This column has primarily focused on movies set in Washington, DC, in part because movies often get the geography wrong. No Way Out puts a Baltimore metro station in Georgetown, for example, while Captain America: The Water Soldier obliterates Theodore Roosevelt Island so that a giant airship should emerge from the middle of the Potomac. The latest Scene in DC must is not about movies at all, but a video game. This particular game in DC is so geographically accurate that it’s creepy and borderline distracting. But for anyone annoyed with downtown gridlock, it’s also kind of fun.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is a post-apocalyptic action game where you play an unnamed agent who prowls DC’s streets and clear them from several paramilitary gangs. Most of the game is set in the downtown and Smithsonian areas. It stretches from Georgetown to the Capitol Building, and you can visit as far north as Mount Vernon Square.
The designers of The Division 2 got many details just right. One of the first neighborhoods you visit is around Ford’s Theater, and sure enough, a facsimile of E Street Cinema is waiting around the corner. You can also visit the FBI building, or head in the other direction for the McDonald’s at the intersection of 13th and New York Avenue. My office is in “The Dark Zone,” an area where players can interact and attack each other online, and many of the metro platforms are intact.
Playing this game creates an uncanny feeling. I’ve wandered these streets on foot for well over a decade, and it’s weird to see them in a car-free, deserted gaming environment (a pandemic wiped out most of the population). At the same time, it’s cool to see the attention to detail, whether it’s GW’s campus or the interior of the Air and Space Museum. At times, it’s difficult to take in the geographical accuracy because, well, lots of bad guys are always trying to kill you. The Division 2 is a “loot and shoot” game, one where the player is always looking for the next armor piece or super-powered weapon. This creates a dissociative quality as you wander through the streets.
As of now, you can only visit a limited section of the city, but expansions will roll out on a regular basis. In the updates to come, I would like to see The Division make it to Logan Circle, and even Shaw. Sure, they can imagine drab brutalist architecture when they’re abandoned by civilization, but what about a neighborhood where people actually lived? It could also lead to a hilarious subplot about which paramilitary gang is gentrifying which. Since the game only goes as far east as the Capitol Building, we’re missing out on Senate Offices, House Offices, the Supreme Court, the Folger, and another iconic buildings. Many of the games include audio snippets where you can hear people reeling from the outbreak. I would like to find one inside some Committee office where a lowly staffer is trying to awkwardly flirt with their coworker because “Hey, it’s the end of the world.”
Either way, this game is a realistic playground that offers endless ways to re-imagine our city. That’s why I bought the game, but that’s not what I keep playing. On top of getting DC more correct than most any movie, it’s also addictive as hell.