The latest video game in the Deus Ex series was released on Aug. 23, 2016. The preceding title Deus Ex: Human Revolution was featured here in an Aug. 18, 2011 post where I focused on the real life augmentation research, which influenced the game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the latest and fourth installation in the series, is focused on the social and ethical implications of augmentation according to an Aug. 30, 2016 posting by Matthew Bulger for thehumanist.com,
One recent release has transhumanists and humanists alike captivated. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the fourth game in the Deus Ex franchise made [published] by the Japanese company Square Enix [the game is developed by Canadian Eidos Montreal], is a visually stunning masterpiece that has gamers considering the impact of their decisions and prejudices just as often as it has them killing some bad guys.
Mankind Divided takes place in the year 2029, in a future in which humanity has begun to augment itself with emerging biotechnology. Those without limbs are able to purchase hyper-responsive and durable augmented arms and legs, as well as other augmentations that prolong life or increase strength and stealth. Many of those who use the augmentations are regular people, from soldiers and police officers who lost limbs in the call of duty to grandparents who simply wish to be strong and energetic enough to keep up with their overactive grandchildren.
Unfortunately, in this world, society is divided about the use of augmentation technology and in the midst of an existential crisis about what it means to be human. This soul-searching is only complicated by an incident that took place several years before the start of the game, in which people with augmentations lost control of their bodies and began to attack others at random as a result of a hardware malfunction caused by an unknown terrorist organization.
In the wake of this attack and because of the revolutionary nature of augmentations, human society starts to repress and isolate those who are augmented. A UN Resolution passes in the wake of the attack requiring the world’s nearly seven million augmented people to preemptively register with police forces in order to ensure that their behavior is monitored, and many augmented people are being sent to isolated desert cities to live separate from the rest of humanity.
This backstory and political developments make Deus Ex: Mankind Divided an important game because it not only shows the amazing potential of human ingenuity and scientific research, but because it deals seriously with several important questions: What limits should society place on technological advancement? What are the defining features of humanity and human existence? How discriminatory and oppressive should national and global governments be in order to prevent potential catastrophes?
Not unexpectedly, the game has sparked some controversies according to its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
The developers of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided came up with the term “mechanical apartheid” for the repulsion and distrust shown by natural people towards augmented people in the game. However, the use of the term caused controversy; the developers were criticized for using it, especially due to the historical use of the term “apartheid”, referring to discrimination against blacks in South Africa. The game was accused of being racist and racially insensitive by some critics. Eidos Montreal’s Jonathan Jacques-Belletete responded in an interview that he felt the complaints were “ridiculous” and justified the use of the term as appropriate for the game since the Deus Ex franchise is about human nature, which has historically repeated trends of segregation. Mary DeMarle, the executive narrative director of the game, responded to the controversy by saying that they are trying to present the issues of the world without judging anyone for their actions. Gilles Matouba, the former director of the game and a black Frenchman, added that the term was coined by him and Andre Vu, an Asian Frenchman who is the brand director of the Deus Ex franchise and they wanted to offer the audience something unique and something that was close and personal to them. He continued, saying that racism was a dark part of human nature and they wanted to treat this subject. He also scorned those who had criticized the developers for using the term, especially those who had suggested they were all white.
The usage of the term “Augs Live Matter” in the game caused controversy; with critics alleging it was trying to appropriate the Black Lives Matter movement including BioWare designer Manveer Heir who claimed the game’s narrative might come across as anti-black even if it was not. Andre Vu however denied the accusations claiming the phrase was coined before the movement started and stated that it was an “unfortunate coincidence”.
I wonder if the developers/narrators are feeling somewhat satisfied that their games has touched on hot button issues. That’s something a lot of artists, filmmakers, and writers strive for.