It has been a while since we’ve written a Stratigraph, but the announcement of a new Battlefield title (2042) seemed like a good opportunity to get back into the flow. And like many big new games, something is definitely wrong with the new Battlefield. It looks cool, yes, but it’s theme is horrible and EA just went full Ubisoft: ‘it’s not political’ on us.
The announcement of a new title in the Battlefield series got people hyped up. The series sort of reinvented themselves with Battlefield One and Battlefield V, and went back to their historical roots. However, the newest installement of the series will leave the past behind and be set about 20 years in the future. It is easy to see how a game set just 20 years in the future will inevitably be very political. Especially when you read how the game is themed: it is set in a world where an extreme climate crisis has set about a massive refugee crisis which in turn has created violent conflict. Even though the game is set in the future, parallels to the current day climate crisis and refugee crises are easlily drawn (check out the How We Got Here EA made and see for yourself). And here is where EA went full Ubisoft.
Deisgn Director Daniel Berlin stated in an interview with IGN that despite all these obvious links to current day, the game wasn’t meant as a social commentary: ‘it is definitely purely a multiplayer game for us’. If you ask me, that response is even worse than Ubisoft’s response to the ‘Is Far Cry 6 political’-question. Some of the internet agreed that the response was not only really bad, but also pretty insensitive. Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson wrote a feature about this and summarized some of the main critiques: ‘Some, for example, have pointed out that it’s pretty insulting to imply that climate refugees—based on a very real problem that has impacted over 20 million people—are present in a game setting only for gameplay purposes and spectacle.’ A current-day political issue is just a backdrop to a well-produced and, I must concede, pretty good looking shooter. Presenting a thwarted view of the past is one thing, depecting a dystopian view of the near future is another thing.
It is not that EA don’t know that Enviromental Refugees are a thing. They full-on know that they are a thing and that Climate Change is a thing and it’s definitely not getting better before any time soon. But they just don’t want to take the risk, because they are scared of the lashback and the eventual impact on sales (or have calculated that discussion is good for business). Seeing the massive stir-up surrounding the addition of female soldiers in Battlefield V, it might seem logical and you get the feeling you don’t blame them, but I actually do, because come on. Angus ‘Doc Random’ Mol did some research on the Reddit backlash for BFV, mainly the toxic social media platforms like Reddit which absolutely exploded with hatred and misogyny when the trailer for BFV showed a woman fighting. It got so far the official Battlefield subreddit banned posts about historical accuracy. Well, they are getting ready to ban posts on politics.
What’s even weirder about all this, is the fact that it almost looks like they actually want this future. Doc Random pointed this out to me, but most often dystopian sci-fi is, well, dystopian. You know, the game features as a kind of warning saying: ‘we don’t want this’. But this all too sleek trailer with cool weapons and explosions and banging music almost seems like EA are saying: ‘you know what, we actually WANT this future!’ Why would you want this future? We almost hope EA are just pulling a massive plot twist on us when the loading screen shows a warning about how this will actually become reality. Or as Doc Random puts it:
What is bugging me even more is the reaction of the community (well, seeing it’s the same as the BFV controversy it was to be expected). Agreed, some people just play the game for the big booms and cool sounds, which is absolutely fine. But some seem to totally gloss over the whole Enviromental Crisis theme of the game and say: ‘look, cool guns, this looks so like now but just a bit more advanced but totally believable, and I’m so glad that EA is not making any political or social commentary after the mess that was BFV‘. And EA full well know that people are going to react if the game would be a ‘social commentary’, so to just pre-empt that thunderstorm of Reddit trouble, they plainly stated that the whole refugee crisis is just a not important backdrop. It’s not only quite insensitive that they made a game like this, they also try to save themselves from the angry Reddit horde before it’s even started. Shame on you EA. Shame.
I just hope for once that big developers like EA and Ubisoft are like: ‘you know what, this game IS a political commentary. Let us make a game where we point out what’s wrong with this world and that we definitely should change things before it gets too bad.’ Like, the climate. But unfortunately, that may just be wishful thinking.
Omar ‘oomzer’ Bugter is a Cultural Historian from Utrecht. Since interning at VALUE, he’s stuck around, mainly working on the Interactive Pasts website and the weekly streams. He wrote a thesis on Sid Meier’s Civilization VI and mods, so knows this game very well. He likes many other games, including F1 2020, Hearts of Iron, Mount & Blade and Crusader Kings III., and is VALUE’s in house city builder connaisseur. Tweet to him at @oomzer if you want to know anything about Civ or city builders.