Helldivers 2 delivers based thrills

News & Politics

“Keep our glorious Super Earth safe and do your duty by reporting ANY unpatriotic behavior to your nearest democracy officer.”

The PA system rings overhead as I’m de-frosted out my pod and brought onto the deck of the SES Shield of Morality. As a competent helldiver for the Super Earth government, defending our way of life and the right side of history across the galaxy, I can see who is on my ship with no helmet to hide their visage.

Welcome back, helldiver. Glad you’re aboard so we can get started,” chimes Ship Master Skogsberg, her clean, shaved head accentuating her ethnically ambiguous appearance. But she is there to give me the tactical data on the stratagems I will need for my upcoming mission against the Terminid menace.

My pod is locked and loaded. I select my boosters and stratagems, and I dive feet first into hell — feet first for managed democracy.

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Screenshot from Helldivers 2

Fresh off the heels of a week’s worth of “discourse” over Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers,” Arrowhead Game Studios has seen unprecedented success with its latest title, Helldivers 2. Succeeding its top-down, 2015 cooperative shooter, the sequel is a third-person, objective-based extraction shooter that pits you and your teammates against hordes of ravaging Terminids (think the bugs from “Starship Troopers”) and armies of Terminator-like automatons. For the sake of transparency, I purchased the game myself. I’ve streamed it multiple times, and it’s quite fun.

My time in the game as of today.Screenshot from Helldivers 2

The game is clearly an homage to Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers,” with the same kind of “would you like to know more?” style of propagandistic footage that you’ll watch when you first load up the game. Much like Verhoeven’s movie, it depicts a world of an ultra-militarized, “democratic” society that is ethnically diverse with sexually integrated armed forces taking on the bugs as if they just attacked Buenos Aires.

The introduction video is hilarious: we’re given a view of a peaceful Super Earth colony — clean streets and safe neighborhoods with patrolling troops — as we witness the only straight, white male in this entire universe watching in horror as his black wife and mixed-race child are graphically killed by the Terminid bug menace. My first reaction had me laughing so hard to the point I wish I had recorded it; however, if you want to, you can relive the radicalization of the one white male of Super Earth time and time again as the video introduction plays every time you load into the game.

The homage to Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” is felt as soon as you load into the tutorial, with its training section giving you no trouble at all and happily subjecting you to death if you fail any of the sections of combat or unsuccessfully dive underneath live-fire gatling turrets. The soundtrack is exemplary, and you could easily swap it out with the score Basil Poledouris did for the movie — it would totally fit right in.

And just like Isaac Young’s observations on Twitter, the game’s attempt at parody falls flat on its face despite the community manager’s attempts to dissuade the gamers from having a positive feeling about the game’s aesthetics and fascism. It certainly doesn’t help while talking about the game’s politics that some of the community relations personnel for the game have pronouns in the bio.

I am not posting the @ and the obligatory call to not harass these people.

“Death of the author” — something much-beloved by the “new left” just a few years ago, has been abandoned for the sake of telling the Chuds that they can’t enjoy something because the author’s intent denies them the ability to keep right-wing or conservative-adjacent individuals from enjoying things.

My good friend and co-host, Gio’s Content Corner, wrote about this extensively in his post “Bugmen and the Death of Art”:

But all in all, in conclusion, what we can say is that authorial intention is but one interpretive lens among many. And the reason why we must get rid of the thesis of the death of the author is because of the fundamental anxiety in which we live in. That there can be no proliferation of various interpretations or interpretive lenses. They can fall into the hands of “dangerous reactionaries” in the far right, and therefore, works of art must be guarded and shuttered off at all costs. Lest they fall into the hands of the “wrong side of history”. Even something as powerful and spiritualized to the Millennial as nostalgic itself must be taken into a strange process of what Arthur Chu in the GamerGate days called “mind-killing.” Where all thoughts to the contrary of the social messaging must be set to the flames. Nostalgic itself can only be taken up when it serves present political concerns, the impulse itself is dangerous to the current progressive liberal order of things.

The online right, from its anti-SJW days to its now more openly reactionary appearances, hasn’t just gone for the death of the author but the hijack of the author. This isn’t to say that the author is dead or that the “soyelennial bugmen” screaming at me not to appreciate the fascistic garnish of their product aren’t around anymore but rather that in the public image of things, they aren’t at the discursive helm anymore. In the same way (for better or for worse) the “Literally Me” genre of films as explored by the Kino Corner has become the core identifying character trait for politically dispossessed white men in America, so too have helldivers become “Literally Me” characters — just as Johnny Rico from Verhoeven’s film has become a rallying cry to the right. After all, if we’re seeing online communists identify with the bugs of “Starship Troopers,” then, of course, the appropriate response would be, “The only good bug is a dead bug.”

Everyone knows that you’re making fun of fascism, and people don’t care.

America hasn’t come anywhere near fascism, and our war with fascism in World War II ensured it wouldn’t come anywhere near American shores. Rather, it would become the eternal boogeyman that haunts our dreams and our political life until the Last Judgement.

Tessa Kaur, writing for TheGamer, explains that Helldivers 2 is the “Antifascist Answer to Call of Duty,” stating:

Most satire attempts to be subtle and thought provoking, but Starship Troopers the movie doesn’t bother. Its satire is obvious and loud, purposefully deconstructing far-right propaganda. It has child soldiers, for god’s sake. It’s very clearly anti-fascist.
This is important because Helldivers 2 is an unabashed, obvious homage to Starship Troopers. They have more or less the same premise, with soldiers who fight to spread democracy through violence and bugs that you have to squish. And just like the movie, Helldivers 2 is a satire of fascism.

You didn’t need to state the obvious — I just don’t care. I can tell it’s satire listening to propaganda about joining the fight with friends, using two-man weapons that I can get as stratagems — like recoilless rifles or javelin-like missiles called “spears.” I know, just like Verhoeven’s film, that the world of Super Earth, despite the fascistic trimmings of cool suits and taking on bugs and bots, is a world that I would see in any post-gamergate video game setting with progressive representation, diversity, and cheesy dialogue. However, the latter serves the author’s intent in the case of Helldivers 2.

The game is, as the authors of numerous articles and fans have proudly proclaimed, “antifascist.” They’re right. Antifascism is the political theology of modern America and the Western world. Dr. Paul Gottfried details in his 2021 book “Antifascism: A Course of a Crusade”:

The antifascist state stands in contrast to the fascist one in the understanding of governance. It involves a sprawling administration, along with efforts to de-masculinize and de-ethnicize “populations,” a term favored by the German government offcials of our time who do not want to be associated any longer with a “nation” or “Volk.” The antifascist regime operates with forces dedicated to fighting “hate,” mass media, and public education.

The world of Helldivers 2 is an explicitly antifascist one. There is an ambiguous identity to the world, wherein the large black man in helldiver armor who stands by the tactical display near the hellpods of my ship has the name “Yu Villa” in the same way the other two ethnically ambiguous women on my ship have the last names Skogsberg and Wirz. The Starfield representation problem strikes again. My character and my friends are fighting for the “right side of history,” a term often cheered by liberals as they get their victories handed down to them by Supreme Court rulings or by the state forcing them at gunpoint onto the disaffected masses.

Yet, the same thing can be said about Super Earth, the introduction video shows me clean streets, nice suburban neighborhoods, and a militarized police presence keeping the world safe. No homeless encampments. No bikes getting stolen. All’s well that ends well. Well, save for a Terminid attack on your perfectly progressive, interracial marriage.

Where Helldivers 2 fails in its efforts to make fun of fascism is that the American regime is closer to resembling the world of Super Earth than anything even resembling the fascist regimes of the 20th century. Helldivers 2 is the logical conclusion to the progressive empire that rules over us now and has become fully automated, luxury gay space longhouse.

The managed democracy of Super Earth is just like the American managed democracy of today, wherein elections are fortified and ethnically motivated political groups can strike down proof of citizenship requirements for voting in swing states like Arizona.

My “ultra-MAGA” behavior can be reported to my “democracy officer” (HR) if someone ever got a hold of my docs and decided to go after me and my employment. And just like the helmeted (but not so silent) protagonists of Super Earth, I am called upon to serve and die for some ephemeral cause of freedom and liberty that doesn’t serve my interest on behalf of those who do not look like me. Managed democracy is putting more white people in military recruitment ads because they know white men are walking away; they do not see a regime that benefits them at all. Nothing sweet about liberty when nationalist activists are arrested for simply putting up stickers speaking out against the managed replacement of native Britons.

Helldivers 2 and its world are a perfect representation of Gottfried’s antifascist state, but it also, despite its attempts at satirizing fascism, reflects more on the current state of America and the West than it realizes, intentional or not. Yet despite this, there is the gameplay loop and the adventurism of taking on bugs and robots in a space military, dropping down like Halo’s equivalent Orbital Drop Shock Troopers while chatting with my friends over Discord about what loadouts we will need to not only kill the bile titan but also get all the optional objectives needed for a glorious victory. The average right-wing Twitter user playing this game has hijacked the author. The game is now about conquering and human supremacy in a world that was clearly meant to make fun of the Chuds and their kneejerk fascism. Being a helldiver is based, now. Sorry, Xir.

Yet their attempt at entertaining parody is more like reality than they realize. Just like the political thrillers and comedies that started before the Trump era, like “House of Cards” or “VEEP,” they couldn’t keep up with the fact that reality was more entertaining than their fiction ever could be. Trump tweets derailed news cycles, and what his administration was up to on a day-to-day basis was better than anything Julia Louis-Dreyfus and company could ever put on the air.

The author has been hijacked. You control where the hellpod lands, and you can die for glorious victory while giving the bugs a sweet “cup of liber-tea” as you throw grenades into their nests. But much like soldiers coming back from America’s military adventurism, you’ll see people who don’t look like you while the state espouses ideas of freedom and democracy that don’t include you. All this while demanding you get back in the pod and fight for managed democracy again and again just as you have always done when you have been called upon to serve.

Because after all …


This was originally published on the author’s substack.

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