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10/14/2011 11:07:00 AM
Games: 'Deus Ex: Human Revolution' full of philosophical, religious significance
Catholic New Service image
This is a still image from the video game
Catholic New Service image
This is a still image from the video game "Deus Ex: Human Revolution."  The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — When a playwright in ancient Greece found himself with an irresolvable plot problem, he would have a pagan god appear to set everything right.

Athena, or perhaps Apollo, would be lowered onto the stage by a crane (in Greek, "mechane,") as though descending from the clouds. This "god out of the machine" — or "deus ex machina," as it came to be known in Latin — was regarded as a cheap trick even then.

In the modern industrial age, however, the idea of a deus ex machina takes on new resonance, as humanity harnesses rapidly advancing technology in an attempt to usurp the powers of God himself. The nightmare of eugenics is already a reality; transhumanism — the use of technology to fundamentally alter the human body — is not far off.

"Deus Ex: Human Revolution" (Square Enix), a game centered on transhumanism, functions as a prequel to first "Deus Ex" game, released in 2000. The original is a classic of thoughtful, deep, action/role-playing, casually littered with references to G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Pynchon, William Shakespeare and every conspiracy theory the creators could include.

Its main character was simply named JC, with one of the developers admitting that he considered JC a "descendant" of Jesus.

Set in 2027, "Human Revolution" takes places 25 years before the original. Biomechanical augmentations, originally developed to replace limbs lost on the battlefield, are becoming mainstream accessories.

They can make you stronger, faster, smarter and deadlier — and not everyone is happy about it. Sarif Industries, a leading producer, is under intense pressure from politicians, activists and militant groups to slow down and consider the implications of a world in which human evolution is so radically altered and accelerated.

Conspiracies swirl mist-like through the plot, with rival corporations, crime lords, and even the Illuminati seeking to exploit this new technology while a fringe group wages a guerilla war to end it.

The game begins with an attack on Sarif's headquarters that leaves its security chief, Adam Jensen, mutilated and near death. Although ambivalent about augmentations, Adam awakes to find himself heavily equipped with them. The game allows the user to shape Adam's character through his reactions and responses to this situation: He can be reluctant and unhappy or fairly pleased about his newfound abilities.

Similarly, the gameplay may unfold in myriad ways depending on the player's preferences. Options range from passing through the entire game as an unstoppable killing machine to completing the game without killing anyone, at least outside of a few set-piece battles.

Players are also free to choose their augmentations: hacking skills, physical features, stealth abilities, or any combination of these.

The game actually rewards the player more for leaving an enemy alive than for killing him, which makes the inclusion of the aforementioned set-pieces (known to gamers as "boss battles") rather mystifying — these conflicts inevitably end in the death of an enemy.

At one point, Adam is asked if he will save the life of a defeated foe. Adam says he'll think about, and then leaves her to die.

Thus, paradoxically, players are encouraged to develop a character with no battlefield abilities, only to be faced with heavy combat. Equally puzzling, Adam's mercy may be displayed throughout the game, except at some of its most important turning points.

"Human Revolution" deals with serious issues of ethics, politics, and society. Religious matters aren't really on the radar, though. Perhaps the writers were reluctant to engage the complex theological issues involved in transhumanism. Or perhaps, like so many in the field of science fiction, they are simply not theistic, believing in a future without God.

Some religious elements do creep in, perhaps unwittingly. Adam's name is not coincidental, and his relationship to the "JC" character of the original "Deus Ex" echoes Catholic understanding of Jesus as the New Adam. A pair of brothers named Isaias and Zachery feature as minor players, each acting in a somewhat prophetic role.

Greek mythology is more prominent, with the legend of Daedalus providing an ongoing motif, and the mythical island of Panchaea making an appearance.

Though the developers largely ignore Christ, the concept of the deus ex machina was "baptized," by St. Ignatius of Antioch as long ago as the first century. As Ignatius wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, for him, the true machine was the cross, which does not lower a false god down to the masses, but rather raises up the true God — and the masses with him — "through the engine of Jesus Christ."

The game contains intense violence with gore, sexual themes, mature subject matter, alcohol use, drug references, strong language and implied prostitution. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is M — mature.

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