Deus Ex: 2011 Revolution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a timely released video game, reflecting on current economic affairs. In this article, Robert August de Meijer describes how the game not only features, but also lets the player be part of a virtual world stemming from the same economic principles that are currently leading to protests around the world, and perhaps leading to the protests in the near future as shown in the video game. With neo-liberal capitalism creating a new class, “the precariat” (as described by Guy Standing), the game mirrors their oppression with a possible future tool of oppression: transhumanist technology.
The background: protests throughout the United States against increasing disparity between those who have, and those who cannot. Surely, Deus Ex: Human Revolution could not have been released at a better time. The game is not exactly about why thousands have decided to "occupy" Wall Street and other places, but its virtual dilemmas stem from the same seed: capitalism without regulation. The third Deus Ex-game is a prequel that goes back in time to a near future (2027), offering the player ways to gain perspective into current complex problems by letting the player observe and interact with those who are victim and those who benefit.
Human Revolution, a game where the player mediates between the poor and the rich, is practically demanding a Marxist analysis. Indeed, the mode of production, in this case biotechnology, serves as a tool to oppress the lower class. In the game, biotechnology is able to substantially increase the player's abilities, both physically (as witnessed in the game, biomods allow more strength and dexterity) and mentally (scan devices increase awareness and help interpret how people think). In the game's society, those with the income to purchase such improvements allow themselves to become more effective in the economy. Naturally, this leads to viscous circles in which the rich enhance their careers, while the poor are left behind.
This divergence mirrors the current neoliberal agenda of creating the economic class, the precariat, as described by Guy Standing. In his recent work he writes how free market economics have embraced “flexibility of the labor market”, which in practice leads to an uncertainty of work, leading to i.a. less income, less social benefits, little career development, insecure living standards. He likens the precariat as “denizens”, which are people who have a more limited range of citizen rights. This class is not like what we consider the “working class”, which Standing considers to be little more than an evocative label. The reality is that we would need a new vocabulary reflecting class relations in the global market system of the twenty-first century. We witness these class relations in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution fully embraces this new notion of the lower class. Society is not divided by how much income one earns, but by those who can actually have income, and those who cannot. Those who are not bioaugmentated to get ahead in society are depicted as denizens. In Detroit, they live in the slums, hidden behind corporate skyscrapers, embracing prostitution and crime as a way to make ends meet. Ironically, even these activities are performed more successfully by those who are augmented. In Singapore, the city is literally divided by an upper and lower class: the successful have built an enormous platform on top of the old city. Traffic between these two areas is non-existent, and the people above prefer it that way.
The citizens are aware of their situation and constantly riot against the corporations making biotechnology. On a closer scale, the game lets the player interact with victims of the class struggle. One woman borrowed money to purchase the necessary augmentations in order to pass law school. Having succeeded, she is now encumbered by the loans she must pay back. The police force, which could otherwise keep excessive abuse of biotechnology in check, is perceived in this world as lackluster compared to the private, technology enhanced, security that companies enforce. Every corner of the street witnesses a survival-of-the-fittest mentality that goes hand in hand with free market ideals, be it drug dealers, shops and their owners, mafia wars or black market biomodifications.
The companies, too, are not exempt to the heavy competition. In Human Revolution, a large part of the plot is uncovering the corruption and sabotage that companies undertake in order to gain an advantage over their competitors, such as cyber warfare, conspiracies and bombings. This corruption and sabotage is also felt directly by the player: Adam Jensen, the main character that you play, is forced by his company to have biomodification implemented in order to perform his job better. Later it is revealed that he, among other children at a young age, was treated to experiments to further biotechnological improvements.
Altogether, the game offers a virtual world to interact with the consequences of the combination of current free market principles and transhumanistic possibilities. Ian Bogost, an important theorist on so-called “serious games”, claims that the power of their message lies not only in their content, but especially their procedural rhetoric: the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions (rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures). Deus Ex: Human Revolution, with its ability to become a biomodified agent and interact with a complex world under the strain of transhumanism's economical possibilities, is a prime example of how the medium of video games can execute this procedural rhetoric. Considering what we've been witness to on the news, perhaps this game could not have been released any sooner.
About the author
Robert August de Meijer has a Master in Literary Studies and a Bachelor in Language and Cultural Studies. He is a freelance journalist, book editor and translator. He has worked at playthisthing! and videogames.nl and currently writes blogs for Bashers. Robert is actively involved in socialism. He loves dissecting gameplay and stories.
Bogost, Ian, Persuasive Games, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007
Standing, Guy, The Precariat, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal, Square-Enix, 2011