New promotional art for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has generated controversy due to its seeming appropriation of the Black Lives Matter movement for marketing material. But Andre Vu, the franchise’s executive brand director, said on Twitter that the game’s use of the phrase "Augs Lives Matters" is just an "unfortunate coincidence."
A back-and-forth with BioWare designer Manveer Heir led to Vu’s comments and other defenses of the campaign slogan. Vu chalked up widespread interpretations of "Augs Live Matters" as piggybacking on the similarly named social media movement to an out-of-context "hate wagon."
Although Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has yet to hit retail — it’s due on Aug. 23 — and Black Lives Matter began in earnest back in 2013, Vu told Heir that the game’s fiction predates the movement. That’s a notion that Heir challenged, even considering the lengthy nature of game development, but Vu remained steadfast.
"These words were thought in our game way before the current events," Vu said. "Unfortunate coincidence for sure."
Heir and Vu’s argument ended in a stalemate: Vu, who identifies as "a visible minority," emphasized his empathy for the racial and social tensions driving Black Lives Matter while insisting that Mankind Divided is a fictional, unrelated product.
@GeneralVu The fact that you went forward with posting the image & not realizing the optics/meaning of that image to people is incompetent— Manveer Heir (@manveerheir) August 3, 2016
That argument doesn’t hold water with Heir, he told Polygon by email.
"Someone in marketing should have noticed the image could easily be confused as criticism of Black Lives Matter and not used it to market the game, since there is no way to provide full context from just a handful of concept art," Heir said.
"We're not trying to be preachy here, just holding up the mirror."
"I accept Mr. Vu's assertion that it was coincidental, but that doesn't negate my criticism. It is bad optics and marketing departments, of all departments, should understand optics and how to react to the current state of the actual world."
We’ve contacted developer Eidos Montreal and publisher Square Enix for more information on when and how the phrasing made its way into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a title set in a dystopian future ravaged by a so-called "mechanical apartheid." The emphasis on that concept with little regard to its racially charged roots in segregated South Africa has also generated backlash in the lead-up to the game’s release.
Polygon spoke to the game’s executive art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête during E3 2015, when new trailers for Mankind Divided engendered industry discomfort. He, like Vu, waved off criticisms as "completely ridiculous."
"It’s a form of art, the people outside don’t think it’s art; it’s just 'stupid games,'" he said. "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."
He later echoed this argument in a more recent interview with Polygon, saying that Eidos Montreal is aware of negative associations most players have with the term "apartheid."
"But I think we own it," Jacques-Belletête argued. "If you look into what we're doing it makes sense. It's all part of that. These things are hard to do, and some of these themes are risky."
Eidos Montreal’s company line, according to an earlier statement it issued to us, is that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s portrayal of government-mandated segregation is presented "as neutral as possible."
"My problem is with using marketing to push a narrative"
"Obviously, there will be people who are very sensitive to those sorts of things, and we recognize that," a representative for the company told us in June. "But we are trying to be as truthful and honest to the world we're creating as we possibly can. We're not trying to be preachy here, just holding up the mirror."
"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," he told Polygon. "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 Montréal 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."