Eidos Montreal released a pile of new concept art for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided today, designed to showcase the appearance of "some of the major cities around the globe" in the game's unhappy near-future. The gallery includes shots of Barcelona, Berlin, Cologne, London, Paris, Rio, and several others, but it's the Moscow image which has caused controversy. Specifically, the presence in it of an "Augs Lives Matter" banner held by protesters.
That of course is a reference to Black Lives Matter, the highly-charged political movement protesting the systemic racism and abuse faced by African-Americans. The negative response to the adaption of the slogan, albeit in a futuristic setting, is that Eidos Montreal and publisher Square-Enix are borrowing the imagery too lightly, and being tone deaf to real world issues. Here's a sample of some of the criticism.
The response to the game's handling of politics in its marketing has been skeptical because trust needs to be earned, and it hasn't been.August 2, 2016
So it looks like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has abandoned any pretence of understanding the social struggles it's appropriating.August 2, 2016
maybe I'm wrong! Maybe the new Deus Ex actually does take a stand on something. But only *the game* can do that. Not the marketing.August 2, 2016
This isn't the first time the game has generated heated debate. Eidos Montreal's use of “mechanical apartheid,” another politically loaded term, to describe the segregation of augmented humans in the Mankind Divided game world also led to complaints that the game was appropriating real-world horrors for the purposes of PR.
Executive art director Jon Jacques-Belletête told Polygon at the time that people weren't giving the game enough credit as art, saying at the time that “...when we're dealing with serious subjects suddenly we’re treated as little kids that are just doing videogames again. This whole thing is completely ridiculous.” But as Austin Walker notes above, something being “art” doesn't absolve it from criticism. Quite the opposite.
It's possible that Mankind Divided will contribute meaningfully to the conversation about entrenched racism and the real-world violence it drives, but history tells us that's far from a given. On the one hand, gamers have fought a long-running battle for their medium to be taken seriously, and from that perspective difficult subject matter shouldn't be off limits. However, if developers treat raw, real life issues ham-fistedly, they should expect the same criticism that films and books receive.
Clearly this is a complex issue, and one which warrants greater discussion. I've reached out to Square Enix for comment, and will update if and when I receive a reply.