Monday, 21 May 2012

Ethics in Deus Ex

'Hmm, does becoming a beast take away the pain of being a transhuman?'
Shooting things (usually people, sometimes aliens or robots, often zombies) makes up the mainstay of a lot of gaming. From the sideways scrolling ‘Shoot ‘em Ups’ of 70s and 80s arcade games, to the slew of FPSs (First Person Shooters) available on various consoles and the PC. And let’s not forget games like House of the Dead, where you actually fire your ‘gun’ at the screen. Shooting things is hardwired into gaming, from Lara Croft to Master Chief. Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, Battlefield, Aliens versus Predator, Doom, Unreal and Quake. There really is no end to the number of bad guys who need to eat lead (or plasma, or a frickin’ laser).

'Now this is what I call 'Police Brutality'.'
So, imagine my surprise when I noticed that you earn three to five times the experience points for non-lethal takedowns in Deus Ex. Five times. A takedown, for those blissfully unaware, is rendering an opponent unconscious by application of tranquilizer dart rifle, stun gun (think Taser) or judicious application of fist to face. I first saw the takedown in the superb Arkham Asylum, which stands to reason. Batman never uses guns.

'Kneel before Zod. Sorry, I've wanted to say that for ages.'
The game writers make no bones about this unusual approach to gameplay, going as far to flag up the option to avoid bloodshed in one of the initial conversations. There’s even an Xbox achievement for completing the game without killing any of the rank and file. This small twist really elevates the game to my mind. Killing industrial saboteurs is no biggie, these bad guys have got it coming, right? But do you really want to bump off Joe Security Guard? Maybe he earns minimum wage? Perhaps he doesn’t have life insurance? Think of the children! And why kill anyone if you can sneak past them, or use a gas grenade to knock them out instead?

'Whoa, I know Kung Fu.'
Admittedly, comparing Deus Ex to other FPSs is a little disingenuous. Those games are naturally geared toward lethal solutions (frequently with rocket launchers), which makes sense when ‘humanity is on the brink of extinction’. FPS generally deal with all out war, Deus Ex is about stealth, sabotage and investigation.

This is a game of patience, finesse, strategy and dare I say it... ethics. Who knew not killing bad guys could be so much fun?

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