When Philosophy and Gaming intersect…
Since the dawn of time, creators have striven to elevate their work by carefully weaving in a point whose purpose is to leave the observer thinking. Music, movies, literature or basically any form of creative expression and entertainment have walked that path, some definitely more successful than others.
Games weren’t far behind. For years, many people looked down on games and laughed at the idea that something which is digital and merely designed to “be played” can make us think or potentially introduce us to a higher idea than the cynical 1’s and 0’s on screen.
The medium has come a long way since then. While it is true that a good number of attempts have missed the mark for one reason or another, there have been many, many brilliant final products who have blown our minds with the ideas and prism through which they interpret reality.
The political and philosophical extremes in the BioShock series immediately come to mind. The deep mental exploration of the cynical and more theoretical side of ‘The Force’ in Knights of the Old Republic 2 made it a fan favourite and a game which requires deep thought. Free will as a concept is discussed at length in all parts of the Blood Omen Saga which spans 5 titles and culminates in a brilliant twist of “What if there is a third option”?
For those who know me, it’s no surprise that the following lines will discuss Deus Ex. I discovered the series in 2015 but did not properly play any of the games until the tail end of 2018. Besides the outstanding game play and compelling story, the narrative and central conflict of the game are what captured me.
In short, the main theme of Deus Ex is a movement called transhumanism. The full definition is as follows:
The belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.
The main character, Adam Jensen, survives a lethal attack after an extensive medical intervention which heavily augments his body and basically swaps both of his arms and legs with military grade bionic ones. What makes the universe fascinating is that “augmentation” is everywhere and people have chosen to swap limbs or organs to “better” themselves. For one reason or another, I believe that a time like this might come. With it, also the same social conflict as presented in the game — pure humans versus the Augmented.
Without spoiling, the plot is fantastic as well as the dialogue and narrative (specifically referring to the 2011 Deus Ex). One of the plot twists caught me insanely off guard which simply speaks to the levels of immersion and quality the game oozes non-stop.
Today, I stumbled upon a clip from the first Deus Ex, the one which was released all the way back in 2000. In it, the main protagonist of the game JC Denton, speaks with an experimental super AI called Morpheus. The latter outlines all of JC’s characteristics and personal information while the former quickly argues that the human race will never accept this level of oversight and control.
JC and the AI go back and forth, each standing their ground and giving the other a bit of flak. You can easily see that the human is no match for his foe, yet the AI never gloats. The exchange is written with finesse and simply implies it’s points rather than grandstand as many movies think intelligence or mental domination is portrayed nowadays.
It’s an exercise in stating the truth in the most implicit way possible. Game writers were doing this in 2000. Maybe the final Season of GoT should hire them?
The whole back and forth is fantastically written and taking into account how quickly we eroded privacy and accepted phones into our households in the last 20 years, it is frighteningly on point.
More importantly, it made me think about the points on both sides-their merits and downfalls.
Even if you’re not a gamer, entertain the points which protagonists and antagonists make in your art form of choice. You never know where a simple mental exercise might take you or what you might realise about yourself.
PS — Given that it’s painfully obvious from some of the blog entries how big of a Deus Ex shill I am, do play the games in the following order 2011, 2016, 2000 for maximum plot effect. You won’t be sorry.