Ubisoft just can't stay away from controversy for too long. This year has been incredible for them, just not for the PR department. Or for their games. It has just been incredible to watch.
As it turns out, the global AAA publisher Ubisoft has been run like a boys-only strip club for decades. Women being harassed and mistreated openly in front of the CEO, executives acting like literal children as they throw tantrums in meetings, and of course an endless stream of mediocre and bland video games can all be traced back to a single abusive figure that has held a position of power at the company for a very, very long time.
HR don't care, the CEO doesn't care, they just want to make money, and it doesn't actually matter who gets stepped on as it happens, whether that's consumers, female employees, or now, people literally fighting for their right to be treated as equal humans.
Tom Clancy's Elite Squad is a fairly bland game as we've already explored here on Pocket Gamer, but if we look at the story content, we'll find something that is overtly political and incredibly conspiratorial.
Ubisoft VS the World
Ever since Ubisoft's HR problems came to light, they have been doing their very best to make people forget all about it. Ubisoft didn't want to talk about it when it happened, and hoped launching Hyper Scape, a free-to-play battle royale, would help avoid any awkward questions. Bad news Ubisoft, Hyper Scape sucks and your company structure still has issues, and nothing can distract from that, not even Sam Fisher.
On that note, their second attempt at distracting people from the truth was by throwing Sam Fisher in people's faces, but not in a Splinter Cell game, in a mobile crossover game featuring all of the beloved characters of the Tom Clancy universe, including Sam Fisher, soldiers from Ghost Recon, soldiers from The Division, and soldiers from Rainbow Six. A nice diverse cast.
Let's get this out of the way: Tom Clancy was an overt right-wing supporter who adored Ronald Reagan. Yes, he was one of them. Tom Clancy also went on television on September 11th 2001 so he could blame left-wing politicians for the terrorist attacks that took place that day. Nothing much changes with the right-wing rhetoric.
Once someone has gone on TV to stoke racial and political tensions, I would personally decide not to make video games with them. But that didn't stop Ubisoft, who haven't stopped publishing games on behalf of Clancy since, even though he died seven years ago.
These days the narrative of games under the Tom Clancy umbrella are actually all written by his narrative team, though you won't find too much information on that narrative team online. Which is probably for the best, because they're apparently conspiracy theorists.
Q you next Tuesday
I'm not going to explain what QAnon is or why you should know what it is - in an ideal world no one would know what it is - but what it boils down to is a long series of right-wing and often antisemitic conspiracy theories. So, what has that got to do with Tom Clancy's Elite Squad?
An increasingly common conspiracy being shared by the right-wing is that the current protests happening across the USA are an unpatriotic display of anti-America hatred, something about them being authoritarian, Marxist, communist, socialist, pro-terrorist… The usual string of buzzwords that the conspiracy obsessed parrot endlessly. In reality of course they're a statement of solidarity with the black community, and a stand against police brutality and violence. But to admit that is to admit that America is not perfect.
You see where this is going. Anyone standing against America, anyone criticising America, must be unpatriotic and pro-terrorist. These protests, "riots" the right-wing media calls them, must only be attended by potential domestic terrorists that hate America. What benefit is it to tar all of these protesters with the same brush? Well, it bolsters the narrative of the right-wing, the narrative that these people, these "others" are evil, and out to harm everything a "patriotic American" stands for. Honestly, all sounds like stuff Tom Clancy would support.
And that all brings us to Elite Squad, the latest Tom Clancy game, one that starts with the line; "The world is in an alarming state. Wars, corruption and poverty have made it more unstable than ever" as we are shown footage of protests in the streets, fires rising. As the people protest against corruption, we are told that a new threat is taking advantage of the escalating civil unrest - UMBRA - described as "a faceless organisation that wants to bring a new world order," UMBRA already sounds an awful lot like Antifa, also known as anti-fascists. Faceless, wishing to bring down corrupt political structures? I mean, yeah, that's Antifa, except Antifa isn't actually some threatening, organised army. Unless you ask a conspiracy theorist which believes Antifa is made up of pro-terrorists that hate America.
Combine this with Elite Squad's use of the raised fist iconography, and you have a potent mix. In the current era this symbol is closely tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, and by tying that image to UMBRA, this apparently evil cabal which wishes to usher in a new world order, they are linking the real-life BLM movement with UMBRA, a representation of every conspiracy theory you've ever seen posted on your Facebook feed.
By using the raised fist, Ubisoft and Tom Clancy's creative team knowingly spread a conspiracy theory, and I utterly refuse to believe that dozens upon dozens of Ubisoft employees saw this game and didn't raise a single complaint. Either that's proof that Ubisoft is in desperate need of diverse voices and eyes looking at their games, or proof that Ubisoft did this deliberately. I'm not sure which you would rather believe.
The game itself says war, poverty, and corruption has made people move into the streets and protest. And the game itself says that these people need taking home in a violent manner, otherwise we wouldn't have the "all-star" cast of "Ubisoft heroes" shooting guns in the streets. If you thought The Division's optics of having a militarised unit go into the streets and literally shoot people wearing hoodies was questionable, wait until you've seen this authoritarian wet dream.
Back Down 2: Back Down Harder
So, Ubisoft are backing down, and quite sensibly too. Ubisoft as a company responded to the complaints surrounding Elite Squad faster than they responded to sexual harassment claims from inside their own company, so clearly it being in the public space scared them into a quick response. But all they're actually doing is removing the raised fist logo.
Angry about the use of the black power fist here. I worked on the character bios and was informed that UMBRA is supposed to be a James Bond villain organisation, not something that looks like what the q conspiracy people think is happening. Irresponsibly bad optics. https://t.co/7Vi6Crry19 — Brenden Gibbons (@BrendenGibbons) August 29, 2020
In a post by the Tom Clancy's Elite Squad YouTube channel, a Ubisoft employee said: "In the intro video in Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, UMBRA’s propaganda posters feature a raised fist. This logo was chosen because it is a universal symbol of resistance—any resemblance to images associated with the Black Lives Matter movement is coincidental. Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad is a work of fiction and does not portray any real world events. 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."
This doesn't actually look at the fact that, somehow, the protesters are to blame in the Elite Squad world, a world where it is admitted that corruption, war, and poverty are the key problems society faces. Having a military super squad shoot up people organising protests isn't exactly the solution to the problem we're looking for. Heck, UMBRA are starting to sound like the good guys in all this.
Even people who actually worked on the game are slightly sickened by this turn of events. Brenden Gibbons is a freelance writer in the games industry, and he was tasked with designing the biographies for the UMBRA squad. He was told they'd be a "James Bond villain organisation" and upon learning the truth of how they were represented in the game, wasn't too happy about it.
So, what can we take away from this latest Ubisoft drama? Quite simple: never support another Tom Clancy game again. Tom Clancy in his life was a right-wing authoritarian, and in his death his creative team spreads the same kind of sickening prejudices and entirely stupid conspiratorial beliefs that he would absolutely share. If you want to take things one step further, never support another Ubisoft game again, because I doubt Yves Guillemot is going to change his profitable company any time soon.