Earlier this month, Square Enix and Eidos Montreal came under fire when some concept art for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided featured the phrase ‘Augs Lives Matter.’ The phrase, which refers to the fact that augmented people in Mankind Divided are treated like second-class citizens, saw backlash as it co-opts the messaging of the real-world political movement, Black Lives Matter.
When the concept art was released, many were frustrated by the use of the slogan as well as Square Enix and Eidos Montreal’s attempts of excusing its use, while others remained hopeful that the game would offer an intelligent take on the issue of discrimination. Unfortunately, these hopes have been dashed as the game’s release has reignited that Aug Lives Matter controversy once more.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Aug Lives Matter Controversy Continues
One suggestion that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has failed to make good on its promises to handle the discrimination parallels with care comes from the above screenshot. Taken by Twitter user jvdgoot, the image features Aug Lives Matter protester Ny’ashia Akim on the game’s fictional ‘CrimeStars’ publication.
While the magazine is just in-game decoration, it has drawn plenty of eye-rolling gifs in response due to the fact that it directly compares those who protest and rally for human rights of all citizens to those who commit crimes. Yes, those with criminal records can protest, but the other implication is that protesting and standing up for human rights in general is a criminal act.
Given that Black Lives Matter activists in the real-world are often called criminals and ‘thugs’ even when acting lawfully (those epithets are racially charged and based on racial stereotypes), this is an especially egregious error from the Mankind Divided development team.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review via feministfrequency
And it’s not just the game’s set dressings either as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s narrative also “fails to take a stand on very clear issues of moral principle,” according to reviewer Carolyn Petit.
From 3:40 in the video above, Petit notes that with police officers being open about their desire to kill augmented humans and with augs also forced to show their papers to officers, the game is “explicit, even heavy-handed” as it links the oppression augmented people face to oppression that some real-world populations face.
Fictional works can certainly be used to look at real-world issues, but where Deus Ex: Mankind Divided fails, explains Petit, is that these things are happening to augmented people because of the ‘aug incident’ (in which 50 million people were killed because augs lost control).
The game is drawing a direct parallel between the treatment of augs, which is based on the clearly very real threat that they pose to other people, and the horrific oppression faced by marginalised groups in the real-world; groups that have done nothing to deserve that mistreatment.
Petit says that “there is absolutely no moral ambiguity with regard to the treatment of any of these real-world populations,” but unfortunately the game refuses to take a stand on that, simultaneously painting ARC (the Augmented Rights Coalition) as a terrorist organisation and a non-violent protest group working to protect augmented lives. In operating in a middle ground, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has essentially taken the side of the oppressor.
In a previous statement responding to the controversy surrounding the game, Eidos Montreal said that “what we are also trying to do with Deus Ex, is to look at the world, and try not to judge it, but to present it with shades of grey,” so this should be unsurprising but regardless, the game’s presentation of this is incredibly irresponsible and disappointing.