Ubisoft Faces Backlash Over Clearly Fascist Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad Intro

The studio famous for games without politics.

Ubisoft has once again found itself mired in controversy this year. This time, it’s over the opening movie of Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, the development studio’s latest mobile game released on Aug. 25. The game’s introduction has gone viral for using the Black Power fist to promote a narrative so rife with bootlicking that it seems like a parody.

The trailer has gotten widespread backlash since Twitter user @BestJakeYoung first posted it on Aug. 27.

The trailer depicts an increasingly unstable world in which everyday people are trying to revolutionize. Among the people fighting for justice is a terrorist organization known as UMBRA, which is defined as “shadow” or “darkness.” This organization apparently claims to promote equality on the surface while secretly generating further chaos, sacrificing innocent lives in its mission to overthrow governments. Phrases like “UMBRA is our hope,” “Bring the system down,” and “UMBRA will protect you” are projected onto screens along with a raised fist that looks identical to the Black Lives Matter logo.

This group is savvy at utilizing social media, which looks exactly like Twitter — where the Black Lives Matter movement first gained widespread traction, as most social movements tend to do — in the world of Elite Squad. “That’s how we treat politicians,” says a social media post by UMBRA, with an image of an UMBRA member pointing a gun at a politician’s head attached. The narrative argues that it’s these world leaders, responsible for the “wars, corruption, and poverty” that have led to a surge of protests, who are oppressed and vulnerable. In order to fight back, they’ve organized a global unit of elite soldiers. As the commander of this fascist squad, it’s your job to take down UMBRA and defend these vulnerable leaders.

The full transcript of the tasteless opening movie to Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad is as follows:

The world is in an alarming state. Wars, corruption, and poverty have made it more unstable than ever. As the situation keeps worsening, anger is brewing. From between the cracks, a new threat has emerged to take advantage of escalating civil unrest. They are known as UMBRA. A faceless organization that wants to build a new world order. They claim to promote an egalitarian utopia to gain popular support; while behind the scenes, UMBRA organizes 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 war leaders and rally people to their cause. Under immense pressure, world leaders have come together to authorize a new international cross-agency unit designed to combat UMBRA. It is clear, playing by the rules will not win this fight. The leader of this unconventional squad will need to recruit elite soldiers from every corner of the world, including the criminal underworld. As commander of this unprecedented squad, we need you to put an end to UMBRA’s campaign of chaos. Welcome, to Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad.

The video can also be seen on YouTube. One video, in particular, contains a response from the game’s YouTube channel in the comments section.

“In the intro video in Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, UMBRA’s propaganda posters feature a raised fist,” says the statement. “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.”

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The team posted a second statement on Twitter acknowledging the controversy. The image containing the update reads: “We have listened to players and the broader community who have pointed out the ‘raised fist’ imagery, as well as how it’s portrayed in the opening video, is insensitive and harmful. We sincerely apologize and it will be removed in our next title update this Tuesday, September 1.”

And a third statement was soon posted on the main Ubisoft account.

“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,” says the text. “We have listened to and appreciate the players and the broader community who have pointed it out and we apologize. This ‘raised fist’ imagery will be removed in the next title update this Tuesday, September 1 on Android and as soon as possible on iOS.”

Two contract writers who worked on the game revealed on Twitter that they were unaware of how their work would be utilized.

In a series of tweets, writer Bertine van Hövell states:

* rubs my temples in a soft, circular motion *

So uh, let’s hypothetically suppose that I and some other contract writers were told that Umbra was basically this SPECTRE-like organisation and they told us *nothing* about this framing………

There’s literately nothing like that in any of the promo materials, communications, PR and what else. How the heck did this happen and whyyyyyyyy

I’ve heard some more clarifications on the matter. I’m glad that the people I put my trust into, deserved my trust. anyway, Black Lives Matter ✊?

Brenden Gibbons, who also did contract narrative work for Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, says:

“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.”

He expanded his thoughts in a series of follow-up tweets, which read:

Just to clarify, I was one of the several external writers who did some of the character bios, and at least none of us were shown this cutscene. Because if someone did, I would’ve called out this bullshit.

Final note: I’m glad others are angry about this. This is deeply bullshit and ultimately, it is a massive systemic failure that this was not picked up by anyone working on it. I also don’t believe there was malice intended. However, this does not excuse the mistake.

This issue is emblematic of how bad the system currently is. This is what you get from a lack of communication, sensitivity, and diversity. Games can do better and need to stop being so culturally ignorant.

It’s hard to fathom such grave levels of cluelessness and insensitivity on Ubisoft’s part for myriad reasons. There’s the obvious: the ways this blatantly parallels our real-world events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and systemic racism. The similarities between the iconography of UMBRA and Black Lives Matter, as well as resistance movements like it in general, are impossible to ignore. During a time in which we’re seeing a rise in fascism not only in the United States, but also around the world, a fictional fantasy about protestors secretly being terrorists determined to destroy the government is hard to describe as something other than class war propaganda.

It’s also been a highly controversial year for Ubisoft, for the game development company has had a massively public reckoning with its history of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. While that reckoning has pertained mostly to sexism, allegations have also indicated an endemic problem with racism within the French company, whose editorial board has consisted of only white men. Its history of pretending that its games aren’t political is almost as extensive.

While Tom Clancy Elite Squad‘s opening movie will be updated in the next patch, it is only a vehicle for a fascist narrative that cannot be extracted. As the team said in its statement, the raised fist imagery was chosen explicitly because it is, “a universal symbol of resistance.” It is the concepts of resistance, civil unrest, and liberation movements that the game is taking a stand against. Ubisoft’s executives can plead for people to consider this apolitical as much as they’d like to try. The politics of this game could not be more transparent or out of touch.

UPDATE: After much backlash from Ubisoft’s own employees (some of which you can read above, some of which occurred on the company’s internal message board service) the studio has removed the video and promises to excise the black power fist from the game entirely. Elite Squad director Charlie Guillemot also claimed the team “will more rigorously review content produced and about to be released in order to help us avoid similar mistakes.” Charlie Guillemot is the son of Ubisoft co-founder, chairman, and CEO Yves Guillemot — a relationship that MAYBE JUST POSSIBLY accelerated Charlie’s rise to studio manager in the very same year he graduated from university. 

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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