Another week, another outrage.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided developer Eidos Montreal has once again come under fire from the professionally offended. First it was due to the use of the term “mechanical apartheid”, this time for promotional material that featured a banner saying “Augs Lives Matter”.
First, a little backstory: Mankind Divided is about division, segregation, conflict, and oppression. It’s about a world where humans are treated as “normals”, and “augs” — people with augmented limbs and physical features — are treated as outsiders. Society divides the two groups up, and, as you can expect, treats “Normals” with far less disdain than “Augs”, who are seen as trouble-makers, warmongers, murderers, thieves, you name it!
Back at E3 2015, the studio and its publisher came under fire for the use of “Mechanical Apartheid” in promotional material describing the game’s story.
— Deus Ex (@DeusEx) June 16, 2015
As you can imagine, people lost their shit.
“There are so many kind of hypocritical, intersecting dialogs in our industry,” Eidos Montreal’s Jonathan Jacques-Belletete told Polygon in an interview. “It’s a form of art, the people outside don’t think it’s art, it’s just stupid games. We’re fighting against those people. And then when we’re dealing with serious subjects suddenly we’re treated as little kids that are just doing video games again. This whole thing is completely ridiculous.”
As it turns out, the use of the term “apartheid” seems particularly relevant considering the nature of the game. Deus Ex has always, in part, been about the human condition. Mankind Divided is specifically about transhumanism: an intellectual movement centred around the advancement of humans through technological means. When that movement is treated as an outsider, or as an instigator, or perhaps simply as being “not good enough”, you get division and oppression. Apartheid is, by definition, the act of separation. The context of its use doesn’t devalue its meaning or its historical context, in the same way the use of “genocide” hasn’t in the countless films, books and games it’s been used in.
Fast forward some 14 months, and we’re back at square one. Still we see that the use of games as a means to tell a story, perhaps further a cause, raise awareness, and tackle confronting issues as too much to bear for those constantly looking for something else to be offended about.
The new outrage: the use of “Augs lives matter”.
Many in the Twittersphere have made the obvious connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. Andre Vu, the franchise’s executive brand director, says the words were used “way before” current events in US race relations surfaced.
Regardless of whether you believe him or not, it shouldn’t matter if it existed before or after the movement started dominating the social and political landscape.
Sometimes the best way of getting a political point across is just being subtle. Sometimes it’s about being as obvious as possible. Yet criticisms aimed at Eidos Montreal are firmly focused on appropriation: that the studio doesn’t have permission to use the slogan, or the cause, to further the narrative of the game.
This is a troubling narrative, particularly when it comes to political causes that are attempting to change and shape social discourse and policy (regardless of how you interpret their intentions). A common criticism is that the usage is difficult to understand out of context…but then again, so would a random image of someone holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign be to a person that isn’t politically engaged (which is more people than you think: sorry, your Twitter bubble burst a long time ago).
It doesn’t matter that it’s used out of context, but you’d have to be pretty lazy — or maybe just looking to garner a few more Twitter followers — if you can’t see how it matters relevant to the product it’s promoting. Understanding the context of the image makes it very clear that the image itself isn’t a criticism — if anything, it’s representative of open discourse.
That’s important. Nothing in the free, Western world should be immune from criticism, parody, mockery, or, in this case, simple recognition.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Eidos Montreal’s Olivier Proulx, who touched upon the game’s social commentary in a recent interview with me.
“The themes we are exploring in the game are universal themes set in a dystopian near-future setting,” Proulx told me. “When we wrote the story outline a few years ago, we couldn’t know that unfortunately, these themes would hit so close to home in 2016.”
He was of course talking about themes of oppression and segregation in regards to the recent migrant crisis in Europe.
Proulx continued: “If the game has anything to say it’s that we have to look at these societal problems from many angles and that the black or white, zero-sum opinions, can be dangerous. We believe that video games are a fantastic media to approach mature themes, as the player is directly involved in how the story unfolds.”
Maybe it’s just me, but so-called “progressives” appear to be attacking the true warriors of social justice: people with an actual story to tell, and people prepared to send a message.