Ubisoft apologises for its “insensitive and harmful” Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad promo

Was 2020 the best time to launch a game that features a government-sponsored agency violently suppressing public protest on the pretext of subverting some new world order conspiracy? Probably not, but the trailer was even worse.

Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad is a new free-to-play mobile RPG with a cast of characters from multiple Ubisoft franchises, including Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell, and like most Tom Clancy games, the politics are kind of, uh, questionable. I mean, it’s a video game, so whatever, but if you’ve been keeping up with the news, government-sponsored agencies violently suppressing public protest on the pretext of subverting some new world order conspiracy is also inconveniently real.

The game’s bad guys comprise a sort of anarchist org, as described in a trailer released over the weekend with this not-actually-a-Tucker-Carlson-propaganda-blurb:

They claim to promote an egalitarian utopia to gain popular support, while behind the scenes, Umbra organises deadly terrorist attacks to generate even more chaos and weaken governments… at the cost of many innocent lives. Simultaneously, they have been hacking social media to discredit world leaders and rally people to their cause.

So much, so standard-issue Tom Clancy super-patriotic military fetish porn. But oops, Umbra’s icon in the trailer is a raised fist – an icon associated with black civil rights movements in the US, and most recently, Black Lives Matter. You know, the same Black Lives Matter thing that’s been cycling on every 24-hour news channel since May, so it’s not like some abstract concept. Awkward.

Whether by design or accident, the Elite Squad trailer – a game that’s already on wobbly ideological premises, propagating the us-versus-them rhetoric of demogogues and the ultra-conservative narrative with zero distinction between social disorder and terrorism – is using the icon of the black civil rights movement, an icon with important historical and contemporary relevance, to designate the bad guys. Yes, it’s a video game, but video games don’t exist in a cultural vacuum, and icons have meaning. In corporate terms, the optics suck.

This was, not unexpectedly, controversial. Even Ubisoft employees and contract workers were appalled.

In response, Ubisoft has apologised and promised on Twitter to remove the icon from the game’s intro cinematic.

So, that’s commendable, I guess, but this is a company that claims to “stand in solidarity” with Black Lives Matter (so much for plausible deniability, lol) making up ex post facto for an entirely avoidable situation. That’s not so commendable, and more like a cheap consolation prize from the marketing department than meaningful engagement with the problem.

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