Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers old school racism with your gaming fun

I know next to nothing about video games – I’m a huge geek, but I have no hand/eye coordination, so me attempting to play video games is really just flailing around on the couch to the amusement of my friends. Apparently Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a new hit game. I hear the women and characters of color in the game aren’t the best. But what’s really getting attention is the character of Letitia, a black woman you find picking through the trash who you can pay for information with beer, and who talks like the most extreme racist stereotype from a blackface minstrel show.

You can check out what I’m talking about in this video originally posted at Techland, if you can really stomach the love child of Al Jolson and Jar Jar Binks:

That shit would make even Roger Sterling uncomfortable (OK not really).

Square Enix, the game’s designer, has tried to play this off with one of those classic denial filled, “we didn’t mean it, stop seeing racism” statements, again via Techland:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fictional story which reflects the diversity of the world’s future population by featuring characters of various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. While these characters are meant to portray people living in the year 2027, it has never been our intention to represent any particular ethnic group in a negative light.

Uh, no. There’s just no denying what an over the top, Mammy-esque stereotype Letitia is. Playing ignorant here is insulting and embarrassing. Just like the character.

You can contact Square Enix here to let them know you’re not a fan of minstrel shows with your gaming.

via Badass Digest.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • Ashley

    As a female gamer, I’ve gone through my own set of trials and tribulations with the gaming community and not being able to relate to many of the characters in video games. I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember, being 7 years old with a Gameboy, and now 19 and being able to proudly say I have played and beaten well over 100 different games, and I like to think I have a strong grasp of the changing game environments over the years.
    I feel that while it is very important to point out this case of extreme racism in a video game, it is also extremely important to fully play and report on the game yourself. The racism is there, and it should definitely be brought to light. But I think what also must be brought to light are the many strong female characters in the game. They are not perfect representations, and the game is still centered around a man, but I see parts of this game as a step in a good direction.
    The only reason I say that is because I think it is imperative that we bring to light the good as well as the bad, because I know the gaming community has suffered quite a bit with so many female characters that seem so lifeless as to be stuffed with straw. We need to let these companies know what we like as well as what we don’t, or I’m sure I’ll always have a faceful of jiggly boobs when I turn on my console.
    And I would also like to see more news on women in video games. (:

    • Jemma Howitzer

      I agree. It’s important to be very mean AND very nice when talking about video games with racist depictions.

      I liked the portrayal of white people, it made them look very intelligent.

      • michael

        Unfortunately, as fun as it may be, snark only works when you’re right. That amounted to a non sequitur to Ashley’s thoughtful post.

  • Joshua Stein

    It’s bizarre to me how many people don’t see this kind of stuff as overtly racist. I had this discussion with friends who insisted on defending the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks as ‘not racist’ and the Neimoidians as ‘not anti-semitic’. Of course, most haven’t heard of Al Jolson or Shylock, so its a little hard to explain the historical context. However, it just seems so transparent to me.

    I’m venting a bit, but only to make a larger point: Often, people are genuinely insensitive to issues of race in media and popular culture. This reflects itself in an issue my friend is having with her high school (she is currently a grad student at SF State) which is hosting a ‘Cowboys and Indians’ themed game night for students. It’s far too common. I appreciate the find, though. As someone who had considered buy Deus Ex for the apartment, I think I’ll take a pass, now.

  • Brianne Jones

    Square Enix did not make Deus Ex, they are just the publisher. If you want your complaints heard, you should contact the game’s developer Eidos.

  • Zed

    For what it’s worth, that same voice actress and accent are used on the nurse that saved the main character’s life as a child during an act of brave rebellion against the Illuminati.

    There are also poor people of a large number of other ethnic backgrounds. Letitia is only of notice because she’s an information broker with more lines, which arguably puts her above most of her homeless brethren.

    That said, having played about 75% of the way through the game, I was a little disturbed by the fact that there was no option to change the main player’s skin tone, as there was in the first game, and all the people who are simultaneously decent and in positions of power seem to be either Caucasian or Asian.

    Despite this, it is an amazingly good game, with an excellent story and interesting mechanics. By my tastes, it’s the best game out in the last few years, so take that into account when deciding to boycott over lack of cultural sensitivity.

  • David Godfrey

    Ugh. I made it about 30 seconds into that. It doesn’t help any that in the fluff Denton is described as being Caucasian, whereas in the original game (which had its own problems with voice acting involving terrible Chinese and French accents) you could choose your skin colour you liked, and in the sequel you had the option of picking the gender too. (This was apparently supposed to go in the original too, but never implemented).

  • albonie

    I don’t talk like this. But I’m Southern (from New Orleans) and MOST people here do talk JUST LIKE THIS. I haven’t played this game so I have no opinion about it, but don’t you think it’s a little ethnocentric to demean people because of their accent/dialect? I can’t really comprehend the controversy over the black dialect portrayed in “The Help,” either. I haven’t seen it– only clips– but it seems to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the language that surrounds me every single day, in my life, in New Orleans, where I am from, and where most people are bilingual– “black” and “white.” My friend was telling me recently about one of her classmates who is mean to her for “talking too white.” That’s pretty predictable for a black woman who speaks SAE down here.

    I would say that yes, there are some racist things about this character (she gets paid in beer?!) but the way she speaks isn’t one of them. For you to say that a portrayal of Southern Black English is “racist” in some way negates an entire language and culture.

    • Glynis


      It’s not the way she talks itself that’s the problem in the game. It’s the context. The way the game is stylized (in a super-white, future Detroit — hey, that’s already fantasy! /eyeroll) this character comes across as over-exaggerated. That’s what makes it feel like a minstrel show: no one else talks like that. That’s also what makes it different from The Help (which I saw, and felt deeply ambivalent about): there is a context for the dialect that both the black and white people speak in. It makes sense for that time and place, and the acting made those characters feel (mostly) three-dimensional.

      Anyway. Eidos needed a shorthand for “urban street smart”, so they chose a black woman with a particular American dialect that automatically makes us think “hood”. That’s why I feel it is racist. She’s a flat stereotype designed to play on preconceptions and fear. That’s both insulting and boring.

      The voice acting/directing in this game is generally TERRIBLE (particularly for today’s AAA game standards), so there is zero nuance for anyone. I mean, the white guy main character talks like a bad, emotionless Batman parody and most of the women characters have that dreadful breathy/over-sexualized thing going. So take that as you will. No one wins. :/