Opinion: How Beyond Good & Evil Politically Defies UBISoft

So…this happened:

I get into particulars in the F UBISoft post, so if you want those search “9/26”. Lots of links, lots of background. But I don’t really want to get too mired in detail here on that, as it’s not really the focus, merely the impetus of this essay.

As I’ve said here many times, Beyond Good & Evil is my favorite game. The whole explosion of UBISoft’s terrible no good horrible fucking atrocious corporate culture already put me in a weird place about how I felt about the future of the series. And now the news of Ancel being accused of abusive and toxic management on the prequel further blurs my appreciation for the game as a whole. Was Ancel always like this? Was it a recent development? Was BG&E tainted by horrid working conditions too? The questions are spinning and the answers are both unclear and persistently demanding a response in my mind.

I’ve written so much on how Jade, the protagonist, is a personal hero of mine. I devoted paragraphs upon paragraphs to digging into how amazing she is as a character here; some highlights:

I think that Jade has brought a lot to the table as a gaming heroine. She’s offered us a chance to be a freedom fighter. She’s brought a human touch to gaming. She’s flown over the glut of sexually charged women clothed in barely-there garments. She’s helped open up a new way of presenting games as more than bubbly kiddie fare and gore-drenched bloodbaths. And ultimately, she’s someone you can connect with. You can feel her pain, her triumph, her shock, and her vindication. And that right there is something truly special…special enough to consider her my favorite woman (and character) in all of gaming.

Recently I’ve realized how much of an anomaly Jade is to UBISoft as a whole. She is a woman of color choosing to join a rebel organization to disrupt the control of a dominating military government that in secret is working with the alien invasion that threatens the planet. She is a journalist and risks her life to uncover the truth behind the lies and corruption and abuse. It’s very ironic that the company behind her game has become the villain within it; that the game that I love is such a counterargument to what UBISoft and its execs and people in power became. UBISoft is the Alpha Sections and the DOMZ. The execs are the alien menace and the directors the militaristic weapon to execute their reprehensible creed upon the unwilling citizens of Hillys, aka the regular employees. And Jade and the IRIS Network represent the whistleblowers, the ex-employees that chose to speak, and the gaming news outlets daring to continue to cover this story.

When I obscure the publisher from the product, Beyond Good & Evil is a perfect allegory for what is wrong with the world as a whole. How propaganda, authoritarianism and greed can destroy society if left to fester, because those have no end in sight for how far they will be willing to dive in.

The game itself directly addresses these themes. It sets you up to combat them through investigative journalism, through rebellion, through directly attacking those in power and refusing to submit.

2003 was a different time. This was well before UBISoft’s open-world samey mandate would come down from Serge Hascoët. Well before the company had hit the big time as an AAA publisher and was still finding its footing. Well before the company PR would spin that their games aren’t political. BG&E is a very political game telling a very political narrative having you be a major player in those politics, where you play as a woman of color basically saying “fuck this”. And you go on that journey with her. You see her doubt about the proposal to join IRIS. You witness her connection to the world of Hillys and the people there as she decides. You feel for her as her ultimate decision to fight for what is just and right brings unexpected and crippling sadness, darkness and despair into her life. She loses her family. Her friends. Her financial stability. She nearly gives up in the most intense heartache of the game when the children she’s adopted are taken and her home destroyed by the Alpha Sections. Everything she has taken up as dear and treasured in her life is affected, all an effort to break her down, force her to relent, surrender into obedience.

And yet she persisted.

I do not know what the working conditions of BG&E were like. I do not know if Ancel was an asshole manager then, or if the smaller team dynamic was healthier than the significantly larger group working on the prequel. My mind wants to know. It wants to validate my beliefs in that this game, my FAVORITE game ever, was not blighted by toxic management or abusive practices. That it was made in a pure, wholesome and happy environment.

What the game argues, however, what the narrative arc of Jade is telling me, is that the product overrides its creation. In this one example, the resulting genius of Beyond Good & Evil — no matter its genesis — paints a compelling expose all its own. That it defies the UBISoft regime in every regard, that it challenges the status quo of the industry, that it is a political game with an amazing message of never counting yourself out in dire circumstances; to not let corruption go unpunished; to fight, survive, persist, exist, live.

So Ancel’s role in this game as its Director, along with his parts in the game design and story, may be clouded by these recent revelations. His legacy is in question, and BG&E as a whole will always have this connection to him no matter how the future plays out. However, Ancel is only a piece of the creation of Jade, Hillys, and Beyond Good & Evil. Other members of the team at UBI Montpelier also had their roles to play out in its development, and together they made a politically charged video game about a woman of color working to expose a fascist dictatorship of a military government under the sway of a foreign authoritarian menace whose goal is to brainwash the populace into willful subservience. A game so outside the comfort zone of UBISoft that it forced the hand of Hascoët to render its continued existence into nothingness for many years, until Ancel got wore down to the point that he lost touch with the core tenets of the original and attempted to rework it into something fitting for corporate to allow (as I cover here).

Perhaps the recent allegations of Ancel’s toxic management sprung from nearly 20 years of being stymied from making the sequel he originally planned. I don’t know. But what I can say is that Hascoët, President Yves Guillemot, every other shitty corporate toad recently kicked from the company, and even Ancel himself can no longer distort the heart of this little game that was rushed out for the holidays and lost out in the resulting shuffle way back in 2003. A game that stood in opposition to everything the company was even at the time, and certainly what it has now become. A war cry that games can matter and bring about a revolutionary call for more examples like this to follow. And, despite what may have been lurking behind the scenes of its development, its heartbeats still echo throughout space and time for those who have played and embraced it.

All that being said, it is with great remorse that I cannot condone its purchase any more. That giving any money to this shitty publisher, even for a game as defiant and critical as BG&E, is just not an option for me any more. I have already paid for it twice, although my Gamecube copy was deeply discounted and I got the HD port on my PS3 on sale, and these were well before any of these allegations came to light. Let’s just say you might want to go visit Ming Tzu’s shop and ask to see the stock in the back room, if you get my drift. Or find a used copy of the PS2, Xbox or GC discs. The game still hasn’t shot up in resale price much last I checked. Or just watch a LP of the game from someone you enjoy watching. Hell, if I ever get streaming stuff set up I’ll do one. Point is, there are ways around giving UBISoft further financial benefits to experience this if you want to.