful narrative that considers reason rather than response in The Division's survival set up.