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"Augs Lives Matter" Sparks Argument Between Devs of Mass Effect and Deus Ex

When life and art collide, controversy ensues.

What do you get when life mimics art or art mimics life? Apparently in the case of the above Deus Ex: Mankind Divided "Augs Lives Matter" banner, a whole lot of controversy.

The Issue at Hand

For those who are truly out of touch with recent political events in the Western world, the reason why "Augs Lives Matter" has caused such a storm of controversy is due to the nature of the phrase. "Augs Lives Matter" shares an uncanny similarity to the phrase "Black Lives Matter", which has become the motto of a major social movement in the United States and a response to police brutality against people of color.

This movement has since rooted into other countries where police violence is virtually unheard of, but nevertheless it has become an important and prolific political debate online.

The firestorm appears to have gained wind after Mass Effect: Andromeda gameplay designer, Manveer Heir, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution brand director Andre Vu had at one another on Twitter. The entire conversation can be found on Twitter here, but I have also taken the liberty of screencapping the conversation below.

(Screen captures of full conversation have been doctored to include tweets not shown in Manveer Heir's "full conversation" claim)

As clearly seen, the argument between both parties went on for quite some time before it finally silenced. If you want a TL;DR of the conversation, it basically boiled down to the following:

  • Manveer Heir: "You're appropriating Black Lives Matter!"
  • Andre Vu: "No we're not. It's an unfortunate coincidence."

Whether or not you believe in the efforts of Black Lives Matter or Andre Vu's story, one thing is certain: the slogan does bear a striking similarity. However, does this necessarily lead to the conclusion that Eidos Interactive meant to play on the recent political event? Not by a longshot.

Digging a Little Deeper

While I would be tempted to believe in the integrity of Manveer's concerns, his over willingness to tear down Eidos Interactive's reputation is a bit too eager. For a person who claims to be so aware of what one's actions could mean for others, Manveer seems to have a blatant ignorance of what the following could do to Andre Vu:

This post by Andre shows that the man truly understands the consequences tweeting such a bold claim can lead to. While I have no doubt in my mind that Manveer truly believes he is in the right, retweeting an argument with politically charged conversation can only lead to trouble. After all, it wouldn't be the first time that Twitter subscribers have formed virtual "mobs" after finding someone disagreeable.

Mankind Divided has faced controversy in the past...

While some might believe this to be the first strike against Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the game has been attacked before for its themes. In Mankind Divided there is reference to something called the "Mechanical Apartheid", and issue that exists as a main plot point as augmented persons are being segregated from those who are not.

Last year, Giles Matouba - the director of Mankind Divided - took to the GamerGate reddit forum, KotakuinAction, to explain their choice of the term "Mechanical Apartheid" in the following post:

Hi KiA

Sorry for the typos and weird syntax, english is not my mother tongue.

I am Gilles Matouba and there is a thin chance of you knowing me. Still, I am a veteran french game developer with 15 years of experience in the industry. Mostly at Ubisoft and Eidos Montreal.

Until september 2014 I was the Game Director of DXMD at Eidos Montreal.

3 years ago Andre Vu, the Brand Director of the DX franchise, and I coined the term 'Mechanical Apartheid'.

Thing is... I am Black (& French...). And Andre is Asian (& French).

When we decided to go all-in on delivering the experience to play as Adam Jensen, an Augmented, in a world agressively segragating his own kind, we actually wanted to offer to our audience something unique. Something that was close and very personal to us: The experience of being torn between 2 worlds and 2 identities. Augs calling you the 'uncle Tom' of the non-augs, non-augs always insecure when you're around, always deeply being scared or appaled by your mechanical body.

Somehow, it was our own individual stories... We wanted to share a little part of our own life experience (on a super dramatized degree, of course) as visible minorities in a world of prejudices sometimes not well tailored for us.

We also used the reference of south africa, israel, even brasil, french and american ghettos and any country ressorting to walls in order to segratgate a part of their own population. We meant it. This was important to us to not half-ass these analogies. BECAUSE THIS IS DEUS EX.

Deus Ex is a very mature and thoughtful franchise that wants to hook gamers on essential questions and considerations: power, control, species, science, sociology, singularity, etc.

Racism is a ey dark part of our human nature and we wanted to treat this subject. It was especially important for ME to treat this.

So it makes me sad and angry that these ignorant people just ASSUME that everyone behind this game is ill-spirited, stupid, and more importantly for me, that they that they are all WHITE. (For them devs==white, gamers==white)

What these bloggers and tweeters did to me here is beyond mere insults: They have degraded me and have literally erased my identity as a black developer and as a black creator that just wanted to share a piece of himself with this game.

I wish that they will feel bad about it. I wish they will have the decency to apologize of their gross false assumptions and accusations. To apologize to all the people back in Quebec that have been working hard FOR YEARS to make this game to happen. But since they have no spine, no shame and no self respect they will simply ignore this post (once again denying me voice, legitimacy and identity) and will at best move on another AAA target to toss their freshly defecated shit at.

They don't deserve anyone's attention. They don't deserve our industry, our games and the dedication we put into them. They disgust me.

TL : DR Asian guy and black guy came up with the term Mechanical Apartheid 3 years ago. Black guy not happy about the SJW shit tweets and wants to call them out and expose their stupidity. Black guy is not their shield.

-- Gilles Matouba via Reddit

While GamerGate has gotten a bad rap in the past, it doesn't come off as surprising to me -- as a reporter who often deals with controversy -- that Giles would take to GG's forum to discuss the issue. It only seems appropriate considering the fact that his statement does not appear to have gained any recognition outside of the GamerGate community, except on smaller websites.

As Matouba states, there is an overbearing myth that a majority of game companies are composed solely of white staff - similar to how the majority of gamers are supposedly straight white men. While there are many reasons that this conception exists, it is undoubtedly hurting the minorities in gaming as it appears that any team that isn't solely composed of minorities is disallowed from developing a game dealing with political issues. After all, both Vu and Matouba are minorities in top positions for the direction of this title.

Considering the fact that Giles Matouba - a black man - is a well known collaborator on the latest Deus Ex title, it brings into question the intentions of Manveer Heir. This information makes it appear as though Heir is making an attempt to ruin Mankind Divided before it is released. However, I will give Heir the benefit of the doubt, and will assume he did not know this when he made his first tweet.

RR-sama's Take

Let us take a moment to separate ourselves from Black Lives Matter -- just for a second. It is not uncommon for any group to use "_____ Lives Matter" as a slogan, even long before Black Lives Matter started. After all, it is an easy go to buzzword that can bring attention to an issue without much difficulty. Consider the struggles of the LGBT community not too long ago, as an example, and how signs with these very words with "Black" substituted for "Homosexual" or other sexualities would be used during protests against police actions.

While typing "lives matter" in Google nowadays will only bring up Black Lives Matter and affiliated sites, there is nothing that can suggest that Mankind Divided is referencing Black Lives Matter in particular. Even if it did, does this make it a bad thing?

The protagonist of Mankind Divided is an augmented human. That would make him part of the minority that is struggling to end the Mechanical Apartheid. This would in turn paint Black Lives Matter as the good guys, would it not?

Video games as art and literature

Gamers and game developers have been longing for some time to make video games respected as a form of art. This is especially true for video games that involve strong storylines.

For one, science fiction has often been used to speculate or highlight the issues of the modern day and how they might affect the future. Authors of great works of literature such as George Orwell or H. G. Wells often turned to issues of their time for inspiration. Often times they were used to criticize the way things were then or how they might be in the future.

Suppose that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was actively drawing parallels to the African Apartheid or Black Lives Matter. Wouldn't this better serve the video game community - including developers - as a whole? It would mean that Mankind Divided would achieve something that most games do not.

Maybe Manveer Heir has an inferiority complex after the mess that was Mass Effect 3's ending?

The fact of the matter is that this should be a non-issue. Even if "Augs Lives Matter" is a direct reference to Black Lives Matter, it should be seen as supportive if nothing else. All media appears to make out augmented persons as the good guys, and the protagonist is one of them. If we want to draw parallels, the protagonist will be part of Black Lives Matter. That's good, isn't it?

Even if it's not a good thing, shouldn't we turn to other games that have appropriated historical events? To say that Deus Ex is appropriating the struggle of the group is about as accurate as saying WATCH_DOGS appropriates the real world actions of Anonymous, or that Call of Duty appropriates various real-world military operations.

It's an an odd suggestion at best, and honestly there's many more problematic video games with disturbing messages out there you can criticize if you really feel compelled to.

But that's enough of my analysis. What about you, the reader? Do you think this is a blatant attempt by Eidos to profit off the struggles of Black Lives Matter? Do you think this was coincidental or unintended? Leave your opinions in the comments section below!

Published Aug. 4th 2016

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