Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Tries to Piggyback Off Black Lives Matter
As the latest installment in a revered cyberpunk franchise, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided already had big shoes to fill. The series began with a conspiracy theory-drenched tale of transhumanism and moral choice, and 2013’s Human Revolution managed to successfully shepherd the franchise into the modern era with a sharply-designed hybrid of action and stealth. Now with a story centered around the social inequality between cybernetically-enhanced “augs” and humans, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s marketing team decided to go with a ripped-from-the-headlines approach.
Their first move was to produce a Black Mirror-style featurette on “mechanical apartheid” (above).
While using the term “apartheid” understandably rubbed some already-raw nerves the wrong way, it’s possible to argue that it’s the kind of terminology cyberpunk and science fiction have used for ages to tie their stories to important present-day issues in order to clearly address them. What tipped the scales into gross territory was when Eidos Montreal released a promotional image for the game that featured a group of protesters holding a banner that read, “Augs Lives Matter.”
This strains the sci-fi topicality argument about to the breaking point, but ultimately what’s most insulting about using this kind of promotional imagery is that the game itself only deals with these race-adjacent issues in the most cursory and timid way possible. Disappointingly, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided never gets around to saying anything profound about the concepts of racism, apartheid, or social inequality – it only manages to briefly point them before moving right along with the sneaking and murdering.
What’s more, protagonist Adam Jensen isn’t anything like disempowered – he’s goddamn Batman mashed with Jason Bourne. The Black Lives Matter rhetoric falls a bit flat when you’re using it to talk about cyborgs with hockey stick-sized blades that come out of their elbows.
The icing on the cake was the literally incredible (and weirdly French) claim from Eidos marketing employee Andre Vu that the “Augs Lives Matter” wording on the banner was just an “unfortunate coincidence.”
@manveerheir no u r just trying prob, these words were thought in our game way before the current events. Unfortunate coincidence for sure
— Andre Vu (@GeneralVu) August 3, 2016
It would be one thing if Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had used Black Lives Matter imagery to promote a game that explored the idea of social power asymmetries and made players confront their own prejudices and inclinations the way the original game attempted to. But Mankind Divided is far too timid to do that, and it’s obvious the marketing scheme was created after the fact to try to leverage the raw emotions and politics of an ongoing social movement to boost sales. Should it be surprising that a company uses a lightning rod issue to opportunistically drum up interest in a product and then A) not actually deal with the issue intelligently and B) not even admit to doing it? I’d like to think that yes, we can still be shocked at that level of cynicism.