New Deus Ex trailer mishandles racism undertones

There’s been no such thing as a bad Deus Ex game so far – yes, that includes Invisible War, deal with it – and this is hopefully not a trend that Mankind Divided is set to buck. We’re looking forward to the next Deus Ex. That said, the above trailer makes us somewhat uncomfortable.

It seems a bit stupid to make a live-action trailer for a game with (so far as we know) no live-action footage therein. That’s not the problem though, really. The special effects are pretty good, as is the acting. It certainly does the job it sets out to do well, in that it paints a picture of the world Mankind Divided is set in. But that, you see, is where our concerns lie. Remember the controversy over the use of the term ‘mechanical apartheid’? If those two words in close proximity got you worked up, just wait till you get a load of this trailer. In fact, we can’t help but wonder if it was designed specifically to generate a new tornado of internet rage/free publicity.

The basic idea is that, after the world’s augmented population was remotely forced into acts of deadly aggression during events of the last game, there’s a clamour for augmented humans to be segregated from non-augmented humans. Relevant legislation is later passed and enforced. Cue a trailer with much clumsy and insensitive misappropriation of racist-flavoured prejudice.

When initially defending the use of the term ‘mechanical apartheid’, ‘executive narrative director’ (?) Mary DeMerle said: “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”. What it seems we should infer from this is that the new Deus Ex will tackle difficult social issues. So racism, then. Which isn’t hard for society to see, actually,.

But.

The idea behind a live-action trailer was surely that it would “engage the audience emotionally” more than a computer-generated trailer would and similar commercial brainfart nonsense. By drawing a deformed comparison between scientifically augmented humans and ethnic minorities, though, more harm than good could easily result. Racists and xenophobes hate and fear the targets of their venom through ignorance, or taught stupidity. In short, there is absolutely no substance to their fear. In the world of Mankind Divided however, the case of the “augs” differs in two vital ways.

Firstly, while (for example) a black person is hated simply for being born into a skin they had no control over, the fictional ‘augs’ chose to be different. In most cases, it seems, to improve their lives in unnecessary ways rather than to save them. Secondly – and even more importantly – in the world of Mankind Divided, there is a very real and irrefutable substance to the root of the fear and hate that it’s easy to justify, and impossible to deny. The ‘augs’ really did do something wrong. They hurt and killed people; literally millions, as the trailer is keen to tell us. Every single one of them. It doesn’t matter that in the story, none of them did so of their own free will. If this is meant to draw parallels with the real world, then it’s hard to not read a message along the lines of ‘it’s wrong to be racist, but you can kind of see their point’.

This mirror is cracked.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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