The ‘Rule of Cool’ Triumphs in Helldivers 2, and the Left Doesn’t Get It

Published February 27, 2024

It’s that time again; time for the chronically progressive-brained among us to start complaining about video game players’ enthusiasm for embracing jingoistic and unabashedly colonialist, human-centered, science fiction governments.

This topic might seem somewhat niche, but it plays into the culture war at large and represents an interesting microcosm that is worth analyzing. In this case, a new video game has been released that has rapidly become one of Sony’s biggest game launches ever. Helldivers 2 surpassed 300,000 concurrent players on PC alone, and is slowly becoming controversial, believe it or not, for being too cool as far as I can tell.

The game shamelessly (and gloriously) nods to other science fiction properties, like Warhammer 40,000 and HALO, but takes special inspiration from Starship Troopers. Because of this, references and memes about Starship Troopers have been flying online, and the movie has enjoyed a revival, climbing suddenly from 109th to 21st on a website that tracks movie popularity.

Both Helldivers and Starship Troopers are obviously lampooning the most extreme American militaristic and interventionist mindsets, with Helldivers having pre-scripted character lines such as, “say hello to DEMOCRACY!” as you call in airstrikes on alien space bugs and robots. The government of Helldivers’ Super Earth is a “managed democracy,” in which an AI program predicts who you would vote for, and votes for you, for convenience (imagine that). We all know it’s a parody. It’s hilarious. And some on the left appear to hate that everyone loves it.

Video game websites like Kotaku wasted no time in reminding us that Starship Troopers, the movie, is a deliberately political work, meant to make fun of the political right. They suggest that people right-of-center who enjoy the film anyway must just not get it. 

A quick look on X (formerly Twitter) shows you will also find legions of people who are more than happy to inform you that if you thought the military in Starship Troopers is cool and fun, you’re missing the point of the story.

More bizarrely, some have drawn parallels between the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, and I have to say, when I’m engaged in the tactical extermination of giant acid-spitting space bugs, it never once crossed my mind that they could be stand-ins for earthly ethnic groups. For some reason progressives view politics in absolutely everything. This apparently includes an insectoid that looks like this, or a murder robot that looks like this, and thinking, “I shouldn’t enjoy killing this, because I have friends from Palestine.” Talk about being too caught up in politics.

The point of Starship Troopers is certainly not that a heavily propagandized militaristic society is a good one, but it does not change the fact that soldiers shooting man-eating space bugs is entertaining, and the developers of Helldivers 2 certainly recognize that fact.

You won’t find the “Rule of Cool” in Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, but it probably should be, and can be articulated this way for the purpose: If a thing is cool enough, it will make money regardless of political messaging. This rule does have limits, cool can only go so far once content fatigue sets in. 

Today, leftists possess control over the vast majority of mainstream media outlets, video game companies included, and so have taken to carefully constructing narratives that do not fall too far outside the line of progressive orthodoxy. The best example of this is Disney, which seems to have run two of the most popular movie franchises of all time, Marvel and Star Wars, into the ground with their clumsy attempts to pummel viewers with progressive ideology.

Are fights between space wizards with laser swords no longer cool? No, they’re still cool, but Disney overplayed their hand politically, and apparently sacrificed compelling writing at the altar of political messaging.

And yet, even a mild leftists’ complaints about colonialism or jingoism or whatever else, are drawn to the Rule of Cool. Helldivers 2 is so wildly popular their servers can’t handle the sheer number of players, and would-be divers are forced to sit in queue for what feels like forever to wait their turn. Ask me how I know.

This is a great thing, because at best, if the late Andrew Breitbart is to be believed, and politics are downstream of culture, an arguably politically neutral success is a step in a better direction.

At worst, it at least represents the wild success of something that was made with the express purpose of being fun, just fun, and might give other major game developers and even film studios more evidence that maybe the Rule of Cool should take precedence over progressive social justice pandering.

Photo by verkeorg. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.