Broforce’s Subtle Satire

I recently played through the main campaign for Broforce, arguably the most American thing ever made by human hands, and I came to find some unexpected thoughts from a game that advertises itself with screaming, ironic patriotism and action movie stars exploding things. The thing about Broforce is that everything about this game appears to be as classic “videogame” as possible, that is to say masculine and overly focused on US military glorification. Even Japanese games in the 80s were in love with the US military, though mainly because of the same cheesy action films this game drenches itself in. It could have easily played this completely straight, or gone for some harsh parody, but Broforce somehow manages to do both at the same time, and does it really well. The key is that it loves the schlock, but criticizes the politics.

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There’s one point in the game that made me come to this revelation I had building in the back of my head. On one of the late missions in the terrorist sections of the campaign (a bit before the entire story jumps the shark), there’s a cutscene that plays in the middle of a level that zooms in on a suicide bomber, just one of many enemy types you fight in the game. He stops for a moment, and then the game shows you an odd sequence where the bomber’s life flashes before his eyes, and he is wearing terrorist garb even as a baby. And so are his parents. It is the most schmaltzy thing, and absolutely hilarious, especially when we return to reality and he completely fucks up his mission and falls over instead of running into you. But it also encapsulates how this game handles satire and what its politics are.

During the marketing for the game last year, a point was made that Broforce would also include female characters among its cast, in the form of Ellen Ripley from Alien, Cherry Darling from Planet Terror and The Bride from Kill Bill. The game called Broforce was one of the major 2015 releases to include female members, and with the covert operation update, gave a solo mission to one of them. That’s no small thing, and says a lot about the politics of the developers.

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Despite the title, Broforce doesn’t want to exclude people beyond the expected target demographic. In such a boy’s club of an industry, that’s still a rare thing and one of many signs of a growing trend at diversity in casts and inclusion of other demographics. It actually manages this within the narrative and presentation of the terrorist enemies, avoiding any sort of hard signs of ethnicity or religion. They’re just generic bad guys in masks that sometimes suicide bomb because that’s a thing terrorists do. The flashback sequence is meant to highlight this. The game goes out of its way to avoid painting any particular group of people as evil or bad, and that’s hard to do with such culturally loaded subject matter. Even the accents used in the little dialog they have is meant to sound cartoonish and inhuman, though sourcing those accents from stereotypes may not have been the wisest decision. It’s the one aspect of the presentation I have trouble defending.

Broforce’s most interesting element seems like it would be more common, yet really isn’t. It manages to have its cake and eat it to by indulging in the style of action movies and that oh so loud style of American pride, but also makes good satirical jokes about the sort of people who engage in that culture without awareness. There’s a lot of lines where the joke is that your acting general is an idiot xenophobe, and American values are poorly defined on purpose so as not to justify your violent actions beyond the detached videogame style fun it’s meant to be. It’s not that the game avoids politics, it’s that it denounces the message of much of its source material and actually succeeds at it. Other countries are not automatically evil, and America is not always right.

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The game seems sincere in finding pride in being American, but it also is aware that love can go too far and lead to something ugly. When you stop and think about what you’re doing during the terrorist themed missions, especially with the arming civilians mechanic, you realize you’re doing equally terrible things with little justification. Of course, the game just wants to be a fun time, but it also is aware that media has cultural impact, even if not intended, and that they should be responsible in what that message sent is. This is another function of the flashback sequence, showing that your enemies are also people in a really funny way to get you to stop and think if only for a second and understand the satire laid in the dialog.

Broforce just has an understanding of what it means to be responsible media. You can still have all the fun and games you want, but it’s not that hard to avoid saying something nasty or xenophobic. Gaming should be enjoyed by everyone, and the game with the image of hyper-masculinity understands that better than most AAA games. The world makes little sense some times.

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