clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

For Honor’s accidental alt-right connection

“Deus vult” has an uncomfortable connotation for many

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

For Honor Ubisoft

A rallying cry adopted by For Honor players may sound familiar to those well-versed in the conservative political landscape. “Deus vult,” a phrase that’s become popular with the multiplayer game’s community, may have origins in 11th-century Europe, but it’s more recently been associated with the alt-right movement.

“Deus vult” is Latin for “God wills it,” which became a stirring declaration for the Crusaders. It concluded a speech made by Pope Urban II, calling defenders of Christianity to action in the fight to win back their Holy Land from its Muslim occupants. It became symbolic not just of pride in the Christian state, but in Western culture as a whole.

The religious, historical nature of the phrase is obvious and inextricable, and that’s what accounts for its use by the community of games like For Honor. The action fighting game is set in medieval times, with players choosing between knights, samurai and vikings. In keeping with the time period, players who choose the knight class can often be found cheering “Deus vult!”

The phrase is a major meme in the For Honor community, and it appears to be recycled from older medieval times-based games. That includes Crusader Kings, which had an expansion called Deus Vult; the phrase also appeared in its sequel. It’s used by recent beta testers in a plethora of threads on the subreddit and official For Honor forum. There are jokes about the meme and how common it is, but more often than not, players just post it as a rallying cry — much like how it was originally intended.

Despite the lighthearted use of the phrase by the For Honor community, rooted in pre-existing video game culture, the alt-right had resurfaced the age-old battle cry months earlier for more sinister purposes.

Members of the alt-right movement, which propagates racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and other hateful ideologies, co-opted “Deus vult” for its purposes during the 2016 election season. The group turned the phrase into a hashtag that accompanied its political tweets, and reports of it graffitied in public places followed.

Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post wrote last November of why the alt-right, and particularly supporters of then-President elect Donald Trump, was so drawn to “Deus vult” as a symbol of Judeo-Christian pride.

“Both Trump and those in the seething online churn of the ‘alt-right’ — a catchall term for a coterie of neo-fascists, white supremacists, ethno-populists, anti-feminists and other far-right extremists who cheered Trump's electoral victory on Nov. 8 — also embrace a clash of civilizations,” he wrote. “The president-elect signaled as much in a major foreign policy speech in April, when he rejected the idea of ‘universal values’ and trumpeted the promotion of Western civilization.”

The alt-right’s memeification of “Deus vult” is just one part of what’s seen as the group’s larger obsession with anti-Islamic discourse and medieval imagery. While this connection has been debated — some argue that the phrase’s popularity is only attributable to Crusader Kings — the prevalent understanding is that “Deus vult” in the alt-right context is just another code word for hate-mongering. (It’s also another example of the movement re-appropriating iconography for its purposes. Refer to the history of the “Pepe the frog” meme for more on that.)

“The current surge of Deus Vult does not seem to be part of [Crusader Kings], but part of a growing hatred for islamification, proved by simply reading the comments that come with that phrase,” explained one Redditor to another asking about the phrase’s proliferation last October.

In the case of For Honor, “Deus vult” is just a phrase used by the community without any political associations. (We’ve contacted Ubisoft for comment and will update if we hear back.) The meme, too, is divorced from the alt-right movement. Instead, it’s just one uncomfortable way that the game’s burgeoning community intersects with one of the internet’s most incendiary.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon