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Charles_Phipps
25th Mar 2012, 08:36
hey guys, I thought I'd share a post from my blog.

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2012/03/social-satire-of-deus-ex-human.html

Warning - this review will contain spoilers for the ending of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.


The cyberpunk genre was created by William Gibson with the 1984 novel, Neuromancer. The punk influences talked about how technology was transformed into a tool of oppression rather than liberation while the cyber elements predicted a net-controlled world where cybernetics were a part of daily life. Eventually, people ran with cyberpunk and produced anime like Bubblegum Crisis and movies like Robocop.

I went back and forth on whether or not Deus Ex: Human Revolution fell into the category of true cyberpunk (the world screwed by technology) or post-cyberpunk (containing elements thereof but going in a different direction). In the end, I'm tentatively putting it in the category of true cyberpunk while its predecessors (Deus Ex, Deus Ex: Invisible War) are post-cyberpunk. In a way, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a reconstruction of many discredited tropes like the evil megacorporation and cybernetics make you evil.

Unlike Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I felt had a obviously strong satirical message, I wasn't sure whether or not Deus Ex: Human Revolution worked as an allegory. After all, Augments are still very far away and aren't really a good stand-in for an existing problem like the X-men's mutants and racism. Then I thought about it for awhile and realized Deus Ex's central conflicts over augments and the proliferation thereof was an excellent stand-in for questions over wealth disparity.

One of the biggest issues of the 2008 Presidential election was the housing-induced financial collapse. It helped expose the fragile peace which exists between the ultra-wealthy and the ever-increasing ranks of America's poor. In the USA, politicians can be bought (always have been), and when the ultra-rich can buy politicians then they can make the laws. As a result, to keep people in line, the wealthy have to keep the impoverished oppressed or focused on other matters.

In the Deus Ex franchise, the embodiment of 'The Man' is the Illuminati. In the first and second games, the Illuminati were morally ambiguous and depicted as a valid choice for guiding humanity's destiny. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the Illuminati are simply a collection of people out for their own power. Like many real-world corporates, they are willing to manipulate the law in order to generate a better pay day for themselves. Bob Page, central villain of Deus Ex 1, had arguably better motivations in that he wanted to make a paradise. It was just on the back of poor peoples' corpses.

The most visible figure of the Illuminati is William Taggart. William is a stereotypical televangelist-esque demagogue who is preaching against the cause of Augmentations under the guise of them being unnatural. For a long time, I wondered why they felt the religious right would be against augmentations. I felt it was a blatant pandering to the secular leaning nature of video gamers. After all, what is an easier target than televangelism? Then, at the end, it was revealed William Taggart was a member of the Illuminati and really only wanted to prevent the proliferation of augments across the world.

In short, William Taggart is an enormous hypocrite. He uses the religious inclinations of his audience to lead them down whatever road he chooses. It's questionable whether he has any real opinion on Augments whatsoever, save the possibility they might eventually threaten the Illuminati. American politics is filled with rabble rousing by both parties, drawing on their members' prejudices advance their agendas. Like race-baiting, homophobia, and innumerable pet causes; the emotion is what's important. As long as people are angry and distracted, they aren't thinking clearly.

Underneath William Taggert is Purity First, a anti-augment terrorist group. Unlike what you'd expect, Purity First doesn't appear to be controlled by the Illuminati. Instead, it's a form of blow back. William Taggart preaches nonsensical diatribes against cybernetics but his followers passionately believe in his so-called points.

Isaias Sandoval, Taggart's assistant, truly believes in the evils of augmentation. Isaias assists the Illuminati in numerous terrorist actions but also carries out his own plans to fight for a cause William Taggart cares nothing for. It makes him a fool and, worse, shows how many people the Illuminati are willing to sacrifice as part of their endless power games.

Deconstructing the evil corporate mogul archetypes are David Sarif and Zhao Yun Ru. Zhao Yun Ru is a more typical evil corporate mogul than David Sarif. She lies, kills, murders, and manipulates her way across the game. Hell, she's even the final boss in the game. However, it's actually her financial activities (which you can read about in e-mails) that are the most interesting.

Zhao Yun Ru engages in all manner of horrible, but plausible, business practices to make sure augmented people need constant maintenance from her company. If you think this is unlikely from a company which produces prosthesis, maybe you should read up on many real-life medical corporations. She produces crap cybernetics and depends on it breaking down in order to force people to buy new models, despite the fact the machinery is built directly into customer's bodies.

David Sarif, by contrast, is as close to a benevolent cyberpunk corporate mogul as possible. Unlike many real-life corporate moguls would do, he actually researches ways to make one of his most profitable production lines obsolete. Specifically, the drug neuropozyne. Likewise, he refuses membership in the Illuminati despite the limitless power and wealth it would give him. David even attempts to rebuild the devastated economy of 2020s Detroit, despite it being out of his price range.

David is still corrupt, however. In order to make sure his dream of a cybernetically enhanced future is realized, he insists on Adam Jensen's involuntary upgrade. Likewise, he makes use of Adam's DNA information despite the fact that it was obtained without his consent. Throughout the game, he uses Adam Jensen as his personal hit-man and even attempts to frame William Taggart for terrorism (despite the bad writing about what, exactly, you're doing).

Indeed, the most damning anti-augmentation argument is ever-present in the game but never overt. No one directly references it but it coats everything. Specifically, that augmentation is great and all but only the very rich will be able to afford it. David Sarif spends billions on his goal of creating the best augmentations possible but he's doing so in a city filled with decaying slums. The selfishness of transhumanist ideals in a world where there are very real human problems is an interesting juxtaposition. A similar theme is explored in Ghost in the Shell 2.

While the writers seem to come down squarely on the side of augmentation in the game, the truth is that the issue is portrayed more ambiguously than I suspect even they planned. With obvious suffering and an ever-growing gap between the poor and the wealthy, augmentation seems an indulgence of the super-rich that will do nothing to alleviate the problems of day-to-day life. David Sarif, for all his lofty claims of being a visionary meant to lead us into the light (making him, amusingly, much like the reformed Illuminati of Deus Ex 1), is the kind of man who doesn't really 'see' the problems of the destitute.

It's a kind of Fridge Brilliance (see TVtropes.org) moment when you realize that a substantial portion of the game deals with the problems of regular people. Adam Jensen has the opportunity to defy stereotype and use his augmentations to fight gang members, bust crooked cops, help hookers, crush white slavers, and smack around drug dealers. Whereas many players, myself included, initially wondered why this was included - you realize it shows the fundamental difference of Adam from other augments. He's the kind of man who believes great power shouldn't be used to achieve more great power, however benignly, but to assist those who don't have it.

There are other interesting ideas in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, such as the expanded military role of private contractors and extraordinary rendition but I'll talk more about that in my review of Deus Ex: Missing Link. Overall, I really like the social satire in the game, it's just subtler than I expected.

Excellent work, developers.

Hey guys, I was curious if anyone had their OWN opinions on the social issues of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and whether or not this kind of stuff has any interest to you.

Mustapha Mond
26th Mar 2012, 01:04
Nice blog! I don't know if you've seen this or not, but Penny Arcade's show Extra Credits touched on some similar points. You can check it out here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/deus-ex-human-revolution

I was listening to one of EM's podcasts where a fan submitted a question asking if they thought there were real-world parallels between the central conflict of HR and the Occupy movement. Surprisingly, they said no; they compared it more to the pro-life/pro-choice chasm that has been a perennial issue in our nation.

However, I don't see it that way at all. I thought the contention over augmentation was based heavily in the socioeconomic stratification of our society. The link I posted above also makes a good point: technology, even if we're not quite at the point of HR, is a huge determinant of someone's status. Having access to modern technology is absolutely critical. Moreover, if someone happens to be gifted in the fields of technology and science, he or she is far more likely to have greater economic mobility and job security.

I have to agree with you about the moral ambiguity of the DX series; it makes the games much more compelling. Rather than making it a traditional tale of good vs. evil, DX is more about shedding light on our inherent myopia. Bob Page was, in my opinion, the closest thing to a traditional villain, but I didn't get the sense that he was intrinsically evil. Humanizing the "villains", as DX has done, makes the struggles of the various players and factions much more disquieting because we can empathize with them and their goals somewhat.

Charles_Phipps
26th Mar 2012, 01:52
Yeah, Bob Page is amongst my favorite bad guys of all time but he's pretty much (if he were real) one of the most evil men who ever lived. Despite that, Deus Ex nicely explains his personality and his goals to the point that his actions are perfectly understandable. He's a classicist psychopath with a god complex but there's plenty of real life people who would do the same as him if they had access to the weaponry and technology Bob does.

It's one of the reasons I'm so contemptuous of William Taggart. He's literally a false prophet who doesn't even have the decency to believe in his rhetoric. He's just a mouthpiece for the Illuminati and goes from plan to plan depending on what exactly they're currently working on. It's why I never accept his offer, despite how tempting being part of the Illuminati is, you cannot believe a word that comes out of the man's lips.


Nice blog! I don't know if you've seen this or not, but Penny Arcade's show Extra Credits touched on some similar points. You can check it out here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/deus-ex-human-revolution

Cool Thanks for sharing!


I was listening to one of EM's podcasts where a fan submitted a question asking if they thought there were real-world parallels between the central conflict of HR and the Occupy movement. Surprisingly, they said no; they compared it more to the pro-life/pro-choice chasm that has been a perennial issue in our nation.

I can see it if I look at it sideways. The Pro vs. Against Human Augmentation movement has got to be as bizarre to non-religious people and people with differing religious or secular beliefs than life at conception as the Anti-Augmentation movement comes off to us. Still, the financial concerns about augmentation seemed to be pretty obvious.

It's even in the gangsters with one faction in Detroit being upscale drug dealers with their own high rise and heavy augmentations while the other group is poor, lives in a condemned ruin, and really only have numbers on their side. Likewise, you could make an argument that Tai Yun Medical is an excellent tool of control. In real life, people can be ABSOLUTELY CRIPPLED by debt due to medical bills.

How bad can it be when your arm and legs will reject you if you can't afford your next payment?


However, I don't see it that way at all. I thought the contention over augmentation was based heavily in the socioeconomic stratification of our society. The link I posted above also makes a good point: technology, even if we're not quite at the point of HR, is a huge determinant of someone's status. Having access to modern technology is absolutely critical. Moreover, if someone happens to be gifted in the fields of technology and science, he or she is far more likely to have greater economic mobility and job security.

Agreed. There's no real futurism to this because the United States passed this awhile back but there's also a point when high tech militaries become more or less impenetrable to low-tech ones in a straight fight. The Illuminati and their satellites are possessed of people like the Tyrants, who are more or less invincible to non-augmented people. As a result, terrorism seems the most attractive option to the utterly unscrupulous and psychopathic. Why go after someone like Barret when you can go after the guys who make the cybernetics?

In a way, it helps explains the NSF's paranoia and militancy from the first game. After all, people like Gunther and JC can just walk all over them.


I have to agree with you about the moral ambiguity of the DX series; it makes the games much more compelling. Rather than making it a traditional tale of good vs. evil, DX is more about shedding light on our inherent myopia. Bob Page was, in my opinion, the closest thing to a traditional villain, but I didn't get the sense that he was intrinsically evil. Humanizing the "villains", as DX has done, makes the struggles of the various players and factions much more disquieting because we can empathize with them and their goals somewhat.

I didn't mention Darrow in my write-up because of the fact he doesn't really have any social elements. He's just an extraordinarily petty human being who commits an atrocity out of very human jealousy. In a way, he's as much a rebuttal of the Illuminati's "control being good" as Bob Page. Bob Page and Darrow are both people the Illuminati thought were worth including as members.

I.e. the people given absolute power. Neither were CORRUPTED by that absolute power, they just managed to get it despite being thoroughly corrupt.

For me, the big thing to understand about the Occupy Wallstreet movement isn't that it's against business, it's that the people involved are often breaking the law or engaged in immoral activities to make their billions. Like the Illuminati, shedding light on them threatens them.

lmprv
27th Mar 2012, 16:38
Great write-up. I'm looking forward to the next one!

As far as social aspects of the game go, my favourite thing about the story is how they a character's personality to their motivations, to their actions, and finally to the world i.e they link the microscopic to the macroscopic.

My interpretation of Taggart is slightly different from yours - to me he's the typical right-wing authoritarian personality - someone who believes (rightly or wrongly) in rules, discipline and hierarchy. When he said that people need leadership, I believe that he was being sincere - he wasn't just being manipulative per se, he genuinely believed that people below him were 'worse' people and deservedly so, and that the world would best be run by a bureaucracy. Such a belief system probably comes from his upbringing.

Also, I disagree a little that Darrow doesn't have social elements. Darrow (and Lucius, I guess) could be thought to represent the evil that occurs due to loss of empathy from entitlement and privilege (being upper class, educated at elite schools, etc). There's something about the children of the rich - they believe that the world was created for their benefit (bit of a generalisation, but I hope you know what I mean!). OK, the game doesn't elaborate on this much, but it's still pretty interesting to me. The conversation battle is great - fundamentally it's about making Darrow gain empathy - the concept of other struggling human beings had just never occurred to him during his life. And of course his actions at the end relate back to the broader theme of "Why do people do the things that they do".

Basically, the take-home point from the game for me was that the bad-guys aren't so different from the good-guys - there's shades of grey - we're all human and have similar base desires and motivations and weaknesses, be they insecurity, ambition, upbringing, fear, love, etc etc.

So, one hand DXHR is about cyberpunk and dystopia and technology. But what I really like is that it goes deeper than that. The game basically says (1) the world is changing, and changing fast (2) the world is determined by people's actions (3) our actions are determined by our choices and our psychology, be they good or bad. There's a nice message about being a good citizen there, and of course it has synergy with the gameplay, too.

Course I may be full of s***, but that was my interpretation of the game :)

Charles_Phipps
28th Mar 2012, 00:32
Thanks!

BTW, here is that next article!

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/2012/03/social-satire-of-deus-ex-human_27.html


Warning - this portion of the review will contain spoilers for The Missing Link DLC of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Mercenaries, extraordinary rendition, and secret prisons. Sounds like pages ripped from the headlines, doesn't it? Well, at least, circa 2008.

Part of the problem with being timely in video games is that by the time a game reaches the shelves, the topics raised will seem like old hat. I think the subjects invoked by Deus Ex: Human Revolution DLC The Missing Link are still relevant and should not be dismissed. These subjects included issues of terrorism, detainment, Habius corpus, and other things you normally wouldn't find in your average console game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, itself, included large numbers of references to the privatization of the military. This is a controversial subject in our own world and one when I break from my usual limousine liberal ways to say I actually support. I believe there's substantial numbers of jobs which can be ethically done by mercenaries and if people want to make their living as soldiers of fortune, it's their own business.

The problem, of course, is supervision. In real life, non-privatized militaries are supervised by their governments. England and the United States, for example, have centuries of legal precedent for how to deal with misbehaving soldiers. Mercenaries, by contrast, have significantly more gray area in how they're to be treated under international law. Furthermore, since at least the Thirty Years War, mercs have had a reputation as atrocity-prone extremists.

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the corporation known as Belltower Inc was created as a moral alternative to the previous unethical private military corporations (PMCs) of the setting. Given Belltower serves as the chief source of mooks in the game, it's fairly obvious this didn't work out too well.

The Missing Link doesn't forget Belltower's roots with its main NPC, Lieutenant Commander Keitner, being horrified by the actions of her fellows. Given she is a leading force in Belltower, it is implied the corruption of the group has more to do with its extra-legal backers than it does any inherent evil in being a mercenary. Indeed, the actions of Belltower in Deus Ex: Human Revolution are not the doings of a rogue military unit.

Belltower engages in massacres of civilians, kidnapping, torture and worse but all of this is authorized by the governments which employ them. A major revelation of the first half of the game is that FEMA is being used to build camps where dissidents can 'disappear'. One needs to look no further than the CIA's own real-life prisons in Romania and other countries to know this is not too far removed from reality.

Belltower, far from being the instigator of atrocity, is just following the orders of its employers. While it is still a partner in the terrible actions it perpetrates, the real cause lies with the people paying them to do it. As mentioned in the The Missing Link, Belltower is only a security company, look to the people who employ them to find the real villains.

In short, The Missing Link maintains the not-unreasonable position that the behavior of mercenaries can and should be dictated by its employers. Keitner and her rival, Burke, represent two extremes of real-life militaries. Burke, despite being the very model of a rogue military officer, is mostly operating within the authority he's been given by the Illuminati. While the Illuminati, itself, is an extra-legal organization within the setting - it is clearly operating within the accepted bounds of the governments it controls.

This brings us to the issue of extraordinary rendition. In today's global society, let alone Deus Ex: Human Revolution's, people can hop from one country to the next without difficulty. This makes issues of criminal pursuit and prosecution difficult. The method used by the second Bush administration to deal with this was to target individuals deemed to be threats and capture/eliminate them. Fair enough. As proven with Osama Bin Ladin's termination in Pakistan and Adolf Eichman's capture by Israeli agents, there's some argument to this approach.

Heck, it would be hypocritical not to point out that the hero of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is engaging in his own personal crusade to rescue kidnapped US citizen, Megan Reed. We could be here all day listing the various crimes Adam commits in his pursuit of justice.

The difference, of course, is what happens when a subject isn't guilty. The Missing Link's prison for Belltower detainees is filled with hundreds of innocent women kidnapped for the Hyron Project. In a nice subversion of everything you know about video game villains, it's obvious that the Belltower employees have no idea that the people they're kidnapping aren't terrorists. Bluntly, the mercs are told they're criminals and have no reason to believe they're not. It puts an interesting spin on the deaths of any Belltower operatives you may been responsible before finding this out.

Audiences familiar with Belltower's treatment of the female prisoners may argue that they go beyond what is professional treatment for them (if I may dance around the issue). I think that just highlights an all-too real problem. In plenty of societies, when men are put in positions of authority over women they consider inferior, the results aren't pretty.

Note: While the characters of Commander Keitner and Doctor Kavanagh have moral reasons to act the way they do, the treatment of female prisoners undoubtedly played a role in their defection. Let's face it, it can't exactly be a comfortable place for them to work.

In short, Belltower's prison is a place rife with potential for abuse. You have prisoners who have no way of proving their innocence, people who consider them scum irregardless of their guilt or innocence, and no way for them to serve their sentence or atone for any crimes they may have committed. In short, arrest by Belltower transports a person to a life sentence without the possibility of parole in a place you may or may not be eventually used for medical experiments. It's pretty much a fate worse than death.

Adding further moral ambiguity to the story is the presence of the terrorist organization, the Juggernaut Collective. One of the things I always liked about the original Deus Ex was the moral ambiguity. While Bob Page was unambiguously evil, your allies were decidedly less than heroic. The New Sons of Freedom, for example, was a collection of paranoid right-wing nutjobs who were probably hording guns in a bomb shelter before the game started.

In this case, the Juggernaut Collective and their leader Janus wants to recruit Adam for their organization, but are very clearly the sorts of terrorists Belltower is supposed to be fighting. Only the fact they're helping you against your current enemies makes them the kind of people Adam wouldn't want to take down. Certainly, it was only gratitude towards Quinn that prevented me from shooting him in the head. Like in real-world politics, morality can get very gray when the bad guys want to team up with you.

Charles_Phipps
28th Mar 2012, 01:01
Great write-up. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Glad you enjoyed it.


As far as social aspects of the game go, my favourite thing about the story is how they a character's personality to their motivations, to their actions, and finally to the world i.e they link the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Very true. The personalities of everyone deeply effect their politics. Poor Megan is simultaneously the embodiment of science gone horribly wrong and yet also naive innocence.


My interpretation of Taggart is slightly different from yours - to me he's the typical right-wing authoritarian personality - someone who believes (rightly or wrongly) in rules, discipline and hierarchy. When he said that people need leadership, I believe that he was being sincere - he wasn't just being manipulative per se, he genuinely believed that people below him were 'worse' people and deservedly so, and that the world would best be run by a bureaucracy. Such a belief system probably comes from his upbringing.

Very true. It's quite possible Taggart sincerely believes in the Illuminati and its ideology, he just considers the line he feeds the public as a whole to be a way of influencing things. Which, ironically, makes him even MORE of a politician stand-in than he was before.

Of course, as Taggart points out, the Illuminati may or may not even exist as Everett indicated. It's quite possible they're just the name of a bunch of old men running the country by 2020 who thought it'd be fun to adopt the name for their activities.


Also, I disagree a little that Darrow doesn't have social elements. Darrow (and Lucius, I guess) could be thought to represent the evil that occurs due to loss of empathy from entitlement and privilege (being upper class, educated at elite schools, etc). There's something about the children of the rich - they believe that the world was created for their benefit (bit of a generalisation, but I hope you know what I mean!). OK, the game doesn't elaborate on this much, but it's still pretty interesting to me. The conversation battle is great - fundamentally it's about making Darrow gain empathy - the concept of other struggling human beings had just never occurred to him during his life. And of course his actions at the end relate back to the broader theme of "Why do people do the things that they do".

It's very effective for the fact that you tear down his rationalizations and expose what a complete monster he is, to HIM as well as you.


Basically, the take-home point from the game for me was that the bad-guys aren't so different from the good-guys - there's shades of grey - we're all human and have similar base desires and motivations and weaknesses, be they insecurity, ambition, upbringing, fear, love, etc etc.

Very true again.


On one hand DXHR is about cyberpunk and dystopia and technology. But what I really like is that it goes deeper than that. The game basically says (1) the world is changing, and changing fast (2) the world is determined by people's actions (3) our actions are determined by our choices and our psychology, be they good or bad. There's a nice message about being a good citizen there, and of course it has synergy with the gameplay, too.

A great point.


Course I may be full of s***, but that was my interpretation of the game :)

Nah, you've got some very insightful points, especially about Darrow.