Asking Deus Ex: Human Revolution
There are always going to be those games that stay with you, in the heart. For some people these games might be special only to them, while others are remembered by many. Rather than allowing these games to linger on, unchanged, various companies have found themselves eager to restore the classics with new sequels and remakes. Some have stunk to high heaven (see Goldeneye 007, Golden Axe: Beast Rider and Duke Nukem Forever) while others gave their originals a run for their money (see Return to Castle Wolfenstein). Somehow, beyond expectation, Deus Ex: Human Revolution joins the latter, providing an experience that updates the classic FPS into the new generation and also stays true to its roots.
It also brings a new story to the table, complete with a new cast to drive its plot, and along the way it leaves plenty of tough question to chew on. How does augmentation affect the global market? Can the use of augmentation be considered playing God? Can you trust the Corporation? Some of these questions are tied to the plot while others are left ambiguous. It’s these ambiguous questions that I plan to discuss.
This is a good time to mention, as this is a discussion that will bring up religion, that this piece is not meant to convince the rights and wrongs about your own religious beliefs. This is not meant to discuss specific religions and how augmentations might relate to them individually or as a group (though that does sound interesting, too). This might also be a good time to mention that there might be spoilers. I promise to keep it to a minimum.
The way of the future
“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”
In 2001, there will be privatized space flights to the moon. In the year 200X, fighting robots of themed varieties will ravage the cities under the orders of Dr. Wily. In 2015 there will be flying cars and hoverboards, although I suppose if the Back to the Future series is to be believed, time travel should have existed for a while in the home brew market. Regardless of their accuracy, every new story about the future presents an image of its technological prowess, some grander than others.
Deus Ex’s portrayal of the world is one where the governments have found themselves second to the corporations. It’s a time of economic disparity. The population is mostly separated in two, one small section forming the rich, the other slowly crossing the poverty line. So far it’s not that much of a stretch.
The major technological change introduced into this future are augmentations. An augmentation is a biological enhancement that is cybernetic in nature and is added to the body to repair or alter the abilities of the person. For example: For a man who lost his leg in a tragic accident, a new mechanical limb could be built for him. A colorblind person’s eyes can be adjusted (or even replaced) for correction. Augmentation is the kind of technology that can turn an ordinary man into a superman, granting him the strength, the speed and the ability to accomplish what an organic could not. It blends the capabilities of the machine with the direction of the human.
Then there is also nano-augmentation, the subtle kind that you can’t see just by looking at the person. This is highlighted within the character Faridah Malik. She’s your pilot, transporting you to the mission when the need arises. She has also augmented herself, specifically to address concerns with her ability to pilot her craft.
Now then, this isn’t the first game to bring in the use of body modifications. Bioshock involved chemical alteration, System Shock cybernetic. The previous Deus Ex games treated its upgrades like additional technology bonuses. To Bioshock the act of twisting your body turned you into a junkie for Adam. In System Shock the technology is already prevalent. There is no questioning how it is used, nor whether it should. Within Bioshock it is absolutely clear that the technology has been twisted from whatever it’s true, glorified purpose was.
Human Revolution treats its augmentations more like a medical procedure. There is a price to this new tech. It’s not perfected. The body treats the technology much like it treats any foreign substance. Like organ recipients, augmented people must take an anti-rejection drug to mask their augmentations from their own immune system. The drug is called neuropozyne, and all augmented users need it.
Of course, you can choose to not be augmented, but then you wouldn’t be able to punch through walls. And you don’t want to be the only one of your friends who can’t punch through walls, do you?
Friends with benefits
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology.”
-The Six Million Dollar Man
Right from the beginning, protagonist Adam Jenson is a broken man. He is reassembled and only lives due to the aid of his new augmentations. To bring him from near-death to a status equivalent to a privatized Robocop would have required a large sum of money, of which his backers had. With an open budget granted by the President of Sarif Industries, there was no limit in regards to fixing and improving Adam’s biological rig.
Not everyone gets the same aid, and this is something the video series Extra Credits notes in their analysis of Human Revolution. They comment on the disparity within the economy of the world, shown by the police state required to keep the rioters in line. The wealthy live next door to the poor, and the lower classes seem to be filling with numbers. A person could change their life around, if they had access to the right augmentations.
The trouble comes in the form of cost. Not only is there the need to afford the augmentations themselves, but then there’s also the need to maintain payments for the neuropozyne. This creates a climate in which the best augmented person would be the most likely candidate to get the better jobs, leaving those without augments in the dust. This Extra Credits already covered.
I would argue that this sort of reality is nothing more than a case of natural progression, twisting the parameters required for a person to advance within society. This sort of thing is hardly new. As a child there are always the dreams of what you will become when you grow up. To some it’s an astronaut, to some more a paleontologist, to others it’s Indiana Jones. But these goals, these aspirations, exist without troubling our natural abilities. Not everyone can become everything, let alone the best at their specific vocation. There are always limits.
The responsible party
“RESPONSIBILITY, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.”
Within the very first mission of the game, Adam is sent to deal with a hostage situation by his boss, David Sarif. Only, it’s not the hostages he’s after, but rather the preservation of the data these hostages were working on. Their preservation is second to the mission at hand. There are a few twists and turns, each one providing a different ending to this little incident.
For one, Adam can save the hostages. He could stop the bad guy, but in doing so sacrifice the life of a civilian. He could save the civilian, and free the bad guy. He could kill the bad guy and save the civilian. Each choice has its own ramifications within the story. The one consistent idea between all of these choices is that your employer takes no responsibility in anything negative that occurs because of what you choose to do in their name.
If that civilian dies, she can be replaced. If the bad guy gets away, you might get a stern talking to. But not for long. If the hostages die, your employer won’t really care. The only ones who really point out on how credible your actions were are the random police officers that you pass on the street. These are the people that will congratulate or admonish you based on your actions.
The question, one that will lead up to the big question of whether augmentations equate to playing God, is can order be maintained if no one takes responsibility for it? The governments are ineffectual and easily pushed around by the corporations. And, as is indicative in that first mission, it is clear that Sarif does not seek to take responsibility over anything that doesn’t concern his company directly. This leaves Sarif with an empty moral slate, and the capabilities to write and rewrite his own rules as he chooses.
At the same time, this means that Sarif is also the director as to where his technology is driven. There are two primary markets of augmentation that Sarif Industries is involved in. The first, and most noticeable, is profit driven. Money has to be made somehow, preferably in substantial enough amounts that money is no longer an issue. The second is research based, not tied to the making of money, but rather the will of the director.
Without spoiling anything, it’s no secret that research is being done into the building blocks of life itself. Dr. Megan Reed only hints at the kind of research Sarif has her undertaking within the very introduction to the game. The trouble begins in how it is used and administered.
The man behind the curtain
“We’re building a better world. All of them…better worlds.”
The meaning of the term “playing God” depends on your source, all spreading from the most basic definition of taking on the role of God. This has included everything from the making decisions on who lives and dies, to the mere attitude of omnipotence. If the former was the proper definition, then people such as firefighters, police officers and paramedics would be playing God frequently. Depending on the city, these three employs may involve playing God on a day to day basis. The latter, those bearing the attitude of omnipotence, can easily be construed as supremely arrogant.
So for the nature of this argument, I will provide a definition for playing God, and it is based on the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard is a man who hides behind a curtain, and even then he hides behind a giant projection of his head. From that point he enthralls the masses, dictating the lives of the people of Oz. It is his will that moves Oz, and as he does so he manages without responsibility.
Outside of his domain, he has no real power, and is incapable create direct change. He cannot personally leave from behind the curtain, so in order to directly affect the world he has to send someone out to do his dirty work for him. As long as no one questions his authority, his will is done. So, in simple terms, to play God is to be the Wizard of Oz.
So far, we’ve discussed the disparity between the poor and the rich, but that is not the only separation between the lower and the upper classes. There is also a curtain that separates the average onlooker from knowing the truth as to what happens behind closed doors. In Human Revolution it comes in the form of riot police. From here, behind the curtain, there is no responsibility that is unloaded onto anyone within. Choices are made, schemes are plotted without the knowledge or approval of anyone outside the building. It is there that the decisions are made, not just to affect who lives or dies, but rather how they live.
That is playing God. It is the unregulated market provided within a world where power is unchecked and decisions are based on the whim of a few, that is when the use of augmentations could be considered playing God.
I would argue that not all augmentation falls under this catagory, and my evidence for that is Faridah Malik. Her augments exist to make her better at what she does. Is it playing God? Wishing to excel at your interests and modifying yourself so that you can? Can you accept your natural boundaries, no matter how limiting, or would you augment yourself if it meant being able to overcome them?
In the future, when augmentations do exist, there will be banners throughout the internet. They will feature the face of Ron Jeremy and he will be asking you the same thing, and it will be up to you to decide for yourself.