Bungie has offered some context and explanation for this week's "Kek gauntlet" controversy, in which the studio pulled a Legendary piece of armor out of Destiny 2 because it appeared to have a white supremacist logo on it. In this week's newsletter, the studio explained the armor's origins, and some of Bungie's decision-making around it.
In a section called "Too Close for Comfort," Bungie community manager David Dague (DeeJ, according to his byline) wrote the armor "pieces bore close resemblance to an internet meme that has been subsequently repurposed to represent hate and intolerance. This was completely unintentional." According to Bungie, the design first surfaced internally in 2015.
One argument I saw from a number of people, including readers who work in design, is that graphic designers draw from a wide range of references and might not know exactly what the elements they're working with are meant to connote in context. Bungie claims this is what happened here: "Graphic designers routinely reference real world art, iconography, typeface, and other design elements to inform the choices they make. In this case, some of the reference imagery featured the simple mirrored chevron shapes found in the finished piece."
It's not clear whether the Kekistan flag logo was the specific reference used here, and as Bungie point out, chevrons are one of the symbols on the hunter class. On the other hand, the gauntlet, as it appears in the game, didn't just have mirrored chevrons, but echoed numerous other elements of the same symbol white supremacists use. The default coloration and the central design element also seemed to nod in that direction. Bungie left their explanation of the armor's origins at, "We draw from a lot of sources."
What's interesting is that apparently the iconography was flagged internally, but only for its connection to the "kek" meme that dates back to World of Warcraft. As Dague explains:
Although the design wasn't emulative of the meme in question, the armor piece was eventually flagged by another team responsible for reviewing content for cultural, geographical, and other sensitive issues. Unfortunately, that review was conducted to explore whether or not we were comfortable with the connection to the original, innocuous "kek" internet meme. The more contemporary, vile derivation that has been repurposed by hate groups was not surfaced through this process, and therefore, the armor was approved for ship.
It would be interesting to know when that review was conducted, because in the past couple years, white supremacists have started appropriating a lot more imagery. It might be have been easy to miss, especially if you were familiar with the meme's earlier meaning, that its meaning had changed, or that there was now a Nazi-inspired flag built around a "kek" logo. In 2015, it would have been an easy mistake to make. In the last year, though, it gets harder to credit.
Which is not to say it couldn't been a mistake, but it's a less excusable one. Games have had a problem with right-wing radicalization for years, and part of operating a major franchise in this space is being up to speed with hate speech, the people wielding it, and who their targets are. It's unfortunate and, as Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan made clear, there are a lot of things developers would rather be focusing on. But developers with community teams and significant resources need to be proactive in this climate, not perpetually shocked, shocked that there are Nazis in this establishment.
To Bungie's credit, they've clearly taken the extra step of conducting an internal review and sharing those findings with their community. Nor do they dodge accountability for what happened:
We aren't asking you for the benefit of the doubt. We know we are judged by our actions. We want to thank the members of our community, and the press, for bringing this matter to our attention. We will always strive to make all players feel welcome in our worlds, to promote positive experiences, and to portray a bright and hopeful world in Destiny 2, and in every game world we create.
With swift response and meaningful follow-through, Bungie's actions have been pretty good. But the price of a healthy community is constant vigilance.