Hey! Let’s play a game together and discuss it as a group of friends. What do you say?
A couple of blogger pals – David Carlton of malvasia bianca and Dan Bruno of Cruise Elroy – and I are joining together to form an online club devoted to vintage games. We want to invite people to join us as we collectively make our way through a game, sharing our thoughts and observations with each other as we go.
-Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer
Unfortunately, I never got around to participating in the Vintage Game Club’s first venture, Grim Fandango. However, I resolved that I would join this time. Thankfully, it was a game about which I had no prior knowledge beyond seeing its box art numerous times: Deus Ex. Last night I was unable to sleep at a reasonable time, so I loaded up Steam and proceeded to play through the Tutorial and first chapter on Liberty Island.
Having no prior knowledge, I rather skeptically watched the introductory movie. Okay, annoying voice acting (something this game has yet to convince me it does well), strangely prophetic scenario concerning terrorism, and people who discuss secret affairs in a public walking space. Right.
Once I stepped off the boat to Liberty Island, however, the story changed. Being a person who prefers rogues and spellcasters, I decided to take a very stealthy approach to the game. Skills selected included one for rifles, computers, electronics, and lockpicking. Therefore, when my brother came up to me and made a striking point about not needing to kill people and pleading with me to remember these were people while offering me a choice of weapons (I selected rifle), I was somewhat curious as to what this meant. This was in direct contrast to the order that anyone was seen as a hostile and could be shot on sight.
While skulking about in the shadow of the decapitated Statue of Liberty (the work of an unknown terrorist group), I overheard two NSF (National Secessionist Forces) terrorists discussing the UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) agency (the one to which I, as JC Denton, belonged) and how inhumane the agents were. We were engineered and mechanically modified to be superhuman and therefore, subhuman. At that moment I sat in the shadows and just cocked my head to one side while raising an eyebrow.
I, as a human player, was not willing to kill these people who had ‘stolen’ a vaccine for a plague–a vaccine that was purposely being kept from them by some unknown politician with clear power and class disparities. It reminded me of the practice of blood harvesting and the clear class issues present in such, alongside the song by Subtle entitled The Mercury Craze.
At that point I made a determination, if the option to defect from UNATCO presented itself, I would be partaking in it. This became especially clear once I had reached the mission objective and every NSF member I had not killed was slaughtered by the UNATCO backup that reached me. Not knowing where the game is heading, I am left feeling a disconnect between my avatar and myself. At the end of the first mission my boss explained to my brother that if he fails to get the vaccine back, he would be left to his own devices as to how to explain to the mayor and his three daughters that they would not be receiving their medication. There we go again with clear class implications, along with reading the newspapers denigrating these low-life thug terrorist groups.
My choice of the word avatar here is purposeful in that I’m reminded of the title of the game itself, where deus ex is usually part of the phrase deus ex machina. I am left with a title eschewing the mechanical aspects which the game still incorporates while still making allusions to the fact that there is someone with a God-like mentality. With the brusqueness and gruff demeanor JC Denton exhibits, it also gives me a feeling that the title plays with a player’s sense of control in a game. Without a player, does the game exist?
Overall, if the story continues with UNATCO continuing in its aims and myself following along, I will be left feeling uncomfortable but also intrigued as to how this plot unfolds. Being uncomfortable and unable to lose myself in the character, even in a first person perspective, I’m much more attuned to the surrounding political machinations occurring. Verfremdungseffekt indeed.
If you have the time and are not already involved, I highly encourage you to join in this discussion (the linked post also illustrates how one can easily acquire a digital copy).