Helldivers 2’s comedy comes from propaganda — that’s why it’s so fun

Helldivers 2 does a fantastic job of straddling the line between being a great game to goof around in with your friends, and delivering actual commentary and world-building about the folly of an oppressive regime. You play as a titular Helldiver, shot down to enemy planets in pods that look like giant bullets — no obvious symbolism there — to fight back waves of nasty Terminid bugs and evil robots. The gameplay is great, but what I’ve come to truly love is the goofy Super Earth propaganda, and how it perfectly encapsulates fascism as a ridiculous ideology that is doomed to fail.

There is a running meta-narrative alongside Helldivers 2, in which Super Earth command (aka the developers) tells the players what fronts to fight on and what enemies to prioritize. When the community pulls together to achieve these objectives, everybody gets Warbond medals, which they can spend on valuable loot and cosmetics. If they fail, nobody gets a medal, and something usually goes terribly wrong. The secret trick, though, is that even when things go right, they’ll still go bad, because Super Earth is terrible at the whole galactic liberation thing.

Image: Arrowhead Game Studios/Sony Interactive Entertainment

If you stop and listen to all of that propaganda, something becomes clear: We’re the baddies. The Terminids were released from Super Earth facilities, and we’re killing them because they’re a great source of space oil. Super Earth used the Automatons as slaves, and they’re engaging in a fully justified revolt. Sure, it’s not immediately obvious, since most players are focused on staying alive and unlocking new stratagems, but as you stop to read environmental text and listen to broadcasts, it all becomes clear. Probably best not to mention it, though; according to one broadcast, dissidents are identified, arrested, tried, and executed.

The constant propaganda is delivered with such gusto that it’s hard not to be won over. One advertisement sneers that the Automatons should have been grateful with what they had, but now they’re choosing to rebel. “They’re going to see how hard every man, woman, and child under the age of 7 is willing to work,” the game tells us.

After dousing a Terminid planet with chemicals, a Democracy Officer cheerfully chirps that it’s so deadly to Terminids, it’s hard to believe it’s totally safe for every other life form! Everyone on my ship is completely swayed to the cause, and spouts over-the-top nonsense. No one is capable of a casual chat around the watercooler.

Developer Arrowhead Game Studios also delights in muddying the waters, playing into the propagandistic nature of the game. When flying bugs first appeared on the battlefields, CEO Johan Pilestedt commented, “I want to officially refute such preposterous claims.”

When the truth became obvious, Pilestedt easily pivoted into reassurance that bugs could fly and this was a normal and expected thing. This kayfabe style of posting on X, along with the text accompanying orders and updates, is a huge part of what makes Helldivers 2 special. I feel proud to be out there on the front lines, being a greater part of the cause.

And then I remember that when we failed a major order from mission command, all of us lost the ability to fuck. No, really — players failed to squash bugs on Zagon Prime, and so everyone got a message that “further procreation applications will be denied until further notice.” You have to have a signed form before you do anything that might result in a baby, so everyone has to be celibate now.

Super Earth are the bad guys, but they’re funny bad guys. I’m still on the battlefields, deploying stratagems with the best of ’em, but part of me is thrilled to see new flying bugs and gunships from our opponents. I’m convinced Super Earth is doomed to fail, and it deserves to fail. The government sucks, our mission is immoral, and as far as I know, nobody ever lifted the sanctions on sex.

It would be so easy for Helldivers 2 to lean into the darkness and lethality of the setting. But there are tons of games about a grim slog through endless war; the silly satire of the Helldivers 2 campaign is a breath of fresh air. We’re all in on the joke — or at least most of us are — and it leads to iconic moments, like the reclaiming of the memetic Malevelon Creek from the Automatons. I just hope the ride along the way continues to be a ridiculous roller coaster.

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