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Augs Lives Matter slogan an "unfortunate coincidence"

Deus Ex brand marketer defends use while Bioware's Manveer Heir criticizes the developer's controversial language choice

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided isn't due for release until August 23, but the game has already found itself embroiled in a couple controversial incidents. Back in June, in its trailer for the game, Eidos Montreal and publisher Square Enix used the racially-charged term "mechanical Apartheid" and art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete brushed off criticism at the time, telling Polygon, that the whole incident was "ridiculous." This week, Deus Ex has sparked further controversy thanks to the publisher releasing concept art that features a protester holding up a sign that reads "Augs Lives Matter."

Sounds an awful lot like Black Lives Matter, doesn't it? If Eidos Montreal is looking to recreate real-world racial tensions in its game, that's fine, but there are probably ways of doing it that are more sensitive. Already, some in the development community have taken issue with the Deus Ex developer for leveraging a movement like Black Lives Matter in its marketing materials. Bioware Montreal developer Manveer Heir, who's spoken openly against social injustices and stereotypes in games at GDC and elsewhere, took Eidos and Square Enix to task on Twitter today.

"I think Eidos Montreal should be ashamed of themselves for appropriating a real black struggle and movement for financial gain," he said, adding that even if the Augs Lives Matter movement is handled well in the game, "in advertising it is devoid of context and highly problematic."

"You work in marketing. If this was an coincidence someone should have been smart enough to say 'Let's not use that image,'" Heir said in reply to brand marketer Andre Vu, who had claimed that the story and slogan was written well before the Black Lives Matter movement started.

Heir continued, "The fact that you went forward with posting the image & not realizing the optics/meaning of that image to people is incompetent... I'm trying to hold you & the rest of this industry accountable when we appropriate real life struggles to market games."

For his part, Vu said that Eidos Montreal was not using real-life events to market Mankind Divided and that people who criticize his team are just "jumping on the hate wagon."

In a separate comment, heir told Polygon, "My qualm is not with a game tackling matters of segregation, civil rights issues, and apartheid; in fact I applaud games that try to tackle difficult political issues. My problem is with using marketing to push a narrative, which doesn't provide the full context of the game, as a way to sell the game, when that narrative comes across as anti-blackness, even if it's not intended to be.

"I hope Eidos Montreal can begin to understand why this is a mistake and start a dialogue with black people in this industry to better understand some of the issues that this fiasco has brought to light."

We also reached out to Square Enix for further comment, but have not gotten a reply as of this writing.

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Latest comments (17)

Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
The thing I find ironic is that a lot of people find it easier to sympathise with themes of segregation in game and film fiction (i.e. X-Men) than in real life (was reminded of a discussion I had recently).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 4th August 2016 10:32am

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Kevin Strange Developer Relations Account Manager, AMD5 years ago
Thank goodness the AUGS community has Manveer to fight for them!!
I wonder if they are also funded by Soros to help destabilise and divide nations?
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 5 years ago
My problem is with using marketing to push a narrative, which doesn't provide the full context of the game, as a way to sell the game, when that narrative comes across as anti-blackness, even if it's not intended to be.
I'm afraid I don't understand which narrative he's talking about exactly and how it comes across as anti-blackness. Maybe it's because I'm not from the US and don't have all the context. I wish he would just state bluntly and specifically what's wrong with the reference. Similarly, the term appropriation reminds me of 'cultural appropriation', a concept I struggle to understand because I haven't yet encountered examples that weren't ridiculous (e.g. folks attacking a white guy because him having dread locks was cultural appropriation, or Megan Trainor for sounding too black)
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Show all comments (17)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
Rule of thumb: as long as there are no "[_____] lives matter" memes on the Internet, it is probably too early to conscript the slogan into marketing material. Special exemptions for cleverly constructed social criticism inside a narrative, maybe. Then again, this topic has no need for allegorical delivery. It is a simple blunt truth that needs no disguise and is best delivered as blunt as it is.
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Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester 5 years ago
I am of the belief that no piece of media need to bend around the unfortunate events of the world, if this was truly crafted before the black lives movement got any attention I say don't you dare tell the concept artist who worked on it that it can't be shown. Games, films and books are very clearly long standing creations with ideas fleshed out from a concept point from months, maybe even years ago. If you had a story with an earthquake in it and then suddenly a earthquake hit a location......release it as is, no delays or alterations.

Altering products due to sudden real world problems or implications falls to this faulty idea that anyone worth respecting will assume the context is current despite the mentioned points. I mean for goodness sake, the black lives matter name is hardly a unique phrasing as well, just because they played on an easily modifiable slogan that has existed for quite a while doesn't make them own it in all media till they die down.

Most importantly? I believe we should never let any sudden real world problem hinder the creations we want to make, the world still goes on despite them, time will pass and they MIGHT be remembered but often it is unlikely. Sun still rises, I'm still getting up and the trains are still late.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 5 years ago
On the one hand I do see where they are coming from; that image could indeed be seen as crassly appropriating the mantra of a movement, trivialising them in the process. But I have trouble buying that because absolutely nothing in that image suggests parody. Everything right down the juxtaposition of the actors and even the colour choices practically scream that home.

But even without the image on hand there is still plenty of context: Almost two years of promotional material behind the sequel of a critically acclaimed videogame from a historically lauded series. -- to say there is 'no context' to me sounds like the quoted assuming audiences would be disconnected from the part of pop-culture that videogames occupy (and quite why that is our cross to bear rather than the failings of that audience I am not entirely sure).

And really, what excuse is there for ignorance of that context when videogames as a medium are so pervasive? If you don't understand the context, then you have no leg to stand on when making a criticism (though, to be fair, the quoted is not actually making that criticism, only stating that it could be made).
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I very much doubt that this concept predates BLM but even if it was just a huge unfortunate coincidence, someone should have anticipated this outcry and pulled the concept before publication or modified it.

If it wasn't a coincidence, they could at least own their mistake and apologise instead of insisting that any objectors are just 'haters' - or, own the statement and make some kind of argument to support it. Which would still piss people off, but that's the nature of writing grand social commentary narratives. You can't have the 'ooh so edgy, holding up a dark mirror to humanity' cred without actually owning your political statements and upsetting somebody somewhere. Cake, eating it, et cetera.

At the end of the day, it's very important to remember that fictional universes are still created and interpreted by humans who live in this universe.
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Ben Link Video Game Enthusiast and Graphic Artist 5 years ago
This is ridiculous. Let the artist express themselves how they want. No one should be telling artist how to portray their art/game. Don't buy the game, it's that simple. I love the concept art. It's relevant and will make the game feel realistic.
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 5 years ago
Does referencing a real world social issue in a video game that depicts social conflict (however well/badly) really trivialize the real world issue?

I'm unconvinced. I do agree, though, that they should have owned it, rather than dismissing the criticism as "haters". The former could have led to a productive discussion, the latter just reaffirms everyone that their convictions are right and others are just idiots. I can understand, however, than in today's outrage-culture, productive discussions are hard to get and you can easily get mired and it's tiresome and makes for a complex message that's unattractive for media reporting.
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Artists are perfectly free to express themselves however they like - subject to local obscenity and incitement to hatred laws, of course, which absolutely nobody is claiming this artwork contravenes.

Everyone else, however, is allowed the same freedom. Manveer Heir and everyone else who has criticised Eidos on this aren't stopping the game from being made, they're just expressing their feelings about the insensitive way it's being marketed. They're doing it fairly calmly and eloquently, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Whether Eidos and its artists care about the feelings of these critics is entirely up to them. But the idea that artists shouldn't be criticised for their decisions, ever, because Art, is ridiculous.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 4th August 2016 5:07pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 5 years ago
Whether Eidos and its artists care about the feelings of these critics is entirely up to them. But the idea that artists shouldn't be criticised for their decisions, ever, because Art, is ridiculous.
It's not ridiculous, it's a non-issue: there's no actual power or authority vested in artists to stop criticism. Saying that artists are free to do what they like is an observation so mundane stating it is redundant. That's an issue of where power is vested whereas the real issue is about where it SHOULD be vested and WHY.

And that's what I'm going to talk about now:

I don't think anyone is saying that criticisms shouldn't be made 'because Art', but that 99% of clickbait criticisms out there are invalid or lack any merit in face of the qualities of the artistic works in question and what those works are trying to achieve (which is never discussed -- criticisms against any given art are almost always done in a vacuum 'because Opinion').

The idea that vapid, decontextualised and utterly inane criticisms should gain traction 'because Opinion' (the common retort being 'it's my opinion, therefore you can't criticise the legitimacy of my position') without being challenged is what is truly ridiculous.

And that's a REAL issue because those criticisms have the entire engine of the media machine behind them giving them almost palpable compulsive force. I don't want to hear the booming voice of that machine breathing fire down at me and telling me my criticism of them is invalid because of their imagined protection against criticism, whilst they then turn around and criticise works wantonly completely unaware of the irony.

Criticism is a two-way street. Being a critic does not make you a bad ass who lives dangerously, born to break the rules. You don't get a svelt 'Licence to Criticise' to complement a suave suit as you cap artists to the tinkling of smooth jazz: It just doesn't work that way, and many 'critics' out there need a good hard dose of reality to drive that home.

I've yet to see terrible critics defend their criticisms when pressed to, only their right to their criticisms; something which was never in contention to begin with and another non-issue because it's a right that artists, once again, couldn't affect even if they wanted to. Whether critics have the right to criticism is irrelevant: Who exactly is going to stop them from critiquing and how? The same is not true of criticism and their effects on the business model of videogames. There's compulsive force there.

I can understand that many people don't want to confront the compulsive force that they as a collective of consumers armed with social media have. But denying that they have that power outright (and they are the only empowered party in this entire debate) is bullshit. Yes, they have the right to that power (again, not in question and there would be no way to challenge that power to begin with) but how that power should be exercised is a worthwhile topic that few want to broach

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 4th August 2016 9:31pm

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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 5 years ago
While I wouldn't put it as harshly as Shezaan, I agree in many ways, im particular with regards to how many critics will withdraw to "it's my right to criticize" when their criticism is being challenged. There's a lot of straw-manning here: nobody said Deus Ex shouldn't be made, yes. Equally, however, nobody is saying the critics should not be allowed to express their opinion, either. So arguing about people's rights to express their opinions in art or criticism is completely beside the point and an unnecessary diversion.

Where there's an actual discussion to be had that could be even remotely interesting is discussing the criticism per se and its validity. Unfortunately, both Eidos and the critics have missed that opportunity, Eidos by putting it down to "haters" and the critics by failing to substantiate what's exactly bad about Deus Ex referencing Black Lives Matter in this way.

So it's pretty much a normal day in all regards, as these things go... :D
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
Further to my earlier comment, even if it wan't coincidence, it wouldn't be the first time science fiction was based on black struggles. To take an alternative view, perhaps its a good thing that we see real-world social equality issues reflected in the likes of X-Men and Deus Ex, as it can serve as a means of educating people who don't seem to get it otherwise ;)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
@Adam: Well, provided part of the game's audience doesn't just want to bypass the plot and get straight to the killing stuff. Because you KNOW there will be a segment (small, but there) of players who want to spend as much of the game taking out any enemies, perceived or otherwise for fun. Those will be the cut scene/cinema skippers who may post that parts of the game are "boring" because it may hold up a mirror to a few past to current struggles they have no interest in.

We shall see, of course...
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 5 years ago
It's just people making a lot of noise, who clearly have no idea what the gaming context is and just assume that it's a parody on the Black Lives Matter campaign. If they would have started a conversation with Eidos before shouting, they would have had more success IMO.

It's even worse than the overblown Resident Evil 5 reaction that the game would be racist because of the African setting.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany5 years ago
Meanwhile nobody accused of "racist" all those war game in which you kill middle-east people. Sometimes I think that moral and values are all about trends now.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development5 years ago
Does referencing a real world social issue in a video game that depicts social conflict (however well/badly) really trivialize the real world issue?
My thoughts exactly. It could just as easily have been a commentary on current issues.

I respect the intentions of being sensitive to the issue, but don't be so sensitive that you shut down artists who may be acknowledging what's going on in the real world and making it real for gamers.
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