deus ex (machina)

Deus Ex Machina is a literary device whereby a seemingly unsolved problem is resolved by a new character, event, ability or object.

Deus Ex is a videogame whereby the player character resolves issues that were seemingly inextricable. So in the case of Deus Ex, the player character is the deus ex machina.

This ties in a lot to Warren Spector’s design philosophy. Stories that aren’t just told to the audience, but told with the audience. The game is called Deus Ex, because it is a deus ex machina that is missing a machine(or the closest human equivalent).

The essence of RPGs Part 1

There are three RPGs I will be looking at; Deus Ex, Mass Effect and The Witcher. All three of these use very similiar design concepts. These games aren’t exactly hardcore turn-based RPGs, they are modern Action RPGs. Deus Ex, Mass Effect and The Witcher use the essence of Role Playing Games to modify the strategies applied to action scenarios. The way that they do this also has a metaphoric effect on the narrative.

Temporary Preemptive Nouns

Many Role Playing Games have variety in the enemies they include. Different enemies require different nouns for the player to use against them. The three games I’ve chosen also expect the player to preemptively determine what enemies they are going to face, so that they can load up on the right equipment. Whether that equipment be; potions, blade coatings, suits, ammo-types, temporary weapon upgrades or certain bits of armour.

Deus Ex has enemies spanning from opinionated terrorists to automated machinery. The preemptive choices of weaponry are made according to how “human” the enemies are. It is suggested that; human beings are subjected to non-lethal means of dispatch. Of course in Deus Ex the player can choose whether to kill the terrorists or not, but it is still dependent on what the player sees the enemy as. Does the player see the NSF as blood-thirsty terrorists or humane freedom-fighters. It is also a comment on the theme of trans-humanism, because the player can choose to use either bullets or EMP to take down an augmented enemy.

Permanent Adjectives (Part 2)

Heroic Icons: JC Denton additional

Last time I spoke of JC Denton as metaphoric link to authoritarian rule, I’m going to go through that in more detail.

The nano-augmentations that JC Denton receives throughout the game are easily implemented, but are near to impossible to disable. Without clear cohesive planning you could comprise a potential augmentation slot (which is limiting your freedoms). If you make these decisions hastily and impulsively, you could receive a bit of temporary safety, but it severly damage your success later (and limits your freedoms). Think of the nano-augs as authoritarian laws, that are implemented in an impulse cry for help in response of terror. Terrorism is also a major overtone and theme in Deus Ex. Think of the killswitch as the bail-out of authoritarian laws, when politicians stop seeing benefit they will abandon the idea.

So, what is the alternative? Temporary solutions that work and long term investments that don’t jeopardize future prospects. Such as generic weaponry and upgrades to weaponry, which are easily renewable or long term investments like upgrading your skill levels. Although skill levels are permanent, they don’t have impact on other skill levels, they only effect your access to resources. Think of the temporary weaponry as police services (metaphorically of course) and think of skill levels as infrastructure builds to increase safety (like safe rooms, escape routes).

Aren’t these links just circumstantial? For most games with this kind of link, it is probably just circumstantial. Especially because, the relation between game-play nouns is standard for most most Role Playing Games, but knowing Warren Spector’s style it is probably intentional. If so I commend Warren for directing Deus Ex.

Heroic Icons: JC Denton

Considering how large and dense Deus Ex is, you might want to play it before you read this.

“Being a soldier isn’t just following orders, it’s following those orders in the service of a higher cause. When that cause is betrayed, we’re not soldiers anymore, just pieces on a chess board dying for the wrong reason.”

JC DentonLike Gordon Freeman, JC Denton has a past with little importance to the player. The character’s past is really only provided to justify location. The plot is built around the actions of JC Denton, ethical and tactical decisions made by the player and motive decisions made by the protagonist. Deus Ex is a story following the most radical man on the planet and puts game-play to good use to portray such.

When playing The Nameless Mod (a mod for Deus Ex), you can enter a store consisting of fan-made books relating to Deus Ex. The owner of the store claims that the level of moral choice in Deus Ex allows the player to morph his/her/its personality onto JC Denton. I’m here to say that that is completely wrong. In Deus Ex you are only the protagonist in terms of logical and ethical thinking everything else is in a fixed line and the ethical side only lasts long enough to establish political motive. The ethical choices made by the player only delays the inevitable, you can either try to fix UNATCO or follow protocol. The end result remains the same.

The player effects the protagonist by determining what skills the character will inherit. The player also dictates JC Denton’s opinions and motivations, but the game-play simply provides too much a gap between the player and protagonist for The Nameless Mod statement to be true. Like Mass Effect the ethical choice is only limited to two decisions, you are really only choosing a character from two preset ideals. The bloodthirsty oppressor and the humble pacifist, both of which are portrayed by their relation to other characters.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” -Edward R. Murrow

The UNATCO logo.In the beginning of the game when you work for UNATCO, JC is judged by ALL of his colleagues (except of course the soldiers). JC Denton is a prototype to be assessed, mainly because of the rules that govern how nano-augs operate, but after a while his actions begin to teach them more than just tactical efficiency. Many of the people that remain loyal to JC are colleagues that oversee his operations. Leading by example, he shows these people that the current system is bullshit. Authoritarian laws, to some seem to be necessary for smooth operation and to others are easily broken (and need to be broken).

The kill-switch in JC’s body are (in a way) an authoritarian law established to be unbreakable, but in practice it can and must be broken for any true progress to be made. The entire objective in Hong Kong prior to fixing the kill-switch, is merely to confirm everyone’s prior opinion and no progression in the plot can be made until that objective is completed. In the eyes of leaders such as Joseph Manderley and Walton Simons, JC is a defect.

“You can’t run, Denton. Even if you escape, your killswitch is counting down. You’ll be dead in twenty-three hours. Another fifty billion dollars down the drain.”

The entire plot of Deus Ex is one large conspiracy, threaded together by other conspiracy theories in the real world. The art style and atmosphere of Deus Ex has a lot to do with it. Having every single level in a night time setting, helps enforce the overtones of stealth and conspiracy. Everyone knows that of course.

I’ve run out of thoughts, oh well. Commander Shepard is next.

The Grand School Holidays Checklist

Over the school holidays I will strive to complete these things:

  1. Review Amnesia
  2. Review the games I buy during the Steam gimmick; Pokernight, Chime and Shatter
  3. Submit game ideas. (1/2 completed)
  4. Play and analyze games portraying the “Hero’s Story”. Mass Effect, Deus Ex and Half Life. EDIT: Maybe even The Witcher, if I get time.
  5. Play and analyze games portraying the military and what is the meaning behind them. Call of Duty (Infinity Ward branch), Gears of War and maybe Medal of Honor (don’t own this yet).
  6. Write a negative review.

I already have a good idea of what to write about 4 and 5, but the details I need are still a bit sketchy. In order to complete Mass Effect and Deus Ex analyzing I’ll probably need to replay them, which would take quite a while.

A picture of Commander Shepard.

I'm commander Shepard and this is my favourite blog on the Citadel. (inside joke)