Games. Culture.

Racism, Police Misconduct, and… Deus Ex Mankind Divided?

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I write this piece at the risk of sounding pretentious. I write this piece also at the risk seeming over-analytical, inflammatory, social justice-y, and/or too black. The reason why I want to speak on Deus Ex Mankind Divided and the game’s use of political and social commentary is simple. The game’s depiction of racism and inequality may be an easy one, but however easy, it goes all in to the point that it is respectable, and even moving at times.

The reason why I say that Deus Ex’s use of racism as a theme is easy is because it is one that we have seen before in not only the same genre of game, but the same sub-genre. Fallout 4 touched on similar themes very strongly to the point that the synthetic humans in that game had their own version of the Underground Railroad. I cannot discount that the temptation to touch on such ideas as the analog between the oppression of “non-fully human” humans in fiction and oppressed people groups in real life is strong because it is both somewhat realistic and extremely fascinating. It begs questions like “Would humans treat cyborgs differently?” or “What if technological machines gained emotions?” These are questions that seem to be asked again and again in fiction but somehow keep from being overplayed.

Deus Ex Mankind Divided does not shy away from touching on these themes. In fact, the game goes full steam ahead and I personally found myself really enjoying it no matter it feeling forced at times.

Deus Ex Mankind Divided screenshot.jpg

I immediately captured this screenshot after noticing the sign in the background during my conversation with this officer regarding her colleague and his misuse of power as an enforcer.

This game takes place during the segregation of regular humans and augmented humans. There is currently a police state and racism, in regards to augmented humans, is very popular. The fact that the developers decided to put this sign with this specific wording in the background of this specific scene strikes me as a thing they did purposefully and it is quite genius. The implication that the oppressors (being the police, government, and general public) are the ones who put up the sign creates the analogy comparing the racism in the game, to the racism of movements in real life, not only in the past but currently.

The game uses its world building to support its commentary, but also inserts it into the narrative as well. It does this in obvious ways such as you as the main character who is also an augmented human being called racial slurs and being stopped frequently at checkpoints. The game also does this in subtle ways in the ways characters interact with you.

There are strong references to the current day’s issues in regards to police misconduct and racism in regards to blacks in America and other races in various countries. And as easy as these references might have been to make given the subject matter, I am still glad the developers chose to make them. These are the kinds of themes and usage of the medium that allows it to be taken more seriously. Video games can be tools that have secondary purposes outside of just a good story or fun. It’s a medium that can be used for empathy or education. That is why it is important to point out when this kind of thing is done right and Deus Ex Mankind Divided takes a step towards incorporating real and interesting themes in video games.

 

This piece was written by Blessing Adeoye. You can find Blessing on the internet getting into dance battles and talking about Donkey Kong 64 at @blessingjr on Twitter.

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