As I played Ghost Recon: Wildlands, I realized that everything I did required violence. Individuals died with every decision, including the occasional civilian when I threw an errant grenade. The game was set up so that I would have to kill many people to progress. Often, lieutenants and other low-level cartel members guarded key information, and my only option was to kill them. Occasionally, I would be able to question an informant without lethal force, but then I would violently grab them and threaten them to get what I needed. I moved through objectives the only way allowable—killing them.
Violence is inherent to Wildlands’ premise. It brought the Ghosts to Bolivia in the first place, and the cartel does not remain peaceful while the Ghosts tear the organization down. Innocents suffer at the hands of the cartel and will continue to suffer until someone rises up and takes them down. But what will that solve? The ending of the game differs depending on how the player dismantles the cartel. None of the endings, however, offer resolution. The cartel fills the power vacuum with El Sueñο removed, or the threat of a different cartel hangs over the Ghosts.
So, then, why does it all matter? Why spend hours upon hours to remove El Sueño from Bolivia only to be reminded that new threats hover on the horizon. The beautiful Andes Mountains of Bolivia and their people deserve better than the oppressive hand of the cartel, better than a government who would align with criminals, and better than the betrayal of those who would bring them hope—either their countrymen or foreigners. All of the violence Bolivians have witnessed, both from the cartel and the Ghosts, gives them only the briefest of respite from wicked rulers, but is that really worth it?
Some social-justice leaders of the 20th century would say that violence is worthwhile while others would say that it is not. I think of the differences in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.—two advocates for justice who differed greatly on violence. Rather, they differed on violence towards individuals; both committed themselves to tearing down the racism embedded in mid-century America—to a violence against systems of oppression, but not to the individual members of those systems. Perhaps, then, this is what leaves me wondering whether or not the violence in Wildlands is worthwhile—this distinction between violence towards a system and violence towards individuals. Violence, broadly defined, is the use of power to inflict harm. Thus, to tear down oppression is violent, even if that violence is non-physical. At what point does violence to a system require violence to individuals? Looking back at MLK and Malcolm X, the latter advocated the use of violence to dismantle systemic racism. MLK and his followers, however, refused to oppose racial oppression with violence towards their oppressors. Instead, they promoted non-violent resistance.
Opposing this philosophy, Wildlands is structured to tear down the cartel by killing its individual members. Approaching an objective, your crew or your drone would indicate the various individual cartel members in the area, and you’d inevitably need to eliminate one or two so that they would not interrupt your fulfilling the mission. Most of the time, the only way complete a mission required killing everyone in the area. Wildlands’ world equates violence to a system (resisting the cartel’s oppression and dominance in Bolivia) with violence to individuals (threatening or killing individual cartel members). It’s something that we’re all quick to do, but the end result is never what we want. For Wildlands’ Ghosts, the cartel members die, but the threat is never gone.
So then, is all of this worth it? Wildlands’ wants to tell you that it is. The Bolivians are freed from La Santa Blanca, and that freedom is worth every painstaking hour of death and destruction. But the feeling the game leaves behind, when the game ends and either ending hangs the continued cartel threat in the player’s face, would seem to say otherwise. The deaths required to bring down El Sueño seem so hollow when his legacy threatens tomorrow, yet in the limited structure of the Wildlands world, this outcome is all we can expect.