Killzone 2, Fascism and Morality

Helghast Triad Symbol

Out with the old, in with the…old?

Killzone 2 is a fascinating game on many levels. It is graphically stunning, and the gameplay is intense and addictive. Yet the game’s story is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all. It performs a complex intervention into contemporary geopolitics by problematizing moral clarity in times of war.

The game’s story updates stock World War II imagery, though little has been made of the link between the antagonistic Helghan Empire and Nazi Germany.

Scolar Visari, the leader of the Helghast, has remilitarized his people following a great defeat some years earlier. His propaganda machine and mesmerizing speeches ignite the fires of hatred in his people of the ISA (conspicuously similar to the USA). The game calls him a dictator, but it’s clear that the developers at Guerrilla Games, which is based in Amsterdam, cast him as a latter-day Hitler. Battlefields are populated by machine gun nests, enemy soldiers use flamethrowers, and some of the invasion scenes resemble the opening of Saving Private Ryan. Players are encouraged to destroy enemy symbols like the one at right, which recalls the swastika. An entire city is decimated by a nuclear weapon.

With this kind of backdrop, one would expect a binary conception of good and evil. Dictator=bad, liberating invaders=good, etc. Soldiers on both sides of the game subscribe to such simplification wholeheartedly. Killzone 2, however, problematizes this duality and questions whether the invasion is truly the right course of action. While the Hitler figure is ultimately killed in the end, the invading ISA forces also suffer heavy losses and the war promises to continue indefinitely. The invasion of the Helghan may have ultimately disrupted the global (in this case, universal) balance of power.

Killzone 2 simultaneously is  and is not a futuristic reimagining of World War II. While the buildings, enemy troops, and environments doubtless evoke Nazi Germany, the ISA’s costly invasion and its problematic aftermath parallel that of the Iraq War. In a sense, Killzone 2 reflects the inapplicability of tidy binaries to contemporary geopolitics. There is no absolute evil in the game. Shades of grey painted over black and white. The War on Terror is not WWII and cannot be conceived of in the same way.

The game also implicitly questions the relationship between gaming and the military. The US Army has already begun to capitalize on the relationship between first-person shooters (FPS) and perceptions of the military as cool or interesting. FPS lovers are young men more often than not. Near Philadelphia, the Army runs an arcade in a suburban mall where teens can experience simulations of combat helicopters, play FPS games like Killzone 2, and “learn more” about the Army. Yet Killzone 2’s complicated morality makes one wonder whether the Army would actually want youth to play it. If the heavy losses and ultimate failure of the Helghan invasion portend endless war, what has been gained in the struggle? Has one form of fascism replaced another? Is there no escape from such a cycle?

Killzone 2 is thus a timely game for a changing world. Its combination of past and present make it a brilliant intervention into contemporary politics, culture, and the morality of gaming itself.

What did you think of the story arc? What questions did it raise in your mind?

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5 Responses to “Killzone 2, Fascism and Morality”

  1. ricardotrejo Says:

    Wow, I must say this was a very powerful and well written piece. You really dissected the message the game conveyed and you fleshed it out so others can understand – possibly even given a reason for some to pick up the game.

    Kudos to you my friend.

  2. I have to admit that I have no played Killzone 2, as I have neither an Xbox 360 or a Playstation. After reading your post, I do have an interest in checking it out. I’m a big fan of video games that have some intelligent writing and leave you with something after you’re done playing. There’s not a lot of games that attempt this, and of the ones that do, there’s even fewer that do it well.

    Great article. I think I’m going to link you in an update to my Killzone post.

    Jim

  3. ospreydawn Says:

    @ Xugro

    Read your article and wholeheartedly agree with what you had to say. The ties between the events of WWII and the events in the game truly are inextricable, and the game, at some level, does reflect the horrors of the outcomes of war. But in saying that; Killzone 2 didn’t make the player connect with those ideals and instead only touched on them (as you described).

    I think as a game, if Killzone 2 were to have connections between the players through likable characters and a motive that the player felt they could use to play the game, not only would Killzone 2 touch on the ideas, but it would make the player experience the issues and ideas through playing through experience. And thus, ultimately, Killzone 2 could have been one of the first powerfully presented game of this generation, or most powerful shooter in any aspect.

    This is why I believe games have the potential to be one of the most powerful narratives if they are done right, which is why I have started this site.

    Sadly, Rico made sure that in Killzone 2 connection didn’t happen (and other reasons of course).

    Thanks for your comment and glad to see someone thought about this game in the same way.

  4. I just finished playing Killzone 2, and immediately went searching online for some comparison of Killzone 2 and WWII. I felt the similarities were very apparent, but also that there was more than just a pure good and evil. I am amazed that you had all the same thoughts as I did regarding the game. Well writen. Thanks a lot!

  5. PVTcaboose Says:

    I’m glad I stopped to read your article. I never really gave the storyline much indept thought just kinda payed attention to it but focused more on getting through the game and killing some Helghast. But your article has got me thinking now. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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