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If thereʼs an idea thatʼs supplanted any other in my 19 years of life, itʼs letting go of “right” and “wrong”. Correctness is an idea I run up against everyday in my life, and itʼs not one I believe in anymore. I was raised on the idea that in every moment there was a “right” and a “wrong,” and that the distinction was always present, always important. It is frustrating to meet people my age who still cling to this bit of dishonesty. Itʼs my pleasure to talk to all kinds people and learn more about them, but conversations with an absolutist are always a little lethargic. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that feels built from rejecting this absolutism, instead asserting the idea that you can be satisfied by whatever it is that satisfies you. Itʼs a game about empowerment, but not in the way video games have traditionally come to be. Although itʼs possible to take on the violent, overly-aggressive persona thatʼs typical in video games, itʼs just as possible to become the antithesis — a pacifist problem-solver, a manipulative two-face, and the shades found between. Itʼs not the first game to offer branching problem solving, but it might be the first to do it meaningfully on this scale. It validates this kind of game design as something that can be entertaining, artistic, and wonderfully satisfying. Human Revolution is a game about transhumanism, the idea of binding biology and technology to transcend our biological limits. Hereʼs a question we should be asking: are we defined by our limits or our willingness to move past them? In 2011, the concept of human augmentation is mostly hypothetical compared to how it appears in Deus Ex. Weʼre far from fully-functional synthetic limbs, augmented senses, and machine-like strength. Our idea of augmentation exists only in minor ethical issues like drug enhancement or steroid abuse, but theyʼre the progenitors to the kind of questions Deus Ex poses. Drugs and performance enhancers are a step toward a dream-like singularity of technology and biology, a time that will beg us to define our humanity and whether weʼre willing to transcend it. The exciting part of Deus Ex is that this ethical issue is occasionally buried in the gameplay. Deus Ex can be described as an action-stealth RPG, and less descriptive still is that you can hold a gun, and you can shoot people. The game is best described by its augmentation system: in Deus Ex you play Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT and augmented human whose DNA luckily removes him from the need for Neuropozyne, one of the nasty inconveniences of human augmentation that requires regular dosages for the augmented to stay healthy. You upgrade Jensen with better augments that help him deal with obstacles in his environment. Most augments make Jensen a better killer, but many work to make the more pacifist choices prettier, too. The game lets you circumnavigate direct conflict if you like, leaving the adrenaline of gunfights for the satisfaction of being quiet and humane. As always, the decision whether to shoot someone will always be more interesting than the mechanics it takes to do it, and Human Revolution embraces this if you let it. Gunfights are always an option, one for which the game wonʼt punish you but will give you fair consequences. What augments you give Adam Jensen will determine the easiest way to handle them. Even as it encourages pacifism, itʼs frustrating that the meat of Deus Ex pivots around violence. As a narrative on the ethics of augmentation, itʼs a disingenuous blind-eye to the kind of experience living as a mechanical human being might be. Human Revolutionʼs best moments are when your actions dredge up some ethical conundrum with no right or wrong answer, and the gunplay and violence will only occasionally do that. Violence is conflict at its breaking point. When Deus Ex allows you to negotiate between the space between conflictʼs beginning and end, its design sings. Perhaps you will decide the fate of a prostitute whose handlers want her to become augmented against her wishes. Perhaps youʼll need to confront someoneʼs prejudices over human augmentation. These situations might include violence, but itʼs important to recognize that they donʼt require it. When Deus Ex understands that, it feels like something significant; when it forgets that, itʼs forgettable. And so Human Revolutionʼs boss battles stand directly against the ethos it builds for itself. These dull sections ask you to kill unthinkingly, and they are best ignored. Itʼs a shame that these encounters are here - they blemish an otherwise admirable game - but the upside is their inclusion highlights just how silly the idea of a boss battle is in 2011. Thereʼs something startlingly inhuman about letting clip after clip of bullets into a person, openly evil “boss” or no. Why are we always humanityʼs last hope against an epic situation? Itʼs a dishonest crumb of manipulation thatʼs survived into modern game design, and here might be best evidence of it. And yes, perhaps thereʼs still room for this antiquity, but that room is smaller than it once was. We are growing old for it. It should be noted that the art of this game is beautiful. Jonathan Jacques- Belletete (and everyone involved) combined the baroque sensibility of the renaissance with sleek, cyberpunk chic, and the game is worth playing for that alone. In one section Jensen enters the most cultured corporate office I have ever seen. If you must quibble over the characterʼs stiff animation and robotic faces, at least enjoy what theyʼre wearing. I have never more wanted to start wearing trench coats. Deus Ex: Human Revolution gives you the power to transcend human limits and then, at its best, confronts you with the implications of what it would mean. Iʼd like it more were it less predicated on action and gunplay, but Iʼm told thatʼs asking too much. It seems to me that anyone who enjoys shooting people will best be served elsewhere anyway. Why not let us indulge more in fumbling through the moral gray ground? It is, for video games, unfamiliar and welcome. Deus Ex is not just a jumping-off point for a conversation about the ethics of transhumanism, but a conversation in itself. Above all, this is what I want a video game to be: a conversation, an exchange between player and author, one I can thaw out at and have at any time. The best conversations are fraught with disagreement, or, at least, the spirit of it. I learn more when people disagree with me. One of the great joys of life is to be presented with something strange, murky, and unfamiliar, and to articulate how you feel about it. These are rare to find from people, much less in video games. When Iʼve found them, they have been, at best, a few hours, usually a few minutes. But hereʼs a conversation that is interesting, exciting, dark, and even troubling - for over a dozen hours. I feel more human for having had it.


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