Ubisoft has issued an apology after it used imagery related to the Black rights movement in its latest game, Tom Clancy's Elite Squad.
The controversy arose after the game's launch due to its intro cinematic. A mobile tactics game that pits characters from across the Clancy franchises against each other, it follows the Elite Squad's battles against a secret organisation known as "Umbra", who aim to take control of "escalating civil unrest" and "bring the system down" to, ostensibly, "create an egalitarian utopia". However, those opposing Umbra argue they "create chaos" and "weaken governments", going so far as to call them "terrorists".
The problem arose because the imagery used to represent Umbra in the cinematic is a black raised fist. The fist has been used as a symbol for multiple revolutions over the years, ranging from feminism to less tolerant movements like white supremacy, but most recently has had widespread use concerning the recent Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality.
The raised fists in Tom Clancy's Elite Squad. Image credit UBISOFT/Forbes
Racist opposition to these protests has argued that the Black Lives Matters movement is also trying to "weaken governments" through its calls to defund the police (which isn’t even what that means), and have been called terrorists. Also, consider that "Umbra" literally means 'blackness', and the comparisons between it and the BLM movement are plain as day.
In a statement made on Twitter, Ubisoft apologised, but only for the specific inclusion of the raised fist icon. It said its decision to use this image was "insensitive and harmful in both its inclusion and how it was portrayed", and that it will be removing it in Elite Squad's next update on September 1 on Android and "as soon as possible" on iOS.
The problem is, the raised fists were just a part of the problem, and it's a problem that has plagued the Tom Clancy series since day one. I love The Division and Splinter Cell and enjoy Rainbow Six Siege, but it's hard to deny they're not more than a bit fetishistic about the military and authoritarianism, and very rarely are critical of the power structures you're roleplaying as within them.
The Division had you, a paramilitary agent armed to the teeth with the highest of high-tech technology, gunning down civilian looters in New York City (which is something Erik Kain pointed out back when it launched and continues to be discussed to this day by writers such as Spencer Yan). Ghost Recon Wildlands had a group of American soldiers roll on down to Bolivia to dish out some good old' fashioned justice the way only extrajudicial foreign agents could. The Division 2 saw you, based out of the White House, seeking to bring Government back to the streets of DC.
Image credit Ubisoft @Ubisoft via Twitter
The fist isn't the only problem. In the Clancy brand insistence of siding with those seeking to maintain the status quo, it has repeatedly demonized dis-empowered people and celebrated the powers that oppressed them. Elite Squad is just the time it finally strayed too close to the sun and those themes finally clashed with a significant moment of real-world resistance against the very things it has always tacitly been a proponent of.
Considering Ubisoft studios have already been plagued by harassment, abuse and, critically for this, racism, it's no wonder it failed so badly here. This is a manifestation of the problems that have been happening within Yves Guillemot's for years, and of what happens when your team isn’t both inclusive and diverse. If Ubisoft wants to fix the issue, and not just remove an image from a cinematic, it is going to have to do so much more. It will need to hire people of colour both in its writing teams and in its editorial teams, have consultants with expertise in the types of movements it is trying to portray.
Tom Clancy's Elite Squad is out on iOS and Android now. The raised fist will be removed on September 1 on Android and ASAP on iOS. The rest of it will, for now, still be available.