Deus Ex (Series)
Deus Ex is a series of science fiction, first-person action games developed by Ion Storm Inc and Eidos Montreal. It includes three games: Deus Ex (2000), Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011). While each game in the storyline takes place at a different futuristic time period, the setting remains the same. Each game’s protagonist has several human augmentations, ranging from augmented physical capabilities to neuro-enhancing social awareness chips. Throughout the series, overarching tones of corporate power have taken a large role. By the second story period, corporations have replaced traditional government as major power holders. Ethical implications arise due to the nature of the game which gives the player control to make morally complicated decisions.
Each game is played from a first-person perspective. The player uses an assortment of guns and other weapons to work their way through missions. A key feature of the series is diversity of choice. The player is often able to take alternate routes to accomplish their missions, offering a potentially different play experience every time the game is played. As the story proceeds, the player gains experience points that are able to be spent on various augmentations to upgrade their character’s abilities. A player will never be able to fully maximize their player’s abilities, but is given the option to pick and choose how they will develop their playstyle through the augmentations they take. Due to this feature, each Deus Ex game has been highly praised for its open-ended style of progression, both through the story and in the main character themselves.
The first game in the series by release date, Deus Ex, features the plight of JC Denton, an agent working within an organization by the name of UNATCO. His dedication to the organization becomes his downfall when he discovers that UNATCO has been propagating the very virus outbreak he believed they were working to prevent. His belief in the purpose of UNATCO leads to his brother’s murder at the hands of UNATCO, forcing him to flee in an attempt to do the right thing for the world and stop the virus. Through his efforts, it’s revealed that a powerful man by the name of Bob Page is seeking to merge his conscious with a highly advanced Artificial Intelligence. By the end of the game, it is revealed to JC that he must make a choice between three outcomes. He must choose to merge with the AI himself and in doing so, ascend to a higher level of humanity, or plunge the world into an era without modern technology, or join a shadowy organization known as the Illuminati that is said to pull the strings of the major corporations running the world. The player makes this choice having met and experienced the lives of many fellow humans along their path, knowing their actions influence them all.
The second game, Deus Ex: The Invisible War, takes place twenty years after the original, in which Alex Denton (a clone of JC Denton born some years later) lives in a society ravaged by an event called The Collapse. The Collapse marks an era of economic upheaval and warfare, with multiple corporations holding much of the power worldwide. In keeping with the themes of the first game, secretive connections between these corporations are revealed as the player picks and chooses at plot junctions as they see fit. JC Denton, now merged with the AI from the first game, seeks to modify the entire human race with augmentations in order to bring a sense of equality back to the species. It is within the player’s power to ensure this vision becomes reality, or if another corporation pushes forward with its own agenda.
The most recent game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is a prequel to Deus Ex, occurring 25 years before the original. It focuses on Adam Jensen in an era where the development of human augmentations and increasing corporate power threatens to destabilize society along a political fault between pro- and con- human augmentation. Following a catastrophic attack on the augmentation development company Adam works at, he receives military-grade augmentations that seem to leave him as clearly more than human. His story centers on finding the attackers and taking back the research materials stolen, as they indicate the methods required to fully realize the potential of augmentation. In investigating the attack, he uncovers multinational conspiracy and experimentation, culminating in the discovery of a massive, human-brain powered supercomputer capable of intense calculation and mass influence through automated decision making. In addition, one of the pioneering human augmentation developers unleashes a virus-like attack that causes augmented humans to act violently against their will. Like the first two games, the player is left with a decision at the end of the game. Adam is able to choose how to explain the attack, whether to blame pro- or con- augmentation groups, or to destroy the facility housing the machine causing the virus (and his own life) in order to allow popular decision to take over and decide its cause.
Shadow Groups and Censorship
In the original Deus Ex, it becomes apparent from the beginning that much of the world's governments and conflicts are controlled or influenced by third parties such as the Illuminati and the Majestic Twelve, among others. Morality comes into play quickly as at certain points in the series the player is made to choose actions that benefit at least one of these organizations and their ulterior motives and goals. Often, these organizations seek to hide things from the public eye.
In Human Revolution, the end of the game presents the player with a difficult choice: tell the truth and likely cause massive public unrest, blame the disaster on anti-augmentation groups and pave the way for augmentation to become commonplace, blame the disaster on augmentation corporations and likely outlaw augmentations for the foreseeable future, or destroy himself and the facility to allow no bias. The CEO of Sarif Industries, the head of Purity First (the prominent anti-augmentation group), and the man behind the disaster all ask Jensen to take their advice and choose differently. As the entire game has made the anti-aug groups out as mainly terrorist organizations and augmentation as a boon, the player is faced with a difficult decision as the "right thing to do" does not coincide with the most beneficial choice, as telling the truth is presented as a choice that will likely end negatively for everyone.
The steady transfer of power from national governments to international corporations is prominent throughout the series. Deus Ex: Human Revolution in particular scrutinizes this shift through its portrayal of news corporations and augmentation development firms that push agendas that suit them. Corporations have worked past the point of existing for profit, and now have begun to exist as a power structure. By Deus Ex: Invisible War, corporations are the only true power, representing a faction-like political system. Government protection of corporate rights, including the introduction of free speech rights and free press rights, has allowed these corporations to flourish and overtake the governments allowing them their power. This balance resonates in our own political system, with the decision in Citizen’s United causing much controversy over whether or not corporations can be protected by the same rights granted to humans.
During Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it’s revealed that one corporation’s news anchor, a woman named Eliza, is not a human, but an AI capable of making complex decisions. The AI filters what information makes it to the news, how to portray it, and who sees it. In this way, the AI makes decisions that are potentially outside her creators’ consideration, modifying society in a profound way. By influencing the thoughts and feelings of citizens, it’s called into question who is responsible for decisions made based on these feelings. These decisions can range from voting to protests, and have caused deep divides amongst the populace.
In Deus Ex, JC Denton may come across an AI called Morpheus, who speaks to JC about the fundamentals of humankind. While JC has a very bureaucratic perspective of human nature and fundamental rights, the AI he speaks with has a much more purely rational view of the matter. The conversation JC and Morpheus engage in reveals that the AI has developed its own beliefs about humanity, one that differs greatly from what most humans believe. The AI was developed by an Illuminati member with the intent of using it as a manipulation tool. With this AI used in this manner, it’s not inconceivable that the AI has the ability to make decisions based on its own rationality, acting in a way it was not explicitly programmed to do. The result is the portrayal of an AI conscious that can and will transcend the ability to think and act, much in the same way a human does.
This is further portrayed by the ending that allows JC to merge with the Helios AI. By combing his conscious with Helios’, JC has ascended from one state of humanity to an entirely more advanced one. Whether he can be called human or not is called into question in his reappearance in Deus Ex: Invisible War. His fused conscious calls into question whether or not he is making decisions from a human mind, or a mind that no longer qualifies as being human. His plight to save and equalize humanity is cast in doubt, as it’s unclear if it stems from compassion, or from rigid, machine-like beliefs.
A common theme amongst all games in the series is human augmentation. Simply referred to as “augs”, all three main characters have many of them on various parts of their body. Canonically, they’re expensive to receive, but improve human ability on a grand scale. Anti-augmentation sentiment is often expressed during Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as a major plot point is the growing divide between those who support and do not support augmentation. The common argument made against augmentations is the fact that it begins to cross the line marking what is and is not human. Anti-augmentation forces see human augmentation as unnatural, unclean, and unholy, and the opposite side generally sees it as simply human progress. The line is grayed by the fact that augmentations are often used to improve or even save lives, as is the case with Adam Jensen. With the rapid growth of the technology, regulation and control cannot keep up, and citizens have begun to fear oppression from “super soldiers” with heavily augmented bodies.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place chronologically earlier than the original Deus Ex and is a prequel to the series. In the time period of DE:HR, augmentations are mechanical, whereas the augmentations in the previous games were "nano-augmentations", being of a more subtle nature than the robotic, cyborg-like replacement limbs and organs of Human Revolution. A growing conflict highlights the public debate over the morality of augmentations. The protagonist's main benefactor and employer, David Sarif, is the CEO of Sarif Industries and sees augmentation as the path to the next stage of human evolution. However, as the player discovers through conversations, news broadcasts, and eavesdropping, augmentations are incredibly expensive and require the users to constantly take the drug Neuropozine. The body continually attacks the foreign augmentations, so drug therapy is required to halt rejection and retain augmentations. "Neuro-poz" or "No-poz", as it is called, has become a major black market good, as it is likewise extremely expensive and the withdrawal from it results in augmentation rejection and death. As many poor employees of the massive augmentation and biotechnology industries are given basic augmentations, their employment to their parent companies becomes a literal lifeline and concerns are raised over the morality of the practice. The protagonist of Human Revolution utters the informal slogan of the game when speaking of his non-consensual augmentation: "I didn't ask for this." As Jensen was saved from near-death by Sarif Industries and David Sarif, he is constantly conflicted about whether or not he accepts what was done to him to save his life.
By Deus Ex: Invisible War, augmentations have become very common. They are not universal, though JC Denton believes and fights for them to be. His desire is to force the human race into its next stage of evolution through augmentation, though the control of these augmentations if often shown to be lacking. In particular, the virus-like attack that hits augmented citizens in Human Revolution is a clear example of the developers of augmentations manipulating them in an unethical manner, proving the concept that an augmented human subjects their body to potentially more external control than regular humans do. They allow themselves to be at least partially regulated by manmade machines, devices who do not necessarily follow human ethical standards.