Thought-provoking media has always been fantastic. Media can become timeless with relevant social and political commentary that leaves a strong impact. Basing stories in reality can allow unrealistic fiction seem realistic and relevant. This is why books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and films like Network are so popular and still relevant to this day.
Games often don’t get credit for this as much, however, many deserve it. Metal Gear games often touch on the dangers of nuclear weaponry. Mass Effect portrays alien civilizations and the challenges they face that are similar to our own. While the gameplay was a little disappointing, Watch Dogs illustrated how advanced computers had access to our information and took subtle control over our lives.
One game that particularly deserves credit for its political commentary is Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. While the series has touched on many social and political themes before, right now it feels more relevant than ever. While many of the side quests explore different themes, three core topics are highly relevant to today’s political and social climate.
The game’s title really is true of its story. After the Aug Incident, many fear and distrust augmented people. They had been promised a much better life with augmented parts but instead are far worse off. Augmented people are subject to profiling, segregation, and constant media attacks. They are now viewed as the enemy, discriminated against, and exploited. Feeling they have nothing to lose, many end up joining terrorist groups and becoming the enemy.
Adam Jensen, the protagonist, was augmented after suffering fatal injuries. Unlike most, Jensen didn’t choose his augments. He is called a “clank” and state police stop him and ask for his papers every opportunity they get. Many NPCs will blame “your kind” when referring to attacks committed by augmented terrorists. Despite actively working to stop terrorist threats, Jensen is seen as just as guilty as one. Outside of a few allied characters and the Augmented Rights Coalition, few stand up for Adam and other augmented people like him.
Society automatically sees people with augmented parts as a threat. Jensen may be a strong and capable agent who can hold his own, but ordinary augmented people feel threatened and terrified in similar situations. It’s a strong parallel. How many augmented people really are dangerous terrorists? The same could be asked about Muslims living in the West. How many augmented people are stopped constantly by police only want the same treatment as everyone else? The same question could be asked about African Americans stopped by police on the assumption of carrying drugs.
Dependence on Technology
Dependence on technology is a clear theme throughout the Deus Ex series. Human Revolution brought many concerns to light about human-controlled evolution. This led to augmentation being almost a requirement to compete in the workplace.
Technology is easy to exploit in multiple ways. Throughout the game, the player can use it to their advantage by hacking their way into most computers and learning top secret information. You can read emails and hack messenger apps, among other things. Doing this exposes corruption, but it also reveals many things about the private lives of ordinary people. As Jensen, you decide what to do with that knowledge. But what’s perhaps most powerful is that, unlike many RPGs, the game doesn’t give you an explicit “good” or “bad” option. It’s just “your” option. You decide whether what you’re doing is right.
Depending on technology can also lead to vulnerability, which the wrong people can exploit. Today, as our use of technology grows, so does our vulnerability to its flaws. As our phones, watches, cars, and computers link up to the web, so does our personal information. With improper security and care, that information can easily end up in the wrong hands.
Corporations control an awful lot of Deus Ex’s world, and the worst of them exploit their people. Augmentations may benefit people greatly, but they also require regular doses of Neuropozyne to prevent the body from rejecting them. The suppliers of Neuropozyne may run out of it, raise prices, or stop producing it altogether. Becoming augmented has made them dependent on a drug that will cost them fortunes. This is one of many examples of powerful corporations exploiting the public for profits.
Every augmented person has a biochip implanted in them. However, what they don’t know is that it puts them under the control of the Illuminati who desire a New World Order. A rogue caused the Aug Incident, and as a result caused a wave of hatred towards innocent augmented people. Becoming augmented unknowingly made people puppets of an elite corporation, and not just for profits. Yet it’s the people who chose to be augmented who suffer the consequences, not the elite.
The Illuminati and the New World Order are conspiracy theories in Deus Ex. While it’s more subtle in the real world, corporations have a lot of control over our lives. Corporate lobbyists wield a lot of power in ensuring the government passes laws that benefit corporate interests rather than that of the people. Corporations own most media outlets, and must appeal to corporate advertisers. This leads to a subtle control of the narrative. Hatred towards groups of people increased after the 2008 economic crash, but the bankers and corporations who played a big part in causing the crash were bailed out. All of this leads to increasingly powerful private corporations subtly controlling our lives.
If anything, the only real criticism of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s narrative themes are that some aren’t portrayed powerfully enough. Playing as Jensen is different than playing as some of the vulnerable augmented people he meets. So, it’s hard to feel threatened when police stop him rather than just irritated. It’s also hard to feel the financial effects of Neuropozyne dependence that many people have when Jensen doesn’t require it himself.
But Deus Ex: Mankind Divided discusses many socially and politically relevant themes. Its dystopian future is a terrifyingly believable one based on what happens today. In this political climate, few games cover these type of relevant topics to a similar extent, so Deus Ex: Mankind Divided deserves a lot of credit.