Hello everyone! Last week I introduced you all to what I think is not only a great video game, but a great example to us writers as a very well executed sci-fi world. Last week I covered my basic impressions on the game as a world, and this week I want to dig into the major philosophical problem in the story, which I think is a great example of success where most writers fail.
The World of Deus Ex: Human Revolution
As I hinted at in the section title of last week’s post, Deus Ex: Human Revolution plays with a lot of deep philosophical themes, many of which are common to the cyberpunk genre. The title alone is a play on the phrase “Deus Ex Machina”, which is Latin for “god out of the machine”, which is a plot device in which a seemingly impossible problem is suddenly solved in a sudden, often humorously contrived way. This came out of greek theator, where at the end of a play, an actor dressed up as one of the gods would be hoisted onto the stage via a pulley system (the machine), say a few words, and solve the conflict of the plot. It is considered bad form and cliche unless it is purposefully satirical, and I’m sure all of you have run into a movie or story that has ended this way, much to your annoyance and confusion. In the case of Deus Ex, however, this play on words references the philosophical problem of making man into gods through the augmentation of technology.
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, two factions have emerged in society: those who favor augmentation as an advancement of the human species, and those who scorn it as a science gone wrong. People like David Sarif, who runs one of the world’s several large cybernetics developers, see their work as the savior of mankind, and there is undeniable proof that their work has done the world a great deal of good. However, there is also Bill Taggart and the Humanity Front, who want to convince the UN to regulate the cybernetics industry to try to slow the spread of the new technology until it can be adequately controlled. There are also normal people on both sides of the argument, many of whom you can hear debating the issue during the game, which makes it clear that this is a global problem and not something left for the intellectual powerhouses of the day.
It seems that every story nowadays has to have some huge moral dilemma, but most fail to actually create a meaningful one. Whether or not to burn down a village full of innocent children is not a much of a moral dilemma to most people, and writers always seem to feel the need to up the ante in a contrived fashion (Ex: The children’s village is sitting on top of a dark portal to the underworld, and unless all of the children burn to death in their beds, that portal will open and the world will end!). Deus Ex’s dilemma, however, feels real. Yes, augmentation can give wounded vets back their mobility, can cure blindness, and advances can make people safer and more capable in their daily lives, but it all comes at a cost. Neuropozyne is expensive, and anyone who has augmentations installed must have it to survive. This issue has destroyed people’s lives, driving them to suicide, crime, and riots in the streets of the future world.
There are extreme sides in the issue, of course, but most characters are not overly polarized. David Sarif, for instance, realizes that augmentation technology has its flaws, but he sees Neuropozyne problem as a mere scientific hurdle that, once it is cleared, will become unimportant in the long run. Taggart and the Humanity Front are for regulations, but they also allow for the aid of people in need, if they so choose. They claim to have no problem with wounded vets getting prosthetic replacements, but offer programs to have them removed and treatments for those who want to get off Neuropozyne.
This is one of the few times that I think I’ve experienced an actual moral quandary in a story. I was not force-fed any opinion, and was actually forced to come to my own conclusions on the debate as I played the game, and it actually got me thinking about the state of our own world, and the larger debate of scientific ethics. How far is too far, and should mankind be allowed to pursue godhood through his own machinations?This is what effective literature does: it calls us to reexamine our perspectives, and to think critically about important topics in our world, even if the story’s issues don’t translate directly.
To anyone interested, I’m sure you can pick up a used copy of this great game on amazon, or else support the game industry directly by purchasing a new copy for a little more. Next week, I’m going to get into some of the tech of the story world, which I think illustrates many of the things I’ve been saying in my Science Fiction Problems posts over the last year. Until then, has anyone else played this game, or any of the others in the Deus Ex series (I’ve heard Invisible War wasn’t very good)? Anyone else come across a moral dilemma in a story that actually got them to stop and think? Let me know in the comments below!