The Design Fiction of Deus Ex: Human RevolutionSpeculative Design
Deus Ex: Human Revolution creates an uncomfortable and fascinating piece of speculative design fiction to flesh out its world.
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Deus Ex is a sci-fi action role playing game series built around the themes of trans-humanism and body modification. The third installment – Human Revolution – was released in 2011 as a prequel to the more futuristic, cyberpunk-inspired original. Set in 2027, the game tells the story of Adam Jensen, a security professional who has had extensive military-grade body augmentation done against his will.
By far the most interesting aspect of the game’s design is its use of extensive and detailed speculative design fiction for the purposes of world building and storytelling. This extends to the game’s approach to marketing, which in some respects works better as a work of design fiction than the game itself.
The video above is a short collection of pre-release marketing materials for the game. The first few clips are showcases of the technological innovations in body augmentation and prosthetics which are the main driving force behind the game’s story. These clips make use of sleek diegetic prototypes which are presented in what appears to be a form of ‘marketing within marketing’.
The last part of the video is framed from the perspective of an anti-augmentation movement. This does an excellent job of grounding these prototypes within the world’s fiction in a way that is well-considered and reasonably believable. The footage somewhat heavy-handedly presents some of the more obvious moral issues with replacing healthy body parts with hi-tech prosthetics as well as the issues of corporate surveillance and military-grade prosthetics, then quickly redeems itself with the master stroke that is Neuropozyne.
One of the most interesting features of Deus Ex’ design fiction and the way it differentiates itself from others is the issue of the body slowly rejecting mechanical transplants which the immune system invariably treats as foreign objects. The solution to this issue as presented by Deus Ex is a selective immunosuppressant drug called Neuropozyne. Within the game’s world, Neuropozyne quickly becomes a tightly controlled and prohibitively expensive substance which all augmented individuals become reliant on for the duration of their life. The reliance on the drug which effectively keeps people’s bodies intact combined with its constantly rising cost result in previously well-off families driven to poverty and a deepening class divide which also manifests itself in the highest-income classes who can afford to purchase and maintain the augmentations being propelled into what some of the game’s characters refer to as a ‘higher evolutionary status’. This also causes significant civil unrest and the birth of ‘pro-human’ activism. The desperate and unmet need for legislative regulation of the augmentation industry results in a widespread blowback against the practice itself.
The sequel, Mankind Divided (2016), further explores the themes of class division, though from a different perspective as a wave of violence and oppression against augmented people sweeps through the game’s world. Eidos attempts to draw a parallel with real-life racism in this title and unfortunately seems to have forgotten about the concept of subtlety.