“Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” is one of the more highly-anticipated big-budget games coming out this year, but the cyberpunk first-person role-playing game is being heavily criticised this week for a piece of promotional art. Here’s the art in question:
Can you spot the issue? Yes, that is, in fact, a banner that says “Augs Lives Matters” in the lower left of the image. It’s part of a series of images that depict what various major cities around the world look like in the futuristic, cyberpunk setting of “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” with this particular image depicting Moscow.
Some context is required: “Augs” refers to humans with cybernetic augments in their bodies, who are depicted as an oppressed minority in the world of the game. Augs are heavily policed and forced to live in ghettos because of their unnatural bodily enhancements.
The main criticism being lobbied at the game is that it’s co-opting a very real, very contentious issue (Black Lives Matter) for its fictional struggle. Cybernetic enhancements are optional and, in any likely scenario, would be the realm of the very wealthy, while race is something you are born into, an axis of oppression you can’t opt into or out of.
“Mass Effect” developer Manveer Heir inquired about the art with a member of the “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” team, receiving a response that claims the slogan was decided upon and included before the real-life movement it resembles came to prominence:
Heir spoke at greater length about the exchange with Polygon and reiterated that whether the resemblance is coincidental or not, the game’s marketing team should have noticed and amended it.
Frankly, this represents a failure on several levels for “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.” For one, it’s difficult to believe that the phrase “Augs Lives Matters” was written before Black Lives Matter came to prominence in 2013, even if game development is a lengthy process.
But even if it is a coincidence, Heir is right to say that the optics of the situation are poor and someone along the marketing pipeline should have noticed. It shows a lack of self-awareness on their part, considering the “Deus Ex” series has come under fire on multiple occasions for its handling of race.
Hopefully the game (which has a lot of promising ideas otherwise) tackles controversial issues better than its marketing has, but given the recent history of the series, it’s probably reasonable to expect even more debate once “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” comes out on August 23.