I played Deus Ex Human Revolution recently. The game starts with an interesting if contrived armed super soldier invasion and then places the player firmly into the world of corporate security…yay? Walking around the office reveals a diverse cast of office workers who are all inexplicably still in the office but not actually doing any work.

You enter the building and talk to a few different people. The offices of generic video game conglomerate are quite nice in a “this is definitely a videogame world” kind of way. I started talking to people as one does in quasi-rpgs. The receptionist was nice enough. Everyone was very excited to see Adam (yes, the main character is unsubtly named for the first man) except the guy on the ground floor at the back who talked shit about me (Adam, the player, the guy who just lost everything). He blamed me for the recent attack on the building in none too polite terms and still blamed me when confronted though in much nicer terms. This man was also black. The reason I mention this will become apparent later. He wasn’t the only black person in the office or anything. There were many people of color in the office, most of whom were happy to see Adam (you, me, the player, the guy the audience is supposed to identify with). But the one voice of dissent came from a black character. Nothing necessarily racist there, necessarily. At this point Deus Ex was definitely a game that was well aware of race. It was obvious from the placement of the characters about the office to the fact that for the most part characters spoke how one would assume they might in the real world (as opposed to jive like in most modern games). The fact that the game was aware of race stood out to me but not necessarily as a negative. Indeed in many ways we were off to a flying start in terms of stereotyping or a lack thereof. Especially for a game. It was nice not to see everyone who looks remotely like me depicted as moronic caricatures of a human being. Sadly it’s a change of pace from my experience with most modern games and movies.

At this point Adam’s boss told him to move his ass, there were lives at stake. I’m all for a good bit of role play in an RPG so move my ass I did. A couple cutscenes later I find myself guiding Adam into a building, preferably undetected. The undetected part didn’t pan out on my play through. There was a man (also black if you’re curious) blocking the way. He was busy coordinating with the other hostage takers on his radio. I snuck past him and ducked into a shack to gather supplies. While in the shack I jumped which alerted every guard in a ten mile radius because the shack was in fact a tent and in no way dampened the apparent marching band that is Adam’s shoes landing on pavement. Several takedowns and stuns later I was in the building.

And here is where things start to go awry. Up to this point we’ve been dealing with a paramilitary anti-biotech organization that has recently started using terrorism as it’s weapon of choice. We encounter several members of this organization of concerned citizens turned radicals in a hall. And the conversation they hold is something like:

“Man’s we be’s dumbs yo. Where be (jibberish)?”

“Smokin a cigaweed.”

All the speakers are non-white, and even the above is charitable compared to the actual dialog. The combination of improperly used slang, things someone’s grandma thought might be slang, and blatant stereotypes could almost be comical except for the….well the blatant stereotypes. When I hear lines like this I often wonder how on earth you get such things recorded. Then I remember that scene from Hollywood Shuffle. The movie stars Robert Townsend and it’s about a black actor’s struggle to make it big in hollywood. When the main character’s big break comes it’s in the form of a gig as a stereo typical pimp character. Townsend’s character puts all of the jive talkin’, funny walking, coonery he can into the role in hopes of making it big and finally earning a large enough payday to support his family comfortably. But the director calls cut and says that it was good but he wants him to dance when he walks, stick his butt out more, and make it “you know, blacker”. I have to imagine a similar scene took place in Eidos Montreal’s recording booth that day.

One of the reasons this scene stands out even more than it would otherwise (and it still would) is that these people are supposed to be the ground forces of an anti augment movement. While they might not be rocket scientists these are people who keep up with the news and can probably be trusted not to go smoke weed instead of guard important doors during the groups big hostage taking mission. But they’re black and this is a video game so screw character motivation, right Eidos?

Other stuff happens and then you get dropped off back at the office. Upon leaving the plane/copter that you rode in on you’re greeted by two of your former security guard subordinates. One (the white one) greets you as one would expect from an employee. He seems to genuinely like Adam , but his every word is just a bit calculated. One might suspect that he is either up for or recently passed over for promotion. The subtext of the very simple dialog is super subtle but it’s there. The fact that the game is capable of nuanced performances just makes the weed smoking activist/terrorist/gang-bangers that much more awful of an inclusion. But I’ve actually come to expect little in this arena from games so I played on, not grinning but bearing it. Then I talked to the black guard. He too definitely wants a promotion but the designers decided that he’d go about it by kissing Adam’s (the player’s) ass so hard it might leave a bruise. Two men jockeying for a promotion is not inherently racist in any way. But the manner in which the black guard does so is just…..off. I dismissed it. I was being too sensitive. Yes the main character is white but this interaction could happen in any office with any combination of ethnicity. It really only looks bad in light of the aforementioned stereotypes. Or if you assume that Eidos included scenes like this to appeal to a player base they assumed to be white and also assumed would enjoy some race based pandering. But that is an assumption and it wasn’t one I was willing to make at that point. I moved on.

This time around I got to explore the office fully. I spoke to every character and you know what I found? A great many of the people in the office are palette swapped versions of each other dialog wise. There’s a white vapid woman and a black vapid woman. For every white security guy there’s a black one. There’s a black man who verbally high fives you on the mission and a white one who uses almost the exact same words but in a different voice. The black janitor on floor one has the exact same lines as the black janitor on floor two. This is true of the white janitor/security guard/etc. The game is not only aware of race, it’s dialog is actually organized around it. Black janitor and white janitor are folders that someone made in the Human Revolution sound file directory. And it’s with this realization that we can begin to see that the game actually has a lot to say about it’s opinion on “the races”. Let’s take the janitor for example. The white janitor is disappointed that you didn’t save everyone but he manages to veil his rudeness. The black janitor however makes no attempt to conceal his opinions on your performance. Over the course of interacting with the entire office a narrative of what the writer feels black people say vs. what white people say emerges and whoever wrote the dialog seems to be saying that on the whole white people are nicer or at least more polite. We can draw this conclusion because the game presents us with so many direct comparisons which is an odd design choice in and of itself.

I left the office starting to wonder exactly what kind of game I was playing. The outside of the office began to inspire my hope again and almost made me forget about the earlier office creepiness. There were still hints of things here and there but where inside the big factor was race, outside the writer’s statement seemed to be “Detroit is comprised of crazy people and people that want to be left the hell alone.” The only exceptions are the occasional character who is only there to give you a read on the mood of the city as a whole. At least that’s the case until you meet Letitia.

You’ll find her digging in a garbage can. Oddly enough as a video game character, digging in the trash is a hobby of Adam’s as well. That could have made for some interesting dialog or at least a knowing fourth wall joke about games but that is really too much to hope for from Deus Ex Human Revolution. Letitia, unlike many black video game characters, does not speak in jive. She instead speaks exclusively in slave speak. It’s a dialect of the english language that really only exists in pro slavery movies and black face minstrel shows. But here it is coming out of a character in a modern video game, or a citizen of Detroit in the future if you prefer. It doesn’t have any place in either time. She refers to Adam (the player, the man whom the audience is supposed to identify with) as “Cap’n”. I could spend the next several pages detailing this character’s speech to you and still not get across how disgusting it is. When asked for comment on the issue of Letitia Eidos released the following:

“Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fictional story which reflects the diversity of the world’s future population by featuring characters of various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. While these characters are meant to portray people living in the year 2027, it has never been our intention to represent any particular ethnic group in a negative light.”

For those of you not well versed in corporate bullshit allow me to translate:

“We’re sorry some people found Letitia offensive. We’re not sorry that it is offensive however, only that some people mistakenly perceived it to be that way. Also, it is our opinion that some black people talk like they walked out of minstrel shows so if you find it offensive that we put it in our game that’s your issue, not ours.”

And you know what happened in the game after that? Me neither, because I popped out the disc and shut off my xbox. I couldn’t believe that there was a minstrel show in the middle of the game. In the middle of a game supposedly about transhumanism no less. I’d read reviews on this game but apparently not the right ones. I’d actually purchased the game based on a glowing recommendation from Extra Creditz. Surely something like this couldn’t have gotten past every major site. There’s a lot of racism in mainstream American culture but even the otherwise oblivious internet will point out the crows in Dumbo as being wrong (I didn’t even catch that one for quite awhile). I sat down at my computer for a little investigation.

Extra Creditz loved the game and it’s rich story despite some flawed design choices. This was less of a review and more of a critical examination/commercial.

“A cut above” raved GameSpot. 9.0

A 9/10 from EuroGamer with no mention of Letitia, which didn’t really surprise me.

IGN felt that though the game wasn’t as cutting edge as the original it was still “visionary”.

PC Gamer maybe? Nope, loved the rich story, 94.

Polygon hailed it as a modern classic 9/10.

I checked GamesRadar. I could not be the only person on earth who’d noticed this. “It’s well written, expertly voice-acted, and presents two sides to every story, letting the player make up their own mind.” Five Stars. Watch the actual footage from the actual game, and reread that last one.

It was around about this time that I started realizing that the issue here wasn’t one racist game, it was an industry that is either:

A. willing to ignore racism if they had fun or if it helps their bottom line

B. Oblivious to anything and anyone not white (which is a strong possibility given that the FPS genre mostly devolved into brown people shooting simulators over the last console generation).

C. Actively pursues and promotes racist content while vehemently denying that such content even exists.

I started to (don’t ask me why, I was desperate) look at forums. Several people had posted topics about Letitia specifically, and invariably the entire rest of the forum would inform the poster that Letitia “sounded like any other black”, not black person mind you but black as in a black. Or that it was just a game. Or that they didn’t find it racist ergo it couldn’t possibly be offensive and anyone who found it so, black people for instance, were just “always complaining”.

The only news outlet that would comment on Letitia was Time magazine of all people. That’s right, completely not a gaming news outlet Time Magazine ran an article about the game and it’s depiction of a modern day steppin fetchin. Perhaps this is because as a non gaming site they get ad revenue from more than just publishers and are free to actually comment upon games as opposed to just publicizing them? Or maybe there’s someone at Time who just isn’t a scumbag. But, Kotaku ran an article too. So if their bottom line can survive actually commenting on one publishers game why can’t other, arguably larger outfits do the same? See answers B and C.

Now it’s getting a sequel by the same developer and these same outlets can’t wait to tell us how great it’s going to be and how perfect the last one was. Personally, there’s only so much corporate bullshit I can swallow. So I won’t be picking up Mankind Divided, I won’t be courting these outlets for coverage of any games I might release, and I won’t be participating in an industry that is actively hostile to my very right to exist. I’m opting out.

But that won’t stop Eidos from lining their pockets while churning out racist propaganda. Pointing it out to them does nothing, as they have proven. So let’s you and I hit them where it hurts shall we? If you’ve read this far you probably do at least care about equality and not funding things that threaten it. But if you found this site to begin with, you’re probably a gamer, as am I, which means that you might wish to play their new game. You might justify it as seeing what they did this time so you’ll be able to judge for yourself, or perhaps you’ll buy it because you want it and not bother to justify it despite caring about not supporting racism. Human beings are strange creatures like that. So here’s what I propose. If you want to play this game, fine, play it. But don’t play it for full price or any price if you can manage it. I’m not suggesting that you steal the game. What I am suggesting is that while it may not come with whatever DLC code they hide in the case, your local library is very likely to have this game if you live in a major metropolitan area of the US. My library had Titan Fall on launch day. It sounds ridiculous but check, you might be surprised. If you weren’t surprised and your librarian laughed in your face you can still let Eidos know how you feel. If you must play this game, I would ask that you wait. Play something else. There are a lot of awesome games coming out. Play them instead. As a bonus for those of you who wait, I can all but guarantee that there will be a Director’s cut or game of the year edition that will net you all the DLC and bonus content for a third the cost or less than what you would pay for just the game on launch day. Let the game hit a minimum twenty dollars before you pick it up. You save money and strike a blow. And while you’re waiting, let Eidos know why you’re waiting. Because at the end of the day corporations don’t respect people, they respect money. Show them what you stand for and take the respect they refuse to give. Let’s show them the power of a #MankindUnited

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