Aug Lives Matter: Games shouldn't be afraid to talk politics

(This was originally written as part of a job application that I did before Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was released. Now it has released and I've played it, I think my original point is justified.)

The controversy surrounding Deus Ex's reference to the 'Black Lives Matter' protests is premature and does nothing but encourage conservatism in games writing.

Canadian game developers Eidos Montreal unleashed the ire of the permanently outraged on Twitter last week after they posted artwork for their new game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided which featured an 'Aug Lives Matter' banner, drawing parallels between the game and the 'Black Lives Matter' protests. Many argued that drawing such comparisons was insensitive and exploitative due to the human cost at the heart of the protests. But does that mean the topic should be 'off-limits'? 

Saying that games cannot relate their stories to issues facing the modern world is restrictive and does little to help gaming's relevance as a cultural medium. Nobody would dream of saying that a film or a TV show couldn't reference the protests. Why are games different? Like every media product, games use the political zeitgeist to inform their world building, whether deliberately or not. What Deus Ex has done has confronted these political matters head-on rather than pussyfoot around them.

Most games use political issues such as war or political corruption merely as backdrops. They're an excuse to go around killing people, rarely naming specifics. But real-life inspiration is unavoidable. Last year's Witcher 3 for example confronted issues of prejudice in the form of witch burnings. This could be interpreted as a metaphor for genocide, a very real issue for the modern world. 

And then take the Wolfenstein series, a franchise based around slaughtering waves of Nazi guards, a group of people responsible for one of the most horrific chapters in human history. The series doesn't confront the issues of anti-semitism in any meaningful way, merely using it's iconography as a vehicle for over-the-top action. Don't get me wrong, repeatedly shooting Nazis in the face is undeniably fun, but using real life tragedies in such a flippant way is surely far more insensitive than what Eidos is attempting to do.

Where do you draw the line? Can military FPS' not reference terrorism? Are fantasy RPG's not allowed to display homophobic or misogynistic societies? Let's not forget that Battlefield: Hardline tried to comment on police brutality less than two years ago and nobody batted an eyelid. Although admittedly that was because nobody played the game. 

Maybe when Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is released it turns out that it does mishandle it's political issues becoming the gaming equivalent of Birth Of A Nation. Maybe it will feature a tower defence mini-game where you have to defend Trump's wall from hoards of Mexicans. If so, the game will be rightfully criticised for this when it launches. But to simply say that games can't discuss these issues because they don't know enough about them is patronising to developers and will create less interesting, less real, gaming worlds.