Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out this month! It’s the follow-up to a great game and looks to be doing some great things in its own right. However, it’s also taken some criticism for its use of real-world language in its depictions of fantastical social problems. Its use of “apartheid” to describe the social tensions between humans and robots was a source of some controversy, and another appropriation of language is drawing similar criticism.
A piece of concept art went out showing a sign reading “augs lives matter,” in obvious reference to the “black lives matter” protest movement. Andre Vu, brand director for the Deus Ex franchise, defended the choice via social media.
We're going to hop on a soapbox here for a minute. I would never say - not for a second - that games should shy away from tackling real-world issues. But tackling those issues requires a far greater deal of care and respect than "save the world plot #3," and it’s easy to get it wrong. Dropping casual reference to an incredibly controversial political movement involving a lot of dead, innocent people as part of some marketing imagery is a very clear misstep.
This is why you have to be open to legitimate criticism, and not just classify that criticism as “hate.” Yeah, games are art, and art can tackle heavy topics. Art can also be crass, tasteless, and insulting to the life it’s imitating, and it’s only by listening to criticism that it can get better.
We would love for Mankind Divided to be an excellent, fully-reasoned take on racial tension through the lens of sci-fi characters, but the marketing has tended to make those elements look more like window dressing. We hope that’ll be proven not to be the case when the game releases on August 23.