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Politics MA student, barista, Welsh, video game fan, pretty great.

Deus Ex(cellent)

Like most rational, decent people with taste, I've been playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided recently. I've not finished it yet, so don't consider this a review but I will put forward some of my thoughts about what makes the game so great and interesting.

Setting

The first thing that struck me about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was its setting as really complex and different to many other games dealing with similar themes. The game takes place a few years after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, dealing with the fallout from "the incident." This event entailed augmented humans - think cyborgs but for grounded reasons such as installing robotic arms to replace one lost in an accident - losing control of themselves and attacking others thanks to being hacked. Tensions existed between 'normals' and 'augs' before "the incident" but unsurprisingly, the event has allowed hostility towards augs to grow.

Each of the game's areas feels really interesting and different
Each of the game's areas feels really interesting and different

This hostility is evident from the outset, one of the first characters the protagonist, Jensen, interacts with unashamedly dislikes and distrusts augmented people. He attacks Jensen for his augmentations and continues to berate Jensen through the first mission. After this, the bleak atmosphere for augmented people continues to develop through the story which takes place in Prague, the first city seeking to pass aggressively anti-aug legislation. Witnessing terror attacks seemingly perpetrated by augs and news reports openly demonising aug-friendly groups adds to the uncertainty of the game's setting. This leads up to a mission calling for Jensen to travel to a ghetto for augmented people, Golem City.

Golem City Police Department

One of the most interesting things about Golem City as a setting is the depiction of the police operating within it. Before this mission, the police were hardly depicted in a wholly positive light, drawing clear distinctions between how they treat "normals" compared to augs and Jensen sees police round up and accuse augs at checkpoints, including often stopping Jensen himself and demanding identification. Golem City, however, kicks this up a notch. The police here are seen as taking pleasure in their position of power, using their authority to openly torment the augs forced to call the city home. The player witnesses groups of police attack a single aug and round others up like animals. The police are happy to be able to laud their position over others, indiscriminately victimising augmented people. This state violence against augs is a constant theme throughout the game, police openly treat augs entirely different to others. One mission entails taking up a investigating the murder of an aug that police refuse to look into while others present the fear which augmented people live in at the threat of being sent to Golem City.

Golem City: Appropriately sinister
Golem City: Appropriately sinister

The pro-aug group of the game, the Augmented Rights Coalition (ARC), is presented differently to how pro-minority groups are typically presented in games. The group is at its core depicted as non-violent, but under threat of being used by an outside influence to harm its reputation. The climax of the Golem City mission includes meeting the head of ARC, who actually turns out to be reasonable and not some ideological crackpot as I expected him to be portrayed as.

This depiction of a minority is really refreshing from a game. The timing of this considering colossal abuses of power by state police in many states in the US provides a good opportunity to reflect on the ability to misuse this power against citizens. The game doesn't serve simple to legitimise state power (though it does present international bodies like the one Jensen works for as strangely above such conflicts).

Representation

A second thought on the representations put forward by the game is the character Jim Miller, head of the anti-terrorism organisation Jensen works for, Task Force 29. Introduced in the first mission, Miller is presented as the usual tough and no-nonsense military bosses often found within gaming. This rather unspectacular but decent portrayal continues throughout the game up to one mission where Jensen is tasked with looking into Miller's loyalties and background. If the player takes the time to look and notice what is actually happening in Miller's personal life, this mission and Miller himself become far more interesting.

Reading the hacked PC shows why Miller is so secretive as the game highlights
Reading the hacked PC shows why Miller is so secretive as the game highlights

Hacking into Miller's email unearths a conversation between him and some one called Neil. The conversation is discussing the health of Miller's daughter, who needs augmentations to survive. Miller is reluctant to agree, having witnessed the persecution taking place in Prague. At first I assumed the other user was a doctor or a brother. Looking around Miller's apartment through, I discovered photos of Miller with his daughter and another man as a happy family. I realised the other man was Miller's husband arguing about the health of their child. This really changed my view on Miller's character. He went from being uninteresting military man to an actual human being with motivations and character. The representation of Miller is totally different to most put forward by games, putting the character in a same-sex relationship is depressingly striking thanks to how rare these portrayals are. That Miller is a standard military-style character becomes a positive, as portrayals of non-heterosexual characters in this role are even more rare. I really enjoyed the representation of Miller in this regard, he's an actual person who happens no to be straight.

The happy, secretive family
The happy, secretive family

Obviously, the game is enormously fun and hugely open compared to many others. The choice granted to the player in approaching objectives is welcome. It's a huge and really engaging game. Some of my personal favourite aspects of the game are its story-related representations of themes such as oppression and victimisation and its characters which are really interesting and present different and valuable portrays to many other games.