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Bungie explains how Destiny 2 armor resembling hate symbol made it into the game

It’s being patched out next week

Destiny 2 - one Guardian fighting two others in Crucible action on Legion’s Gulch map Bungie/Activision
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Destiny 2 developer Bungie responded swiftly this week once it was notified of a piece of armor in the game featuring artwork resembling a logo associated with a white nationalist movement, apologizing for the design’s presence and pledging to remove it. Today the studio answered the bigger questions — namely, how did this happen in the first place?

In announcing the removal of the artwork on Tuesday, Bungie said its appearance in Destiny 2 was “not intentional.” But the strong similarities between the armor’s design and the logo for Kek, a satirical “religion” created by members of the so-called alt-right, led people to wonder if somebody on the Destiny 2 development team had very much intended to sneak the design into the game.

Destiny 2 - Road Complex AA1 gauntlets next to ‘Kekistan’ flag
Hunter gauntlets from Destiny 2’s Road Complex AA1 armor set (left); the main section of the “national flag of Kekistan.” (right).
Bungie/Activision, Southern Poverty Law Center

It seems that Bungie undertook a thorough investigation of how this happened; the studio laid out its detailed findings in a blog post this evening. The design originated in June 2015, according to Bungie, and came together from three main sources of inspiration: real-world reference art, iconography and typefaces; graphic design elements from sports teams; and shapes common to Destiny’s Guardian iconography. Bungie said that the artwork wasn’t designed to emulate the “kek” meme.

The Kek “religion” has its origins in the gaming world: The term “kek” came from online games such as World of Warcraft. The two opposing factions in the game — Alliance and Horde — speak different languages, so when a Horde player types “LOL,” an Alliance player sees “KEK.” (This appears to have been a reference to a previous Blizzard Entertainment game, StarCraft, which became very popular with Korean players. They would type “kekeke,” a transliteration of an onomatopoetic Korean phrase used online to represent laughter.) Adherents of the alt-right later hijacked “kek” and applied it to a religion that they created to represent their values, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog.

Bungie has a team dedicated to reviewing content for “cultural, geographical, and other sensitive issues.” It turns out that the members of the group didn’t miss the Road Complex AA1 design — they just reviewed it solely in the context of the World of Warcraft meme, and didn’t consider the recent history of the Kekistan flag.

“The more contemporary, vile derivation that has been repurposed by hate groups was not surfaced through this process, and therefore, the armor was approved for ship,” said Bungie. The Kekistan banner is modeled after a Nazi war flag, and white nationalists have flown it at rallies across the U.S. in recent months.

Bungie expressed confidence in its investigation, and rejected the idea that a developer knowingly put artwork resembling a white nationalist symbol in Destiny 2.

“We know there was no degree of malicious intent from anyone on our team,” the studio said. “We want everyone to know their identity is welcome in our studio and in the worlds we create. This isn’t merely a platitude, but an official pillar we hold ourselves, and our work to. It is also a clarion call for the type of people we want to bring into our studio to help us make better games.”

The company added that it is now working to figure out better vetting systems to keep “inappropriate imagery” out of its games.

Bungie first acknowledged the armor issue shortly before 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, during a planned four-hour maintenance window for Destiny 2 that was originally scheduled to end by 2 p.m. Instead, the game’s servers were offline for seven hours, until approximately 5 p.m., and now we know why.

“As an immediate response, we extended our planned maintenance window to remove the element from the armor piece itself,” said Bungie.

The Sept. 12 patch, which updated Destiny 2 to version during the maintenance period, did not actually remove the offending design from the game entirely. The gauntlets in question dropped for the author of this article last night, well after Bungie issued the patch, and the artwork was visible when previewing the armor.

But although the original armor still exists in the game, other players can no longer see the design. “My wifes look like that on her screen but when i inspect totally different,” one Twitter user wrote.

Bungie noted that it “will be following up next week with another patch to remove the same element from the UI icon and preview screens, scrubbing it from the game altogether.” That patch, version, will also address other known issues.

For more on Destiny 2, check out our review-in-progress and our guide.

Update (Sept. 15): We’ve edited the article to clarify the origins of “kek.”

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