‘Division 2’ Is Crawling With Disease, And So Are We, Apparently

The Division 2

There are seven dollar bills and three 20s in my wallet on the plane to Washington, DC. I rarely carry cash, and doing so now feels cumbersome, but I was warned before this trip to preview Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 that I’d need a few notes.

Unlike Australia, America is still far from a cashless society. The country runs on dollar bills tipped to waitstaff and slipped to cabbies. Notes change hands with barely a thought.

In The Division 2, this pervasive green network becomes the vehicle for the country’s downfall. However, it doesn’t happen in the way you’d first think.

Seven months before the events in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, several dollar bills were deliberately contaminated with a newly engineered strain of smallpox. Put into circulation during the Black Friday sales in New York, the disease soon infected millions.

“After New York, in a matter of weeks, the virus has spread in Washington DC, and the authorities slowly just realise the importance and the risk that it poses,” Cloé Hammoud, a researcher who worked on The Division 2, tells me.

Hammoud and her team researched how such a crisis might unfold in the real world, with the intention to make the world of The Division 2’s as realistic and believable as possible.

To that end, they considered “the construction of the world, and the infrastructure and the key systems of the city that would slowly collapse one after another”. More specifically, they looked at the way people fit into said systems.

“When we came here [to Washington, DC], we talked to a lot of different experts, like [US Federal Emergency Management Agency] experts, firefighters, policemen,” says Hammoud.

“We wanted to push the scenario a bit further and see, OK, [what happens if] they just couldn’t do what they were supposed to do because they were killed, [or] because they have to take care of their family member who was killed?”

The Division 2

“Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of my friends,” reads a quote by Yvette Raphael, a woman who was diagnosed with HIV in 2000.

I’m in on the second floor of Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which currently hosts a serendipitous exhibit called ‘Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World’. It chronicles outbreaks of disease among human populations, from HIV to influenza to smallpox.

The Division 2’s smallpox is modified, mixed in with other diseases such as ebola and swine flu to create a virus that’s much more infectious and deadly. In comparison, the smallpox we know was tame. Yet looking at a photograph of a baby girl completely covered in blisters, “tame” seems the poorest word to describe it.

On one wall, a brightly coloured image displays the smallpox vaccine blown up to thousands of times its size. It looks similar to the blisters it prevents – a rounded shape that’s marked in the centre. Affixed below it is a placard entitled “SOLUTION: Eradicating Smallpox”.

“Smallpox is an ancient disease caused by a deadly variola virus, which killed about one in three people infected,” it reads. “Smallpox may have killed half a billion people in the 20th century alone.” In The Division 2, the disease has a 90 percent mortality rate.

The Division 2

The World Health Organisation declared smallpox eliminated in 1980, and governments have stockpiled the vaccine in case of a deliberate attack. Unfortunately, it is the nature of disasters that not everything can be prepared for.

“There is the balance in planning and improvisation where the plans that you’ve put in place, the things that you thought about, give you a little bit of that freedom to improvise and to keep up,” says Tricia Wachtendorf, professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware and Director of the Disaster Research Centre.

“When something is more catastrophic [as opposed to a mere disaster], it demands so much more improvisation. For example, your ability to rely on other communities nearby to provide assistance through mutual aid agreements, if they are impacted as well, then that’s your plan A and plan B and plan C gone by the wayside.”

In The Division 2, help isn’t coming. Or, more accurately, you are the help.

Soon after the disease spread from New York to Washington, DC, the severity of the situation became apparent, and the politicians and diplomats based in the city evacuated. Not everyone made it out, as embassy workers from various countries are among the characters players can encounter. However, those who did spread the deadly outbreak to all corners of the globe, destroying any prospect of aid the US may have hoped for.

“[S]ometimes governments don’t act quickly enough and health care systems can’t handle these crises,” reads a display in the Smithsonian’s ‘Outbreak’ exhibit. “Rumours, fear, and distrust lead people to act recklessly, and the outbreak spreads.”

The Division 2

The Division 2’s falling disaster dominoes aren’t restricted to the immediate impact of the virus. Much of Washington is low-lying, and after the outbreak in The Division 2, nobody was there to close the city’s floodgates. This reflects how quickly problems can compound in real emergencies.

“The local officials aren’t able to perform their usual response rules. Most of the built or physical environment might be destroyed or, in this case, the health systems might be compromised,” says Wachtendorf.

“So that demands so much more improvisation, and then the ability to keep up pace in real time while additional consequences unfold make it extremely difficult to prevent the next cascading event or consequence.”

The Smithsonian’s ‘Outbreak’ exhibit includes a list of things that governments can do to prepare for and manage future outbreaks so it never gets to that stage. These range from “[involving] local communities in disease education and surveillance” to “[declaring] a state of emergency during the early stages on an outbreak”.

At the exhibit’s exit, two interactive maps track current outbreaks of infectious diseases around the globe. There are 50 at the time of my visit.

Rushing back to the hotel to pick up my bags and call an Uber to the airport, I stop by a Mexican food truck on 11th Street. I don’t have time to pick out toppings for a burrito, so I grab a steak quesadilla for $8, or $10 with tax.

The dreadlocked man grilling my lunch tells me he’s tired because he came straight from his other job, and I sympathise as I extract the cash from my wallet. The texture of the cotton and linen blend is strangely rough, and it reminds me of a report claiming nearly 80 percent of American notes hold traces of cocaine.

There’s nothing visibly untoward about the pale green notes, aside from one inexplicably burnt corner. I hand the bills over with a smile and a thanks. There are worse things they could carry.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Junkee travelled to Washington DC as a guest of Ubisoft.