Today Ubisoft announced it will remove raised fist imagery from the opening cinematic of its new mobile game, Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, following widespread criticism that the game’s intro plays on right-wing conspiracies about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Elite Squad, which came out on iOS and Android earlier this week, begins with a narrated video laying out the game’s premise, which paints protest movements as fronts for an organisation called UMBRA, a global terrorist network trying to take over the world. Protestors “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,” the narrator says at one point, as a series of black raised fists appear on screen.
The raised fist has a long history, including in anti-racism movements, and has been one of the central symbols of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, most recently since the killing of George Floyd in May. According to a description of the game’s campaign, players “Recruit elite soldiers from every corner of the world, including [the] criminal underworld, to put an end to UMBRA’s campaign of chaos.” This opening leans into alt-right conspiracies around the Black Lives Matter protests and other justice movements, which cast them as fronts for a shadow organisation trying to destabilise world governments.
“Imagery that appeared in the opening video sequence of Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad featuring a ‘raised fist’ was insensitive and harmful in both its inclusion and how it was portrayed,” Ubisoft wrote on Twitter earlier today. “We have listened to and appreciate the players and the broader community who have pointed it out and we apologise.” The publisher says the imagery will be removed in the game’s next update on September 1 on Android and “as soon as possible” on iOS. Ubisoft did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment about whether the rest of the opening will remain intact or why it was created for the game in the first place.
At the start of the winter, as the world roiled from multiple crises, something unusual and essential happened in video games. It started with a Tweet, then another, one by one as people — mostly women — began speaking out regarding sexual harassment, abuse and other misconduct at Ubisoft.Read more
Elite Squad’s release comes less than three months after Ubisoft called the systemic racism faced by Black people “deeply disturbing” and donated $US100,000 ($135,730) to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. It also arrives amid renewed protests against police violence in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Black, and as supporters of the president try to defend a 17-year-old accused of killing two people during one of the nights of those protests.
Elite Squad was developed by French studio Owlient, which is based in Paris and focuses on mobile gaming. Acquired by Ubisoft in 2011, its biggest previous game was a horse breeding simulator called Howrse. The studio is now co-managed by Remi Pellerin and Charlie Guillemot, the latter of whom is Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot’s son, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
When Elite Squad was shown off last month at Ubisoft’s big Forward press conference, it looked like a cartoony free-to-play tactics game. A narrative designer who said he did contract work on the game tweeted out earlier today that UMBRA had been presented to him as a James Bond-esque villain, not something that sounds straight out of a QAnon conspiracy post.
On YouTube, a representative of Elite Squad’s development team called any resemblance to the Black Lives Matter movement in the game’s opening “coincidental.” “Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad is a work of fiction and does not portray any real world events,” the game’s YouTube account wrote in a comment. “However, we have listened to players who have pointed out similarities, and to avoid any confusion we have decided to modify the trailer in the next update.”