In The Division, public hubs are drab cloning facilities where hundreds of slightly different versions of the same brownish greenish characters warp in and out of existence. 15 hours in and I’ve yet to see a sick traffic cone hat and inquire about its origins, or scour wikis for the location of a jacket with a cartoon duck smoking a joint embroidered on the back. If only. I still look like a grumpy person wearing clothes I found at Old And Faded Navy Colored Clothes Inc. on clearance.
A dad example
Hamm’s is the prominent identifier, but he likes to branch out on occasion
I know my dad is one of the best fly-fisherman alive because he’s been scouring the planet for a Hamm’s lager baseball cap since I can remember. Hamm’s isn’t a fly-fishing brand, but anyone who knows my dad knows that his Hamm’s obsession and trout-landing aptitudes run parallel; Hamm’s gear is his legendary loot. It represents a self-aware play on the drunk fisherman, a man whose identity hinges on casting lines, telling trailer park tales, and crunching cans of cheap (but yeah, pretty good for the price) ‘piss water.’ He wants regular folks to see him and inquire about his story, and he wants other fishermen to be in on the joke.
In The Division, my soldier’s fly-fishing is shooting explosive tanks and any person that appears red under my HUD—you know, covert operative stuff. But with the current wardrobe, there’s no way I can express my personality without asking Chris Livingston, PC Gamer Staff Writer and constant Division companion, “Hey, buddy. See my the snow camo on my pistol?” Because of course he hasn’t, it’s tiny and blends in with all the dang snow. He’s also yet to comment on my new beanie. Baseball cap James was the old James. I think we need to have a talk. Before that happens, The Division needs a colorful, creative, creepy fashion injection.
As it stands, the only somewhat visible way to show off your progress and style in The Division is through the abilities you use and how your weapons influence your strategy. I’m a fan of throwing out a turret to distract the enemy, buffing a friendly sniper’s cover, flanking the enemy, and rushing them with my lovely semi-automatic shotgun. I’m the wild boy of The Division, and I need people to know it even when I’m not rushing headlong into gunfire. Chris likes to hang back, pop off precision shots, and save me from my inevitable, frequent incapacitations with clutch healing abilities. He’s reserved, patient, and pulls gutpunch one-liners out of nowhere. Luckily, his hat has a brim, because that’s the only way I can tell it’s him.
In multiplayer RPGs similar to The Division, like World of Warcraft or Destiny, loot is tied to specific raids, accomplishments, and purchasing decisions. They express skill and imply character. In Destiny, I prefer subdued colors and digital camo for my Hunter. Paired with a fancy cloak emblazoned with a stag and armor with bones that ride up from elbow to shoulder, she looks pretty mysterious. If The Division simply allowed the player to change colors of any piece of equipment—perhaps based on shader item drops to keep up the intrigue—I know I’d be asking myself why Chris chose greens and blues, and hoping he’d wonder what I was going for with my motley, garish colors.
The Division has some interesting loot, sure, and most expressive are the gun skins, but they’re so small in game that it’s nearly impossible for other players to notice. I enjoy using the close up camera in my inventory to rotate my guns around a experiment with skins. It’s intrinsically gratifying, but ‘ogling gun skins for my own satisfaction’ isn’t a phrase I’m likely to share in any other context. Destiny and World of Warcraft are almost entirely outwardly expressive. Any micro-tinkering isn’t an isolated experience entirely—it’s often expressed in noticeable ways through play style and fashion.
[15 hours of play and the color palates of my clothing. There's variety, but the colors are muted and the gear is too physically indistinct to make a difference.]
Granted, they’re set in more eccentric science fiction and fantasy worlds, where fashion is only limited to the fiction’s boundaries, and both have far reaching borders. The Division shoots for a sense of realism, pulp speculative fiction more than pulp science fiction, but there’s still enough leeway built into the fiction to give players more than camo scarves and work boots.
Stranger than fiction
In The Division’s fiction, members of the covert operative force are asked to function as normal members of society. It’s a shadow organization, where members are activated when necessary (which is 100% of the time, apparently), so it makes sense that every player soldier would have the opportunity to dress in such a way that they don’t paint a target on their back. They were regular folks before recruitment, and to maintain cover would mean that agents would wear all sorts of clothes: polka dot dresses (with wool leggings, of course), business attire, oversized I ‘heart’ New York tees. I can’t imagine that every soldier dresses into the restrained scarf, jacket, jeans combo—it’s a pretty big tell, nearly as bad as the ubiquitous hoody gangsters.
If The Division is truly a shadow organization, then wouldn’t some members attempt to infiltrate the warring factions? The Cleaners wear gas masks and thick firefighter uniforms, an imposing and eerie look. The Rikers have a prison gang aesthetic (they’re escaped convicts, after all) and make good use of bright orange jumpers, tattoos, and face masks.
I want to piece together a uniform from their scraps. I want to rip the suit off a mall Santa corpse and make a name for myself. As I outright murder more people and face the hardships of a wintry city gone to hell, I imagine my characters would lose their minds over time and become more scrappy and resourceful to compensate. The state of the world and my imagined psyche should be represented in how I dress. With such strange fiction and circumstances, outlandish characters should be a given. I’d like to be a part of the decay; my character’s journey upriver into the heart of Manhattan should be represented in more than audio logs and lovingly rendered piles of garbage—let me partake, let me wear a Hamm’s branded baseball cap and pair of sweatpants and invent new curse words. Let me be me.