“The racism allegory in Mankind Divided is already clear,”
December 20, 2016 3:20 PM   Subscribe

A History of Deus Ex's Racism Controversies [New Normative] “With futuristic, sci-fi sequel Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [YouTube], developer Eidos Montreal has once again found itself walking atop the fiery coals of controversy. The developer first landed itself in trouble by referring to the game’s poor treatment of augmented humans (‘augs’ are treated as second class citizens, forced to live in ghettos) as the ‘Mechanical Apartheid.’ Apartheid is the term used to describe the horrific, and very real, period of segregation and oppression faced by black South Africans during the 20th century (1948-94). Many have questioned whether it is appropriate for the term, which is based on the South African language of Afrikaans (which is itself based upon the Dutch language, introduced to the territory by Dutch settlers) to be adapted and used as a slogan in a video game. In subsequent marketing materials – concept art created to further depict this oppression – the movement in favour of better treatment of augmented people is referred to as ‘Aug Lives Matter. It’s an unmistakeable and questionable nod of the head to the real-world movement for the better treatment of black people, Black Lives Matter.”

- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and the Problem of 'Mechanical Apartheid' [Polygon]
“"Just using the word 'apartheid' in the game is a little risky," said executive art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête in a recent interview with Polygon. "We're aware of that. But I think we own it. If you look into what we're doing, it makes sense. It's all part of that. These things are hard to do, and some of these themes are risky." Jacques-Belletête also addressed the issue last year, when he said: "Humans will be bad to each other forever, as far as I'm considered. Segregating people that one casts ... as wrong or dangerous or inferior is a thing that will always sadly happen. Obviously we're not condoning it, it's an analogy for how sucky humanity is and showing how it can happen in the future with the technology we're dealing with." Deus Ex games seek to tackle serious issues. Mankind Divided follows on from Human Revolution's theme of technology giving individuals previously unimaginable powers, making use of the legend of Icarus to press home its point that such advances are not without their risks and costs. The game poses the question, rather than offering any firm declaration one way or the other. This sequel goes further, delving into societal issues of segregation. After the event in the first game, in which the Augmented murder millions of people, they are treated with suspicion and revulsion, even though it's clear they did not control their own actions.”
- “Augs Lives Matter”" The Hollow Race Politics of the New Deus Ex [Killscreen]
“It’s not that sci-fi and fantasy don’t have a history of using metaphor and fiction to explore societal problems, but in this instance especially, it rings hollow. If it’s an exercise in sympathy, try turning on the news. If it’s an attempt to convince people that discriminatory violence is bad, maybe talk to your mean uncle who calls the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression” about the people who are actually being extrajudicially executed every day. There is a time and place for commentary on political issues; disaster porn in a background image is probably not it. Not only does it ignore those for whom this is an everyday concern, but it’s disrespectful to Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and the hundreds of others who were killed without due process or legal justice because of a broken system.”
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Tries, and Fails, to Be a Political Game [Wired]
“The tentpole videogame is having a crisis of character, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided might be its herald. This massive RPG, shipping Tuesday for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, seems divided on its purpose. Its developers clearly wanted to craft a grim, politically relevant tale while fulfilling their financial mandate to create a fun, open-ended videogame equivalent of a summer popcorn superhero movie that will sell millions of copies and not rock the boat too much. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a political tragedy, a paranoiac thriller, a ruthless shooter, and a thrilling stealth simulator. It tries to do what the original Deus Ex did so splendidly by offering a vision of freedom to the player, letting them shape the game into whatever they most want to play. But despite many of the individual parts succeeding, I don’t know if it gets the balancing act right. Ultimately, like big-budget videogaming itself, I’m not sure Deus Ex knows what it is anymore.”
- 'Real World Issues' In Games Like Deus Ex Are There For Marketing Reasons, Not For Art [Zam]
“There is a cycle we are used to by now. An AAA game is announced with a potentially fascinating concept. Its themes seem ripped from the headlines, tapping into the zeitgeist and promising to explore hot-button issues. During marketing its developers play up to this impression, talking enthusiastically if vaguely about its Serious Themes. Some people are cynical, some people are hopeful; all the usual hoopla plays out. Then it gets released, and it's stunningly inane -- or, at the very least, banal. I don't yet know if Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will finish this cycle. Zam's reviewer says there's "not a whole lot of depth" to its politics, but we have already watched the first three stages unfold. First there was the controversy over marketers' use of the phrase "mechanical apartheid." Then there was the usual misinterpretation of criticism as a denial of the right to create. Then, most recently, there was a minor ruckus about old concept art which featured the slogan "Aug Lives Matter." For me and many others the problem was not that the developers addressed these themes at all, but that they seemed unlikely to treat them as anything more than window-dressing. We shared a profound cynicism that, in an industry whose key players so often betray a blithe and impoverished understanding of the real world, we would see any serious engagement with, say, systemic racism.”
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Doesn't Examine the Real World Issues it Brings Up [Paste]
“The other focal point is the tension between the Augmented and “naturals.” After the events of Human Revolution, now referred to as The Incident, the world progressed rapidly towards segregation and xenophobia. Most of your time in Mankind Divided will be set in Prague, the first city to implement “anti-Aug” legislation. Trains are segregated, citizens harassed, housing limited. Just outside Prague is Golem City, a clever name for a ghetto built to contain certain Augs—those disruptive, unbending, or simply passing by the wrong officer on the wrong day. If the game’s marketing using terms like “Augs Lives Matter” made you wary, those concerns won’t be quieted by the game itself. There’s a tepid balance of introspection and ignorance that Mankind Divided teeters on. In some moments, it shines clearly, through a passionate speech from an NPC or the increasing militarization of the police force throughout the length of the game. In others, it stumbles and contradicts itself. It’s possible using “Augs Lives Matters” in the promotional artwork was coincidental, but when posters emblazoned with “All Human Lives Matter” populate a city and TV spokespeople espouse the hypocrisy of “social justice warriors” on in-game broadcasts, it’s harder to feign ignorance.”
- How Deus Ex Predicted the Future [Kotaku]
““Nothing is quite right about the world of Deus Ex”, says Pacotti. “Like all fiction, the gameworld is prone to exaggeration – from the luridness of cybernetic implants to the fierceness of laboratory mutants – but when I try to put my finger on something that is dead wrong, I have a hard time. “One issue that occupies more of my attention these days is the falling economic worth of human beings. Globalisation simply continues industry’s search for cheap resources and cheap labour, as disruptive as it may seem in the West – and might well work its mischief long before the timeframe of Deus Ex. The more apocalyptic change is automation. The middle class is disappearing because mediocre human intellects, which previously could be effective at organising, say, a filing cabinet, simply don’t ‘add value’ where they used to. The conspirators of a re-imagined Deus Ex would need to be more cognisant of this shift, I think. “The tone of [the game’s] idea – a [domestic] armed uprising in the US – doesn’t feel quite right today, yet all of the same tensions are present. Accusations of a conspiracy between big business and government, anger at the US allowing itself to be led by other countries, severe wealth disparity, armed standoffs between ranchers and the government, secession movements (like the recent one on Colorado)... A slight shift of focus, and the future could still turn out like Deus Ex after all”.”
- The Design And Politics Of Deus Ex Mankind Divided [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]
RPS: With the “mechanical apartheid” stuff, it’s obviously a serious subject. What is the merit of discussing those kinds of issues in what is ultimately an action game? I’m playing devil’s advocate, but in Die Hard, Bruce Willis never strived to be politically relevant…
Fortier: I don’t feel it is an action game. I think we put so much energy into the lore, into the storytelling, into having every pillar contribute to creating this tangible world. The thing about it is, I don’t think we’re using the mechanical apartheid for shock value. We’re not doing it gratuitously. We’re actually dealing with a state of the world that’s logical with the events that transpired in the previous game, and that’s what we’re interested in. How would events like that shape the world and how would it affect people and how do you experience that, and we’re really exploring it with a lot of respect. You are going to go to see what people are living through, even the word ‘apartheid’, if you look at the defintiion, it comes from French for “to put apart”, to separate. It’s a literal description of the situation that our world is describing. It’s not a tagline. It’s not a little thing to get attention. It’s very much at the heart of the storyline that we’re exploring. We don’t feel at all like we’re being careless, we’re not just throwing it around.
- A Look Back At Deus Ex's Enduring Legacy [IGN]
“Deus Ex managed to pull off something 13 years ago that many games still fail to do today: offer up true player freedom. Crafting a game that lets someone play exactly how they want is no small task. Offering a ton of different skills means little, for example, when the enemies and level design don’t accommodate your personal choices. Deus Ex made all forms of combat and espionage viable, and it’s still heralded as one of the best examples of player agency done right.”
- Developing Deus Ex: An Oral History [Gamasutra]
“Looking back, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Ion Storm Austin's efforts would spawn a franchise and influence game designers around the industry, who went on to work on big-budget projects like BioShock and Fallout 3, as well as more intimate games like Neon Struct and Catacomb Kids. Now, 15 16 years on, it seems appropriate to reflect back on the foundation of Ion Storm Austin and what it was like to work on its first and arguably most significant game. In a series of conversations conducted separately with project director Warren Spector, lead programmer and assistant director Chris Norden, composer Alexander Brandon and lead writer Sheldon Pacotti, we seek to shed some light on how this seminal game was developed, how it reflected the identities of its creators and how it affected the course of their careers. ”
posted by Fizz (51 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I went to an exhibit at ACMI Melbourne that featured a number of artefacts from games, including Warren Spector's master narrative for Deus Ex. The feel, the consistency, the illusion of control, appeared (to me) to stem from having a vision of what you wanted to achieve and sharing that in a way that the people working for you could understand and then implement.

Fast forward to BioShock, which has a wonderful aesthetic and an amusing set-up, but the illusion of control shatters on occasion and the very-clumsily-bolted-on "ethical dilemmas" do not (again, for me) tie into the ending that you receive. At the end of Deus Ex, I felt I had contributed to the ending I received. At the end of BioShock I... um.... I think I helped marry off some murderous clones. It got confused. I think it hleped, which is almost like helped but not enough.

The desire to force a story onto the player only got stronger in games like Tomb Raider (2013) where you could switch from joyfully killing people with flaming arrows to suddenly (unexpectedly) losing control of the character as she agonised over deaths that were nothing compared to what she had already inflicted and made terribly bad choices that only served to prolong the game. At one key moment, you have the big bad in your bow sights and you cannot fire an arrow. There are good sandbox games. There are good narrative games. It seems to be difficult to combine them reliably.

The original Deus Ex was not perfect in its vision but it gave a very powerful illusion of control that showed the faith of the designers in the world that they had constructed. It doesn't surprise me that it's been hard to recapture the lightning in that bottle, in the face of contemporary gaming. The issues are important but you can't bolt important issues on like plot points and hope for it work.

(Edit: sorry, last sentence accidentally deleted.)
posted by nfalkner at 3:33 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Mankind Divided had no business making racism allegories when Human Revolution had incredibly racist portrayals left and right. It reminds me of when GTA5 had the controversial torture scene, where the devs tried to tell us that we all didn't get the point, and they were trying to show us how nasty violence and human suffering are, whilst encouraging and rewarding it not only in that scene (where you're forced to engage in torture in order to proceed), but the rest of the game, and the series in general. It also reminds me of Bioshock Infinite, in which we were told that, hey, maybe the people fighting against racism can ALSO be shitty people! Thanks...

Games (AAA ones, at least) have a long way to go.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:40 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a non-gamer, thank you for a thorough post about this.
posted by XMLicious at 3:47 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are there any popular video games that treat any social issue with tact and sensitivity?
posted by My Dad at 4:03 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are there any popular video games that treat any social issue with tact and sensitivity?

Blizzard's Overwatch feels like a step in this direction. I realize that some might scoff or laugh, but I have been very pleased with the way they have designed their game. A large caste of characters of various genders, sexuality, age, race, & ethnicity. Today, Blizzard released a backstory comic that confirms that one of their main characters, Tracer, is a lesbian. That's now canon, even though it's been something fans have been shipping since the game was first released. And I admit, Blizzard is not perfect, I mean, let's talk about Tracer's pose, 'buttgate'. But, I like that they're trying to be more inclusive, that they're making an attempt to think about how they create their game and the many different types of gamers that are out there. I believe that's one of the main reasons why Overwatch has been so successful this past year.
posted by Fizz at 4:12 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


My Dad, sure, for varying definitions of "popular" and "social issues"; This War of Mine, Valiant Hearts, Life is Strange, Gone Home, The Cat Lady... We're sort of in the middle of a renaissance (heh) of games exploring Serious Topics in pretty good ways. Mainstream big-budget games, though, have mostly decided to chase the AAA New Hollywood money, and so attempts at serious commentary there tend to end up like...this. Mankind Divided's commentary was never going to be anything but tasteless, because the premise itself deeply misunderstands what oppression even is, and its nature as a Hollywooden action game means that it can't really subject the player character to faux-ppression without losing a sense of agency vital to the power fantasy.
posted by byanyothername at 4:22 PM on December 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


Mainstream big-budget games, though, have mostly decided to chase the AAA New Hollywood money

Yeah, that's what I think of when I think of "video games", I guess. It seems similar to Hollywood action movies.
posted by My Dad at 4:25 PM on December 20, 2016


I feel like all of this handwringing would be a lot more interesting if this was the first time that a work in the science fiction genre had ever attempted to draw a parallel between real world -isms and the way that "normal" humans are likely to treat [aliens/robots/cyborgs/mutants/wizards].

I guess Erik Lehnsherr literally being a holocaust victim and making avoiding a repeat of that fate his character's driving motivation was too subtle?

If the villians were the ones holding the Aug Lives Matter signs (that aren't even in the game), that would be one thing. If the player character's role was wipe out a terrorist cell that was hell bent on destroying the bureacracy that kept the "others" in oppression, that would be another.

But, I see nothing wrong with calling a world that features the institutionalized and systematic segregation and subjugation of "different" people a "mechanical apartheid." If Augments suffer from casual everyday anti-augism and live in fear of police violence in that world, it's ok to say that Aug Lives Matter.

Yeah, maybe the creators aren't sufficiently "woke" to provide any answer from the work, and maybe they are just pulling popular trappings of racism and hate to lazily tell the player how bad the world of the future is. But I'll give them points for at least giving a shit, you know?
posted by sparklemotion at 4:27 PM on December 20, 2016 [19 favorites]


Are there any popular video games that treat any social issue with tact and sensitivity?

In my (now mostly dated) experience, they tend to do very well at basic inclusiveness and diversity (when the creators decide to pay attention to such things) and tend to be incredibly ham-fisted when they attempt to make A Statement.

It occurs to me that anyone can take a general high-level game design and, through a game-like randomization process, add inclusiveness and diversity after the fact. Dealing with Statements is far less algorithmic and would obviously benefit from actual diversity on writing teams. I don't know if that's the reason for the difference, but it would explain a thing or two.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:33 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


add inclusiveness and diversity after the fact

This is essentially what Overwatch did. The core game could just as easily be done with a cast of all straight white male heroes. Swapping out "generic hero #138129" for "diverse hero #32" is relatively straightforward.

Not to say its not good they worked harder on their cast! But its a fairly straightforward task of "design characters" since Overwatch has essentially no story and gameplay is agnostic towards character motivations and backstory (the "story" as it is makes little sense, given that gameplay involves randomly assembled groups of characters fighting each other regardless of who is supposed to be friendly to who).
posted by thefoxgod at 4:40 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here we go again.

Somehow, a work of media is not allowed to reference real life. Because ... well, why, really? Even reading all those links, there is not 1 real, logical, cause-and-effect, non-handwavey reason listed. Not 1 which amounts to anything other than: "because I think so" or "because it makes me uncomfortable".

I haven't played the game: maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong ... but it really strikes me as paid-for controversy. Unworthy of discussion in this way it is framed. We should take the simily and discuss what actually fucking happens in real life as pointed out by the example. Attacking the messenger strikes me as wasted energy on all sides.

Unless of course it really is handled so very badly. But you'll only know that if you play the game and experience it. If you haven't? Well, you're like me: guessing. And should really be ignored (like my words above ... all baseless, uninformed prattle until I have seen it and can actually confirm). Even seeing it on youtube is no substitute due to what would have come before and after and the fact that playing is so different from merely seeing.

And that GTA V torture scene? That sparked a lot of conversation between my gaming friends, my brothers and I. It is very much like the Milgram experiment, where those who went through with giving the highest shocks due to authorotarian egging-on were changed in life afterwards and were found ot not allow that kind of thing to take place (for them) anymore. This effect has been studied. Go check scholar.google. If going through that scene did not affect you, that really says more about the person than anything else.
Exactly like those people who go after GTA because you can drive over the prosititute and get money (an emergent, non directly programmed feature, btw): I (and oh-so-many others) never even thought of that before some sick fuck went about it.
And GTA V did it masterfully: even putting you in the one character who would have no problem doing it, the id character. And there are so many more beautiful, literary touches like that in that game, from the psychiatrist to the interactions with the son (that scene where he is playing a game and the character scolds him for playing video games! The meta is just unbelievable!).

It is really annoying to me that people go on about video games where we have seen movies like District 9 or books like (... ok, I'm striking out on a generally accepted literary masterpiece which describes a torture scene but I am sure I could think one up/find one) where these depictions are handled well (and the GTA V one was handled well: the character, the situation, the horror the player felt [any normal person ... if you didn't, there is something fucking wrong with you, you psycho], the motivation, the setup and result).

Oh, and play Spec Ops: the Line for a triple A video game which makes a social point.
posted by MacD at 4:42 PM on December 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


Are we spoiler-free here or no? I'd like to bring up some specific points from Mankind Divided, but they are spoilery as fuck.
posted by corb at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2016


There are good sandbox games. There are good narrative games. It seems to be difficult to combine them reliably.
The problem is that doing both at once would be a QA nightmare. Let's imagine that instead of the classic A to B storylines with some forking along the way, the narrative is contained with scripts that adapt to changes the player willed by his own volition into the game world, and the goal of the player, instead of finding the spot where the next mission is triggered tje end is simply finding one of the predicted endgames, like a game in Civilization-style games could be won by the traditional military (ie, conquest) route, but also scientific, economic, cultural or religious. The thing is those games have no narrative - you can imagine it - like that 1700-year nuclear war CIV II savegame or the Stargate-style TV serial I had on my head while playing UFO:EU. But the game doesn't have to take into account gameplay, while with plot driven games, that kind of flexibility could quickly turn the script into a total mess and become unwinnable, which is kind of the ultimate sin as far as games go.

So, the challenge is how to push that border between player freedom and storyline - more freedom (with actual consequences with no safeguards against player breaking the story willingly or not) also means more story variables to juggle, more complex dialog trees and so on. And that's hard. The original Deus Ex (which I finished just a few weeks ago) was free in terms on how the player went from A to B, but not exactly in terms of story (even if they were a vast improvement over what there was on the market at the time) - scripts still ended up with this fantastic moment (which I'll never get tired of). You couldn't just, say, screw everything and join MJ12, and the story changes were mostly scripts loaded depending if a variable was true or false.

This eventually also becomes a problem with more serious topics, and I guess this is why half-assing or ignoring it is as deep as most developers are willing to go if the player has some agency over the story. Considering games have never been exempt from the hot-take culture, how real life issues are fitted into games is a lot more complex than some of these articles suggest.
posted by lmfsilva at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is the blue, not FanFare, so.... maybe?

That said, I think it's interesting that the themes and language used were selected by a team led by Francophone Canadiens. The single most disconcerting and horrifyingly hateful conversation concerning a given ethnicity and attitudes concerning that ethnicity I have ever had the misfortune to participate in occured between me and a Canadian Anglophone from Quebec. This person's spouse was an African of Arabic ethnicity, an emigrant to Canada and the US, and we were happily sharing international travel reminiscences when I mentioned my appreciation for Montreal specifically because of its unique status as a Francophone metropolis in the cold regions of the Americas.

The look of hatred on the face of and subsequent irrational statements that came out of my conversational partner's mouth were beyond unsettling. When I pointed out that the policy agenda being advocated and underpinning attitudes regarding Francophone Quebecois certainly mirrored some American policies and attitudes toward people who shared the ethnicity of the spouse, the hatred turned into redfaced rage and I was concerned I would experience a physical assault. We disengaged and the couple left the social occasion rapidly thereafter.
posted by mwhybark at 5:21 PM on December 20, 2016


> You couldn't just, say, screw everything and join MJ12

Interestingly, this option was originally intended to be part of Deus Ex, but got cut.
posted by qntm at 5:27 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Somehow, a work of media is not allowed to reference real life.

No one is saying that. People are criticizing how it's been handled, in particular Deus Ex, because they've done such a ham-fisted job of this. But you seem to mostly be giving hand-wavey reasons why it should be dismissed, which is fine, I just really disagree. I'm also really disagree with everything you said about GTA V. I found that entire scene/section (like most of the game) to be unbelievably badly written, pretentious, and ultimately terrible. At least it wasn't misogynistic like the rest of everything that Rockstar does.

->My Dad
You're really going to be looking at a lot of smaller PC games. Too many big budget games revolve entirely around violence, which makes it inherently difficult to tackle serious issues. The biggest and most recent game would be Mafia III, which is very violent, but I've read does a fantastic job of recreating its setting (New Orleans, 1968) Your protagonist is a man of colour and the developers have not shied away from showing how racist that period was. You could also check out: Sunset, Cart Simulator, That Dragon Cancer, This War of Mine, Papers Please, Papa y Yo, and maybe Depression Quest. These are all much smaller, and far more depressing.
posted by Neronomius at 6:31 PM on December 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Are there any popular video games that treat any social issue with tact and sensitivity?

Desert Bus, maybe?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


It seems to me that the bigger-budget games use "things" like Apartheid as narrative devices, rather than examining what Apartheid actually is.
posted by My Dad at 6:42 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


because the premise itself deeply misunderstands what oppression even is, and its nature as a Hollywooden action game means that it can't really subject the player character to faux-ppression without losing a sense of agency vital to the power fantasy.

Yes, Errant Signal's review of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided essentially says the same thing (linked to 4:24 where he talks about this). He says the game misunderstands it's own symbolism, it just presents symbols and expects players to feel stuff. It's use of oppression is more part of a cool setting where the player character watches a cut scene or hears dialogue related to oppression, but the game never really explores why oppression occurs or has oppression affect the player character through gameplay, because that would interrupt the game/power fantasy. Jensen is a super-spy and ultimate badass, and everything else is secondary, including oppression.
posted by FJT at 6:55 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Mankind Divided doesn't actually happen. Jensen is dead and/or in suspended animation somewhere, and all of this is just some sort of Johnny got his Gun type scenario. Or, again, Jensen is Ferris Bueller.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2016


(The problem here is that there's no Cameron)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:03 PM on December 20, 2016


It's not so much that video games shouldn't reflect or refer to contemporary issues so much as the Aug/racism analogy in Deus Ex is fundamentally flawed.

The oppression of augs seems more akin to the trope where one group has some sort of superhuman ability and is therefore constrained/feared/hunted by the rest of their society, both as a practical narrative explanation for why they're not ruling over everything and for the somewhat understandable anxiety of living among people who can kill you with their brain. I'm thinking about the mages in the Dragon Ages or the orogenes in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series, to name a few stories that I've encountered recently.

And the othering here is significantly different from that which occurs because of racism, and drawing parallels between the two has some disturbing implications. Police aren't killing black people because they have superpowers. But they do appear to think of them as less than human, attitudes formed out of centuries of colonialism and slavery, which justified the atrocities of the oppressor because of the supposed inherent inferiority of the oppressed.

But augs/mages/orogenes are inherently different from "normal" people, and each universe had instances where they've lost control of their powers and killed a whole bunch of people. The thing that makes them different makes them dangerous, in part because it makes them potentially more irrational. Hell, in the Dragon Age universe, you can play as a character who is totally into subjugating these dangerous mages, and that's perfectly ok because they do have a tendency to go crazy and set everyone on fire.

So even though each story asks us to identify with the group that is being subjugated, that subjugation has a much more understandable basis. These are fundamentally different people who are intrinsically destructive and volatile. So while the resulting prejudice may share some similarities to real-world racism, the rationale behind it would be more akin to the racists' beliefs that other "races" are fundamentally different, less rational, and inherently dangerous. And I don't think that's Eidos Montreal's intention at all.
posted by bibliowench at 7:09 PM on December 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


Augs don't all have "superpowers". A lot of the augs were just people who lost limbs/etc and had them replaced. People like Jensen and his less-godlike aug friends were the exception.

Still, its fair to say that the bigotry depicted in Deus Ex is to a large degree about fear of people with superpowers. Its just that most of the people who actually get abused/discriminated against don't have any superpowers and are lumped in with the few who do (the "superpower" augs are clearly expensive, and no one could be like Jensen without being a billionaire or backed by the government / a major corporation like he was).

So I'd half agree with you --- the parallel is still not quite there (since there aren't really "superpowered" PoC at all in the same way), but I think it does show the idea of people not distinguishing between individuals and groups when its a group you're not part of. In some ways that makes me think more of anti-Muslim bigotry (a few people causing guilt by association to the larger group --- if a Muslim kills someone its because they're a Muslim and all Muslims are bad, if a white guy kills someone he's just crazy) and they do explore that some even more explicitly with the terrorism angle.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:35 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


True. I guess I was mostly thinking about
...
spoilers
...

the last act in Human Revolution where that person does that thing that makes that bad thing happen.

(how are we supposed to handle spoilers on the blue?)
posted by bibliowench at 7:41 PM on December 20, 2016


I adore this game for its delicious aesthetics. The story was convoluted, but the atmosphere was incredible.

I found an aspect of the aug crisis really compelling - most of the augmented people purchased their augs because it was required to be competitive in the workforce. No one's going to hire you to load boxes or build buildings if you can't lift 300 lbs. Social augs for administrative roles, whatever.

I saw it as a parallel to people paying for a college education, to be competitive, but it not panning out like expected. "You said to be successful, we had to do this, buy this, become this. Now we have, and you're throwing us away like an old cell phone?" That resonated with me because I don't believe that the stories we are told about how to secure a successful future are true.
posted by rebent at 7:46 PM on December 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


Are there any popular video games that treat any social issue with tact and sensitivity?

I was going to say SimCity, but I think SimCity actually thinks that lower land value and high population density causes crime? And even if you could educate Sims and build good neighborhoods, you still need a lot of police to lower crime. And even then, SimCity doesn't comment or shows HOW police keep crime down, whether it's through community partnerships or just straight up suppression.

In short, I think we are way overdue for a more serious city simulator.
posted by FJT at 7:49 PM on December 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


In short, I think we are way overdue for a more serious city simulator.

I haven't played Cities: Skylines, sitting in my Steam library, just haven't had time to dig into it. But I've heard very good things about it. Might be interesting to see how it handles the very issue you're discussing.
posted by Fizz at 8:32 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just started playing this game last week 'cause it was on sale, and I gotta agree the "Aug Lives Matter" stuff feels really poorly done, and in a way that want too many Ubisoft Montreal games have felt. I don't know what it is, but there's something about that studio where they keep shooting for deep social commentary and fail in the same cringey way. (FarCry 3, Watch Dogs 1 and 2) And it's possible to do it well (just read an "x-men as gay rights" articles out or three) but their writers are just not up to the task. It feels like an attempt at writing a civil rights allegory from someone whose entire experience with the base material is from middlebrow melodramas. Imagine if someone was raised in a completely white middle-class town, watched a bunch movies like Crash and The Help (and maybe some The Wire) and then tried to write a story about racial tension.
posted by aspo at 8:36 PM on December 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


The "Mechanical Apartheid" was badly done, but so was the story. I felt bad for the environmental designers, because they poured their heart and soul out on that world and the plot didn't even try for narrative consistency, let alone coherent world building.

But then, I pretty much gave up on Ubisoft Montreal when I got to the four switches at the end of their first Deus Ex prequel and was treated to stock footage and snapshots of their launch party.
posted by pan at 8:56 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Human Revolution's anti-aug-ism really rubbed me wrong. Why would rich consumers of premier commercial technology be subject to discrimination? I can see intra-aug stratification, where Hamilton Fish the laser-eyed would laugh at pedestrian, working-joe, Edward Forklifthands.

How could superhuman cyborgs with grenade launching torsos or forklift hands be marginalized? I suppose they could be forcibly instrumentalized via slavery, however the logic behind who would get aug'ed and why would probably be the real overarching oppression. This brings things back to real world racism and poverty.

Their heavy handed attempt to comment on racism demonstrates just how poorly they understand real life oppression. And it's telling that they need to obfuscate these themes with awkward science-fiction trappings.
posted by constantinescharity at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think dealing with social issues is very difficult for AAA games, because no one's figured out how to turn them into gameplay. If they're shooters, or civ builders, or puzzle games, they're going to be primarily about shooting/building/puzzling. No matter how well intentioned any other references are, they will feel marginal. (Though in a way Far Cry 2 succeeded: it depicted the amorality of outsiders messing up a beautiful African country so convincingly that I stopped playing.)

Diversity is a different issue, and a lot more easily achievable.

Indie games can do much better. A standout for me is 80 Days, a charming adaptation of Jules Verne with a truly worldwide focus. (The writer was an Indian woman, which surely helps.)

Sunset tried very hard, but shows the pitfalls in a subtler way. It talks about race with sensitivity, but I think it's a pretty poor treatment of Latin America.
posted by zompist at 11:14 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why would rich consumers of premier commercial technology be subject to discrimination? I can see intra-aug stratification, where Hamilton Fish the laser-eyed would laugh at pedestrian, working-joe, Edward Forklifthands.

Orpnhfr ng gur raq bs Uhzna Eribyhgvba, n oebnqpnfg syvcf n yvzovp flfgrz nht fjvgpu naq gheaf nyy nhtf ubzbpvqny, hagvy Wrafra xvyyf gur fvtany. Vg'f abg fb zhpu nobhg cbjre nf zhpu nf rebfvba bs gehfg va fbpvrgl, gung gur crefba arkg gb lbh jba'g tb ba nabgure ubzbpvqny fcerr.

Gur irel svefg yriry bs gur arkg tnzr srngherf n genvy bs nhtzragrq pbafgehpgvba jbexre pbecfrf sebz Gur Vapvqrag, yrsg gb zhzzvsl va gur qrfreg urng.
posted by pwnguin at 11:23 PM on December 20, 2016


Mod note: One deleted comment. Sorry, folks but contrary to the suggestion, we specifically do not recommend using rot13, which renders discussion threads unreadable, and routinely ask that people don't do that. Please don't continue with this. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:38 PM on December 20, 2016


[obligatory disclaimers: I have not yet played DE:Mankind Divided, and while I have talked with some game devs about these kinds of decisions and have some loose familiarity with the industry, I do not know and have not talked to anyone on the Deus Ex team]

Let's just acknowledge that nuance is hard, in any medium, from even the best-intentioned and most 'woke' participants. Nuance is harder when you're designing by committee, and it's harder yet when you're trying to inject nuance into an artistic vehicle where nuance is not the primary design goal, and in a medium where any level of nuance is rare. And let's also realize that there's a bit of a gulf between the people who make artistic decisions for video games and the people who judge artistic decisions in other media (books, movies, television). Books have been around for centuries, movies for a hundred years, television for eighty. Video games, computer games, and related interactive entertainments have been with us for maybe forty years now, tops. It's an immature medium by any measure. There are folks working to bring mature storytelling to the medium but it's mostly just not there yet, and expecting big software houses like Eidos to get it right, while working within the confines of an existing intellectual property and hitting the metrics (functionality, playability, release date) that they're actually being judged by... well. It's a recipe for disappointment.

Should we hate on them for trying? I get that the people most impacted by these topics and situations -- apartheid, Black Lives Matter -- these are folks who have suffered and died, lost friends and loved ones, labored under the weight of oppression for their whole lives. It takes a talented artist to do justice to these kinds of topics in any medium. I'm playing on easy mode so I'm not even a good judge on what 'doing justice' looks like. Maybe the people who are best situated to judge all agree that these kinds of hamfisted attempts at social commentary are shitty and need to stop, and if that's the case I get it and I'll support it.

My opinion -- purely opinion, and purely mine -- is that this is an area where there's a huge amount of room for improvement, but that (as in so many endeavors) the perfect is an enemy of the good. Is a major video game release from a AAA publisher ever going to nail the nuance that we're looking for, in conversations about race and oppression and injustice, and say something thought-provoking and meaningful in the way that only good art can? Maybe someday. Not today, and not soon. We've only just begun to see that level of effort and consideration go into the stories behind video games, and it's mostly coming from indie developers and small publishers who aren't afraid to take risks.

But there are people who are trying, and (recent events in America notwithstanding) I'd like to think that our society's appetite for nuanced understanding of complex topics, and our ability and desire to empathize with others, are gradually increasing. And while there's been a metric shitload of ugly pushback (see also), in fact despite that ugly pushback, we're seeing more and more game developers who are trying to tell meaningful stories in meaningful ways. So while I wince hard when I see games like Deus Ex try to say something meaningful about race, or sexism, or systemic oppression, I mostly give it a pass as long as it seems like there's good intent there and their depictions are not actively harmful or regressive. Because what's the alternative? If we bitch enough about the clumsy steps they're taking in this direction, we can get them to knock it off I guess, and we'll just stick with anodyne stuff like Pong and Breakout and Pac-Man which are as unlikely to offend as they are to enlighten.

I don't want to see the lived experience of anyone affected by apartheid (for example) diminished or turned into a hollow amusement. But I also want media -- of all kinds -- that's meaningful and challenging and mature and that helps me understand and empathize. When I see things that are flat-out wrong, or offensive, or tone-deaf, not to mention actively harmful, I call it out as such and I'd hope any of us would. When I see things that miss the mark but which appear to have at least been a fair attempt at something meaningful, I push back a bit because I want more, but I'm also glad to see folks trying. For all I know, there are 12-year-old kids playing DE:MD who have never heard of apartheid and for whom Black Lives Matter is a distant irrelevant abstraction -- if something as silly as this game helps to take them from 0 to 5 or 10, where 100 is fully socially conscious... eh. It's not perfect but maybe there's still value there.

[unrelated aside: whenever the topic of meaningful games comes up, somebody always mentions Spec Ops: the Line. And MacD, if you appreciated the game and took something worthwhile away from it, that's awesome and I'm glad. But as someone who plays a shit-ton of games but who's also familiar with stuff like Heart of Darkness... man that game made me cringe so hard. I get what they were going after but it's so heavy-handed that I could barely finish it. On the other hand, I guess again it's all a matter of perspective, and a significant number of folks who played SO:TL came away from it minds blown and hopefully better for the experience, so... yeah, again, net good I guess, though I can see plenty of room for justified critique.]
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:52 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I haven't played Cities: Skylines, sitting in my Steam library, just haven't had time to dig into it. But I've heard very good things about it. Might be interesting to see how it handles the very issue you're discussing.

Same as sim city. Your residential areas suffer from crime in inverse relation to their proximity to a cop shop, and your means of redressing high crime in an area are to build a new cop shop nearby or to allocate budget to increase the effective radius of existing ones. You can enact certain policies ("harsh prison sentences" and "recreational use", lol) to affect the multiplier, but it's altogether a rather hamfisted model.

It's a good game in many other respects.
posted by 7segment at 12:18 AM on December 21, 2016


Upon rereading my comment:

(1) there's a third alternative, which is to adjust your roads so that the cops can drive around more quickly, which may or may not reflect good real-world policing and/or urban planning strategies.

(2) any wordplay attending the term "hamfisted" was entirely unintentional.
posted by 7segment at 12:26 AM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


If we bitch enough about the clumsy steps they're taking in this direction, we can get them to knock it off I guess, and we'll just stick with anodyne stuff like Pong and Breakout and Pac-Man which are as unlikely to offend as they are to enlighten.

I really don't think that's true at all. What's the alternative, just give creatives a pass and not mention anything the least bit problematic even if it affects their audience personally? I mean, what's the point of trying to make an artistic work that engages with social issues, if we think serious critical engagement will just discourage future efforts? Future efforts at what? What are we hoping to see here?

If a game is making a serious social statement, then it has to accept serious consideration by its audience. There were some shockingly racist elements of the last Deus Ex game, and while I appreciate some of the social commentary in that game, those racist moments were social commentary too. It's not throwing out the baby with he bath water to say that's problematic, just because overall they meant well. "Aug Lives Matter" shows an awareness of current events, but not a deep understanding of them. The social commentary they're trying to make isn't in line with the commentary they're actually making when they handle things the way they do. I'd like us to be able to talk about why that is.
posted by teponaztli at 1:10 AM on December 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


The first question I'd ask of a game, movie, tv show, or other cultural/entertainment medium is any real world reference there to give the object being played or viewed more weight or is it the object being used to give the real world issues deeper understanding?

In most cases it's the former, media using, for example, references to Nazis or the Holocaust to make their object seem more meaningful and create emotions without having to do as much work. Those instances debase the real event, lessen its real effects on the world in its extended history of meaning. It's an objectionable strategy used far too often.

If the object can bring further illumination to real world events by highlighting actions or emotions of those who would otherwise not have experienced them, then it is a bit of a plus, though also a ambiguous one since what any object might "illuminate" may or may not be something actually connected to reality in a meaningful way. Showing, for example, urban areas in chaos with black criminals running rampant might convince someone of that being a powerful rendition of reality even as it has no bearing on actual life.

Which leads to the problem that game developers, movie makers, or show runners might not actually have appropriate or deeper insight into events, that isn't, afterall necessarily their main concern. So to is there the question of who gets to judge. If someone says a work changed their life, is that enough to sanction its perspective, no matter what it is? There is a real tension between practical demonstration, moral perspective, and aesthetic values in these areas that are not easy to untangle.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:54 AM on December 21, 2016


From the trailer this looks more like the revenge fantasy of a Matrix-loving libertarian nerd with a persecution complex than a sophisticated meditation on systemic racism. Plus the voice acting is terrible.

Furthermore, if Detroit looks like Blade Runner LA 10 years from now I'll buy a shipping palate of hats and eat them all.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:58 AM on December 21, 2016


Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided were not made by Ubisoft, but rather by Eidos Montreal, a subsidiary of Square Enix.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:53 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just spoil things, and throw a big SPOILERS on the front.


I think the problem is that you only really notice a video game plot when it goes absurd. Press F to pay respects.
I can't really tell you anything about Tomb Raider's main plot but I do remember the scenes where she broke down killing a deer. Then, she (or, I) proceeded to wipe the species off the map to build a new wallet. That is design's fault - you can't make me feel bad about doing something and then have me do it 100's of times in your game. The literal trauma a person might experience taking a life is lost in a video game world.
posted by graventy at 7:19 AM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]



I just started playing Skyrim again. It's been years and I never played it all the way through in the first place so I don't recall all of the lore and how it plays out. Definitely a whole lot of racial and social elements in this game, which fiveish years ago I didn't really take notice of. I just joined every group and did everything with little thought to the story.

Sign of the times in that I'm hyper aware of it now and noticing it. It's even effecting my gameplay because there are certain groups, like the Stormcloak rebellion that I can't bring myself to join it because of the Nords only undertones. I'm actually playing a Nord and now I'm finding myself thinking about 'going against some of my own people' because of their bullshit.

I started playing again as a way to escape real life for a bit and am finding that it keeps connecting with real life events both lore wise and even meta wise. There are a heap tons of mods right now and I've been spending a lot of time modding my perfect game. There's is a civil war one which so many lists recommend but it is not available right now because the author hid it. Why? From what I could gather he did so because he was being harassed because he added 'diversity' to the Imperial Faction in the groups that fight which apparently is lore friendly but certain people (alty Reich, Trumpy gamers) were having none of that! So the author made a political statement and said he was hiding it til Nov 9. It's still hidden so I'm assuming that with the results of the election the author said screw it.

So there is an example of both in game and out of game social commentary that is extended from what the actual developers have done.
posted by Jalliah at 7:20 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think there are a few AAA titles that are narratively complex, and who's stories do tackle real world issues. Although it's not so much current event type stuff (like Deus Ex:HR is trying to do), but rather large, overarching questions.

Primarily is Fallout: New Vegas (this is going to be along post filled with spoilers about that game, by the way). The game takes place in the Fallout universe, where a resource war, and corrupt world governments across the globe have destroyed the face of the Earth, forcing subsequent civilizations to follow in their wake. Most survivors come from Vaults, which were sealed shelters run by an amoral company called Vaultec who was secretly using them for social experiments in partnership with the U.S. government.

New Vegas makes a couple of interesting moves in terms of the Fallout formula, but the first is that you aren't a vault-dweller. Instead you are a person who has lived in the Fallout world for a while, potentially their whole life, and who has real stakes in the fate of that world.

The game also does away with binary good / bad factions, marking great distance between its predecessor in Fallout 3, which was fairly manichean in terms of story. Instead, in your quest for the game's MacGuffin (a computer processor disguised as a poker chip), you come into contact with three different factions who all have fairly deep histories, and well thought out rationales for how they view the future of the wasteland. Caesar's legion, the New California Republic (NCR), and the cybernetic ruler of New Vegas, Robert House. New Vegas' narrative complexity comes in the philosophies that drive each of these factions:

The NCR is ostensibly the good faction, in that they are trying to rebuild humanity in the shape of the world that came before, and that they are democratic and somewhat egalitarian. However, as the player explores the world, you find that the NCR has a lot of problems. Its democracy isn't very democratic, and more to the point, its corruption keeps it from being effective at even governing (which should be the one thing a bureaucracy is good at). In the frontier wasteland they seem like a good option, but talking to characters and reading in-game texts reveals that in the settled areas they tend to stamp down the little guy, bolster corrupt cronyism, and are actually recreating many of the same faults that lead to the nuclear apocalypse in the first place. On its face, the NCR's philosophy is enlightenment democracy guided by a social contract, so, a modernist perspective that strives for social progress. However, they are riddled through with problems, and the player has reason to suspect that they are nearly about to collapse and take the civilization they've built with them.

Robert House is a techno-libertarian. Using technological prowess he designed and implemented a missile shield that saved Vegas more or less completely from the bombs, and has allowed him to rebuild it into a paradise in the desert (hence, New Vegas). He has subjugated a number of raider tribes in the area, civilized them, and given them homes in three of the casinos on the strip. Vegas runs as a resort for the NCR and other denizens of the Mojave, much like Vegas in pre-apocalypse America. It extracts money through gambling and prostitution, being controlled and having law enforced through the robotic army that House has built. Unlike both the NCR and the Legion, House has no real moral laws (nearly anything that doesn't directly harm another is permitted on the strip). House does have an ulterior motive, however, which is to develop capabilities to travel to space to to attempt to explore the galaxy in hopes of finding a new home for humanity. He has nothing but contempt for the weakness he sees in the NCR, and the brutality of the Legion. House's philosophy is post-modern, centered on consumer capitalism, without sentimental attachments to deeper ideology, nationalism, or creed. House is essentially a liche (you can later find him as a corpse living on life support), and while his tyrannical rule over New Vegas is more or less benevolent (unless you get in his way), there are questions of what will happen when he dies, and needs to be replaced.

Finally is the more or less clear villain of the story, Caesar's Legion. Apparently there was content that was later cut to make them less one dimensional, but even with what's in the game, I think they are more interesting than your usual mustache twirling antagonist. Caesar's Legion is a fascist, expansionist, slave-state. It's lead by a charismatic ex-linguist, Caesar (formerly Edward Sallow), who used to be part of the NCR, and specifically a do-good organization within the NCR called the Followers of the Apocalypse (who are all about spreading liberal, humanistic values). Using his knowledge of history and philosophy, Caesar has adopted the worst aspects of the Roman empire in an effort to pacify the wasteland under a single strong-man rule, with a specific hatred of what he sees as a weak and crumbling NCR. In conversation, you find that it's actually more interesting than straight-up fascism. Caesar is a Hegelian, and he believes that Caesar's legion presents an antithesis (fascism and strength) to the thesis (democracy and weakness) of the NCR. Both ideologies are merely aping and recreating past mistakes, meaning that humanity is once again headed for brutal, world ending bloodshed. By forcing a synthesis between the two, Caesar hopes to move humans beyond the rubble of the old world, and to create a meaningful new form of civilization to exist in the post-apocalypse. Caesar's Legion, on its face, takes on classical points of view, erasing individuality, denying democracy, and placing a nearly mystical and cult-like faith in a single leader. However, uncovering Caesar's motivations, shows the player that he is a Postmodernist, and is trying to use the symbols and semiology of the past in order to break the loop of the present, and to inspire new forms of thinking for the future. There is a similar problem with Caesar as there is with House: Caesar's lofty ambitions for Hegelian synthesis are only in his head. In reality he has a brutal, slave-state dystopia (which the game portrays more or less unflinchingly) and the next emperor is not going to have his same goals.

The main gameplay of New Vegas is typical open world stuff. You quest, kill things, make your numbers go up, and suck in as much loot as possible. However, the world design means that as you are doing this, you are also playing historian, and uncovering the past mistakes of the Old World that lead to the present situation, and the motivations and drives of the main players within that present situation. As the game advances there are three (more or less) completely unique pathways that the player can take to the end-game, choosing to follow any of the three ideologies listed above. Or, in a great twist, choose to destroy all of them, and take power for yourself. If you play the expansions, you get even more history of the world that can inform your choice, as well as dealing with individual themes within those mini-episodes (e.g. colonialism in Honest Hearts, letting go of the past in Dead Money, the role of science in Old World Blues, and revenge and history in Lonesome Road).

It's all at about the level of a Sci-Fi novel, and of course it's undercut with the player character killing thousands of things throughout their journey, but it does at least attempt to look at themes beyond good and evil. It runs into some problems in terms of representation of social issues, but on the whole I think it manages to use the open world format to tell a legitimately compelling story.
posted by codacorolla at 7:34 AM on December 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


So I actually played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided pretty thoroughly, and I thought that it actually showed the social commentary really well, but I think you had to go through all the side missions and hack a lot of computers and read ebooks and see a lot of extra content to get that, which is maybe a problem. You can absolutely go the entire game missing a lot of that.

For example, one of the things that's quite clear is that augs can be visible or invisible. Some people have the choice not to publicly identify as an aug - mostly those with money and power. The augs sent off to the ghetto are mostly those without the money for papers and travel.

Another small detail is that an optional mission can reveal that in some cases, the politicians who are anti augmentation are not acting on personal beliefs- their private life includes augs. But it still doesn't stop them from playing on fascist tendencies through anti aug propaganda. in that same mission, you encounter a police officer, who you have to convince to actually care much about the actual crime. His superiors want to close, and they want you to take in an aug on low evidence, based on his past criminal history.
posted by corb at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided were not made by Ubisoft, but rather by Eidos Montreal, a subsidiary of Square Enix.

Oh shit, you are so right. Shows how much attention I pay to those splash screens at the front. I've even worked for Eidos in the past! I am shamed.
posted by aspo at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2016


but it's altogether a rather hamfisted model.
Well, if it's anything like SimCity (at least until 4), most of its models will be hamfisted. Stuff like police and fire coverage, education, health, traffic management would likely be simplified because there's so much a player can micro-manage before they notice they're stuck because everything needs attention to 1001 details and then it's a game of cat and mouse with cause-effect. I'm guessing a lot of these games are focused on effective zoning and traffic management because it's the easiest to implement and also the most immediately rewarding.

There's no point on having anything more complex than the City Building Series walkers, where law enforcement reduces unrest by passing in front of the dwellings, unless causes for crime are also simulated instead of being just a formula with variables, and for that to happen, the game also needs to have working social and economic models (as well as defining what kind of country the city is in, as a lot of causes for social and economic unrest are likely to be external), and that (again) could be a hotbed for unintended controversy.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is not a thread on Spec Ops: the Line, nor the problems with (military) FPS shooters, but if anyone's interested in examining games and social issues, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Shooter" by Tom Bissell does so magnificently.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why would rich consumers of premier commercial technology be subject to discrimination?

The rich, powerful ones are not, really. They are generally working for major governments or international shadowy corporations, and get a pass (in Jensen's case, fairly literally).

The ones who are discriminated against are generally in massive debt thanks to their augs, and are completely dependent on drugs to prevent their body from rejecting the augs (Jensen is the only one immune to this --- he's not just an aug but a mutant). This basically puts them completely under the control of said governments/corporations if they are useful, or means they have to scrape out a way to get the drugs on the black market.

The vast majority of augs live pretty miserable lives in Mankind Divided, since they don't have particularly amazing abilities (either were just replacing things that were broken with their body, like a robot limb for one that was lost, or had minor job-related upgrades like "can lift a lot of stuff" or "better eyesight"), and the world is terrified of them because at the end of the previous game they were all essentially hacked into going berserk.

The few augs who are actually like super-soldiers ("How could superhuman cyborgs with grenade launching torsos or forklift hands be marginalized?") are not the marginalized ones. The vast aug masses don't have those kind of augs and are kept down by a combination of being a small minority and being totally dependent on expensive drugs to live.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


On a purely semantic level - I don't have a problem with the term "Mechanical Apartheid". Apartheid was, literally, a system of government, and is condemned as a crime against humanity by (much of) the united nations, so has a wider than South African context.

On the other hand 'Aug lives matter' is particularly hamfisted. People who spout the truism that 'All Lives Matter' are missing the point that the mattering of all lives is exactly why we need to bring attention to specific cases where the truism is being ignored, so using 'All Lives Matter' as some kind of rebuttal just dilutes those specific efforts and weakens both statements. Using an imaginary social group as the subject does so even more - it's creating a cheap association between fictitious characters and a real, current social movement for easy feels, ESPECIALLY when they could quite easily have thought up their own damn catchphrase. For example: I think "You're the man now, Aug!" would have been sufficiently uplifting and empowering.
posted by Sparx at 1:38 PM on December 21, 2016


I think there's one thing you're neglecting in that analysis though - that for some people, video games are the only way that certain people can actually bring themselves to relate with difficult truths.

Speaking of GTA's story - I know a man with serious anger issues that were really affecting his life and family, and he just could not grasp it until he went through Michael's arc (where he goes to therapy! as an in-game mechanic!) and was like "oh god, it's so sad, I really get where he's coming from and realize I have some of those negative character traits, I wonder if it is equally impacting on my family, oh god."

So it's less, I think, "People who care about racism and discrimination see this and have their passions watered down for real life activism" and more "people who are incapable of recognizing things in their real life sometimes can do so when done through the detached medium of a video game character."
posted by corb at 1:49 PM on December 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


That's an interesting point, corb, thanks for making it.

I wasn't so concerned about those who already care, per se, as those that might be swayed by the argument that because 'All Lives Matter', then "Black Lives Matter" is some kind of special pleading, and 'Aug lives matter' is reducing the topic to cartoon form.

Does the question then become whether that direct, video-gamified introduction to such concepts is effective at reaching people, at it was at least anecdotally in your example, and, if so, how careful should you be about using it in particular cases? When there's such a direct correlation drawn between 'black' and 'aug' in this case, and within the game's lore there is an instance of Augs being hacked and going completely psycho, that could have a very different resonance to more personal examples of anger management. I still think you're on steadier ground abstracting it and drawing parallels for players to notice themselves rather than being so 'on the nose' as it were, but, on the other hand, people can draw some pretty crap conclusions from video games, so maybe it's warranted.

Hmmm.
posted by Sparx at 3:51 PM on December 21, 2016


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