Do you know how to improvise a cold weather shelter from styrofoam and cardboard? How are you at removing dead bodies without catching a lethal virus? How will you react if the NYPD starts shooting at you? That’s the stuff players will need to learn if they want to beat Tom Clancy’s The Division, a blockbuster first-person shooter due out this month. And, not by coincidence, it's the stuff you need to learn if you hope to live through a real lift disaster in New York City, too.
The Division is a much anticipated new “open world RPG shooter” set in New York, from video game titan Ubisoft. Players are tasked with discovering the source of a deadly virus that has swept the city, then restoring order amid a total collapse of law and order. On the surface, The Division is a generic RPG shooter game—you blow stuff up, engage in gun battles, and solve puzzles—but it includes a strong element that teaches players effective, real-world survival skills.
Included with the game is New York Collapse, a survival manual dedicated to the city written by survival expert Alex Irvine, who wrote the manual under the pseudonym Warren Merchant. It may have been created specifically to accompany the game, but it’s probably the most effective survival book about urban disaster that I’ve read. And I’m a survival nerd, so I’ve read a lot of them.
What sets the book apart is that its advice is ruthlessly pragmatic, and impeccably detailed. It shows the basics of how to start a fire with found objects and how to purify water to make it safe to drink. But it also identifies the unique and most immediate risks that New Yorkers would face in a disaster. In one example, it demonstrates how to counter the tactics of a large group of armed thugs roaming the city. In another, it explains how to avoid getting shot by the NYPD (a skill this former New Yorker knows you need every day, not just during the apocalypse).
“The idea was to ask what an ordinary person can do when you know help isn’t coming, and you have to get by on your own,” Irvine told me. “It’s not a matter of getting by for a few days, it’s a matter of finding a whole new way to live for the foreseeable future." To create the manual, he drew from sources ranging from Tom Brown’s Field Guide to City and Urban Survival to websites like Urban Survival Site and Survivopedia. Then he tailored the books’ information using research about New York City. “Manhattan is a very peculiar environment," Irvine said. "Once it’s cut off from the outside world, the possibilities for foraging are pretty limited, but there’s more available there than you might think. Without giving too much away, the game going into those possibilities, as well as looking at the particular challenges of the vertical environment. My tip? Stay out of high-rises.”
“The book itself is an actual, real survival guide focused on what do do if New York is collapsing,” said Ubisoft IP director Martin Hultberg. “The tips and tricks in there could save your life, for real, in a disaster scenario. This is a wake up call, hopefully encouraging people to learn more about survival, relative to their local communities." In the game’s open world, players will encounter each other in a rule-free environment. They can choose to collaborate, fight, or steal from each other, but certain objectives will require teamwork to complete. That’s an important real life lesson about survival: collaboration is a necessity.
How realistic is the scenario presented in the game? We asked disaster preparedness expert and Popular Mechanics contributor John Galvin. “During the infamous 25-hour blackout of 1977, New Yorkers collectively lost their mind, setting more than 1,000 fires, trashing and looting more than 1,500 stores, and running riot in the streets. The cops arrested 3,700 people across the city during the mayhem. So yes, I think it’s a definitely plausible that a pandemic could cause mass panic, and a breakdown of the government.”
“The way the developers and creative team exactly re-recreated New York City is nothing short of awe inspiring,” Galvin added. “At a minimum, gamers are never going to get lost in Manhattan again.”