Update [12:25 p.m. PT]: According to a new report from Bloomberg, Elite Squad's creative director and general manager of Ubisoft Owlient Charlie Guillemot (son of CEO Yves Guillemot) told the studio that the "entire introductory sequence" will be removed from the game. Guillemot's internal statement came after employees lodged complaints about the use of the raised fist on an Ubisoft company message board.
The original story follows:
On the same week that saw players in the NBA and other American sports leagues strike in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, Ubisoft released a new game that had many accuse the publisher of conflating the current civil rights movement with a terrorist-orchestrated plot. The inclusion of a black raised fist symbol sparked criticism even from individuals who worked on the game. Soon, it'll be removed.
The game in question, Tom Clancy's Elite Squad, was released last Tuesday for iOS and Android. Starring characters from Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and other Tom Clancy properties, the game pits a team of government operatives against a shadowy organization known as Umbra. In an introductory cinematic, it's established that Umbra emerges "to take advantage of escalating civil unrest," co-opting mass protests and performing acts of terrorism while its members "claim to promote an egalitarian utopia to gain popular support."
As the narration plays, several black raised fists—a longstanding icon of Black Power civil rights protest movements, now commonly associated with Black Lives Matter—appear on screens as examples of Umbra propaganda. The notion that popular movements for racial justice are guided by secretive terrorist organizations is a conspiracy embraced by many on the right, with all-too-real impacts on nonviolent protests.
A video of the cutscene posted to Twitter elicited criticism, anger, and strong pushback on Twitter over the weekend. Brendan Gibbons, a contract writer on Elite Squad, characterized the use of fist as "irresponsibly bad optics," and added that he and others were told that Umbra was intended to be a James Bond-esque villain group, not one evoking real-life conspiracies.
On Saturday afternoon, Ubisoft issued the following apology:
Imagery that appeared in the opening video sequence of Tom Clancy's Elite Squad featuring 'raised fist' was insensitive and harmful in both its inclusion and how it was portrayed. 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.
Over the past few months, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have given rise to sustained protests against police violence toward Black people. In that context alone, characterizing Umbra in this way and using the raised fist would be questionable, but it appears all the more irresponsible given recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two protestors who tooks to the streets following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, are now dead; a teenage counterprotestor with alleged ties to right-wing movements now faces multiple homicide charges.
The release of Elite Squad also comes as Ubisoft faces intense scrutiny given reports of abuse, racism, sexism, and other forms of harassment rampant within the company. Included amongst the numerous allegations are claims that retrograde views from top creatives within Ubisoft influenced the content of the Assassin's Creed series. The removal of the fist imagery in Elite Squad may be a step in the right direction, but it poses the question of why it was included—and it's doubtful people will forget how Umbra was portrayed in the first place.