Game Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The Deus Ex series, along with its cousin, Bioshock, is one of the most profound statements on transhumanism in any medium. The most recent version, Human Revolution, was released last fall, and it’s still well worth a complete playthrough. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in my review for Catholic News Service.

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.

Read the whole thing. It has the usual weird syndication edit, but mostly it reads okay.

A slightly different version of my coverage, oriented more towards a gaming readership, can be found at my gaming blog, State of Play.

Rating Summary

Artistic Quality: A-

Content issues: Intense violence with gore, sexual themes, mature subject matter, alcohol use, drug references, strong language and implied prostitution.

ESRB Rating: Mature

Recommended for: Adults and mature teens

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Ben

    Friend lent me this game. Haven’t had a chance to play through it yet. Will try and get to it soon. Enjoyed the review.

    Any thoughts on why religion is usually not dealt with in any serious way in most games. The only games I can think of where religion is a theme tend to have only negative things to say about it (Final Fantasy X is one game that comes to mind right now, thought I’m sure there are more). Is this a result of the medium or the gaming/tech community (or both)?

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Techies tend, by and large, to be non-religious. There’s a large strain of libertarian agnosticism/atheism running through the tech community.

  • Jon Zimmer

    The boss fights also annoyed me to no end in Deus Ex, particularly since I was trying for a stealth, no-kill playthrough using non-lethal weapons. It was only after a frustrating time with the second boss that I found a few playthrough videos on Youtube, and discovered that there are ways to take down all the bosses (save the last one) without resorting to lethal weapons. I still packed an upgraded pistol for the boss fights, though. And the ending scene-o-matic at the end was kind of a let down, particularly after seeing how the original Deus Ex wove the choice of endings more deeply into the level. Still, it was a fantastically well-built and well-written world, like an OWS rally in Blade Runner – the contrast between the haves and have-nots of the future symbolized by technology.

    In general terms on Ben’s point, perhaps part of the problem with having overtly religious themes in a major studio game is that those themes might offend people, which costs sales. But I also found this on the Escapist forums, which indicates that it’s a game designer bias…

    Study Says Videogames “Problematize” Religion as Violent

    A University of Missouri doctoral student says many modern videogames “problematize” organized religion by equating it with violence in their stories.

    As improving technology has allowed videogames to evolve over the years, their narratives have become more detailed and nuanced as well, according to Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. That increased sophistication has led to a growing incorporation of religion into various storylines, and that in turn has led religion to be “problematized” in videogames by way of strong narrative connections with violence.

    Perreault looked at Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy 13, Assassin’s Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in his research and found that all of them tied religion to violence. “In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a ‘Knights Templar’ and crusader motifs,” he said. “Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt.”

    But he also stated that despite the common presence of those themes, he doesn’t believe game makers are trying to “purposefully bash” religion. “I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines. If you look at videogames across the board, most of them involve violence in some fashion because violence is conflict and conflict is exciting,” he continued. “Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative.”

    (In lieu of the actual study, this is an interview with the study’s author.

    Which led to this interesting response:

    Does anybody else realize just how the comments above such as “Well duh religion is violent”, “religion is racist”, “religion is a pox upon society” kind of tie in to the point the student was trying to make.

    As a game designer and a catholic I actually agree with him quite a lot. It’s hard to find a plot line in a video game that has a religion where that religion isn’t all that’s wrong with the world. Think about it, who are the good characters of faith in video games? You know the people who are supposed to set a positive role model for faith? The only two I could think of were Yuna from FFX and Ashley Williams from Mass Effect. The role models in video games for people of faith are someone who was tricked into following a lie through her naivety(Yuna) and someone who, while capable, is not the sharpest tool in the shed (Ashley).

    Seriously I feel like the internet has been unwittingly and unintentionally indoctrinated into this belief that religion is evil. Extra Creditz made the point that if game designers, out of sloth/laziness, portrayed all Arabs as extremists/terrorists that it would feed into the gamer cultural psych. Using that same point, if all game plots portray religion as an violent, bigoted, narcissistic entity couldn’t that feed into the gamer cultural psych?

    Gamers aren’t immune to being indoctrinated in this manner; nobody is.

    (The quoted episode of Extra Creditz on “Propaganda Games” is here.)

    The broader point being made is that the true danger of a “Propaganda Game” is not the kind that purposefully indoctrinates us, it’s the kind that accidentally indoctrinates us. You get a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where you spend a lot of time killing Muslims to accomplish story objectives, but there’s only a very limited opportunity to ask why this is so. The same thing could happen with any ethnic or religious group, and no one would be the wiser…

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Excellent find. It ties into the general media culture, in which every Christian is a the dad in Footloose and every religion is poison.

  • Ben

    Interesting paper in the link you gave. I agree with the follow up comment that you posted about the unintentional indoctrination of the gamer psyche (and game developer psyche). Must be why I continue to see the same tired themes whenever religion is broached in games. It’s not so much that I’m offended by it, just that it’s…boring. Might be more controversial (and therefore possibly lucrative, though I could be wrong) to have a positive or at least neutral depiction of religion. Then again maybe some topics are best left out games that include cringe-worthy scenes like this

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    FYI: Deus Ex Designer “Truly Sorry” for Human Revolution’s Boss Fights Deus Ex Designer “Truly Sorry” for Human Revolution’s Boss Fights

  • The Ubiquitous

    Deus Ex: Invisible War, anyone?

  • The Ubiquitous

    Dragon Age, with the Chantry, did an OK job with religion. (Especially considering that this was a game where the knights are addicted to drugs and the dwarves almost killed off by inhuman zombies and the backstory has something analogous to the Doctrine of the Fall, borne as it is by the hubris of mages.)

    Did you cover Dragon Age?