Just as the world keeps turning—at least, until the climate apocalypse claims us all—so too has the latest big video game announcement brought a new developer attempt at denying that their game might say something.
The newly announced Battlefield 2042 puts some pretty charged ideas front and center: It’s set amidst a climate catastrophe (you know, more so than the popular video game we call life), which has led to an extremely precedented refugee crisis. Some refugees known as “No-Pats” fight for the two remaining superpowers, the United States and Russia. Battlefield 2042's website features a whole timeline of fictional events leading up to this in-game moment, including the “Second Great Depression’’ brought on by fuel shortages and the collapse of the European Union. It also touts in-game dynamic events and storms as a result of this setting.
Despite all of this, design director Daniel Berlin rejected the idea that his game is a social commentary in an interview with IGN.
“It is definitely purely a multiplayer game for us,” Berlin said in response to a question about whether or not the game contains social commentary. “The reason we decided to go down this route is so we could create a narrative with this world that we could create through the eyes of the No-Pats. We wanted to get more spectacle in there, and more massive events happening. The setting fits that perfectly. It fits that scale, and it gives us reasons to go all over the world...It’s for gameplay reasons across the board.”
This echoes Ubisoft’s recent, fumbling attempts at discussing the political nature of Far Cry 6, with the game’s narrative director first saying that “our game doesn’t want to make a political statement about what’s happening in Cuba specifically” in an interview, only to later clarify in a post that the game is “political,” but not in a way that aims to make specific statements about Cuba. This led to ire among players who just want developers to talk straight about serious issues—like, but hardly limited to, war—that so many games engage with, and now Battlefield 2042 is receiving a similar response.
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. Others have taken aim at the root of the issue: It’s not that developers aren’t aware that their games draw on real-world issues and, in doing so, unavoidably make statements; it’s that they’re afraid to admit it for fear of backlash from a very specific subset of fans.
It may seem blatantly apparent that the latest military shooter whose narrative is rooted in the pending collapse of real-world political institutions is political, but bizarrely, this tactic works on some prospective players. In the lead up to EA’s Battlefield 2042 reveal event, it was not hard to find fans saying they hope EA doesn’t “ruin” the game “with politics” this time, referring primarily to Battlefield V’s inclusion of female soldiers. Today, people in that camp reacted to Battlefield 2042's trailer with messages like “glad to see they learned their lesson,” praising what they perceived to be a lack of politics. Others have waved away the idea that Battlefield 2042 could be in any way political because it is set in the future and draws on narrative and gameplay elements present in previous games like Battlefield 2142—a game also set in a future ravaged by climate change, which led to large-scale warfare. The fact that these real-world problems existed back then and clearly inspired developers at the time does not seem to have dawned on them.
But even if none of those themes appeared in Battlefield 2042, it would still be a game about war.