On Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s “Mechanical Apartheid”

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided caused a storm in a teacup controversy during Square’s E3 presentation, when Eidos Montreal used the term “mechanical Apartheid”” to promote the game. “Apartheid” is such a charged term that it was bound to cause some modicum of outrage and furore. People all over the internet have been up in arms about the use of the word, which we here in South Africa obviously know quite a bit about. Deus Ex was accused of being a “white game” and its developers accused of being insensitive.

Trying to stem the controversy tide, two of the game’s developers – and the two who coined the phrase used in the promotion – took to Reddit to clear things up.

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Here’s a trimmed excerpt of what he wrote on the pro-gamergate side of Reddit (via GameRanx), with the typos, grammar issues et al intact

“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.”

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Executive Narrative Director at Eidos Montreal Mary DeMerle, speaking to Destructoid, also tried to put things in to perspective:

“And what we are also trying to do with Deus Ex is look at the world, and trying not to judge the world but to present it in a very – we like to talk about shades of grey. So we like to present the issues to the best of our abilities without judging you or your actions, so that you can make up your own mind about it. It’s one of the things I’m constantly telling the writers on the team is that you can’t write dialogues that are judging, you can’t come up with choices where you’re slapping people in the face for their moral decisions.

 

You have to present them in as neutral of a way as possible to enable players to feel that and interpret it in their own way. Obviously, there will be people who are super sensitive to those sorts of things, and we recognize that, and we feel bad when we offend someone but we are trying to be as truthful and as honest as we possibly can.

 

“We’re not trying to be preachy here, just holding up the mirror. And that’s one of the things about science fiction: it embraces concepts that are hard for society to see.”

Personally? I think that yes, the term is loaded and charged, and criticism of its use is warranted – but attacking people without knowing the story, reasoning or context behind things isn’t cool. Questioning things? Yes. Attacking people? Not so cool. On the other side of it, I think the term is close to perfect for describing what goes on in Deus Ex’s world – where people are segregated in to those who have augmentations, and those who don’t. The term is warranted – but so is criticism of its use. Remember, criticism of the media you enjoy is not criticism of you.

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Still, I think games should deal with the grey political bits of human nature – as long as its done respectfully.  Deus Ex: Human Revolution famously wasn’t so respectful: If you’ll recall Letetia, the garbage lady, who was one stereotype on top of another, on top of another.

Hopefully, Eidos has learnt its lessons.

Last Updated: June 18, 2015

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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