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?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Gender in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Writing about gender in video games seems like an easy target. This post is inspired partly by Pornokitsch’s round up of Hookers, Victims and Doormats that occur in their Monster and Mullets feature (if you’ve not read any of these then shape up, you’ll not regret it).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for those of you not in the know, is a near future tech thriller seething with conspiracy and international corporate espionage. It fuses Mass Effect-style role playing elements with infiltration and puzzle solving more commonly found in Metal Gear Solid. It’s available on the Xbox 360 and PC and is well worth the purchase if you’ve got the time to play it. And you will need plenty of time. 

Future Noir
There’s a lot about Deus Ex: Human Revolution that feels like a movie; from the superb opening credits to the lens flare during the cut scenes. This a Future Noir in the best tradition of Blade Runner, Altered Carbon and the grandaddy of all Cyberpunk, Neuromancer.

There Ain’t Nothing Like A...
So what about the dames? What of the femme fatales and other ladies inhabiting the world of 2027? (I should preface this by saying I’ve yet to complete the game, but here goes).

'Having read all the files I can only conclude that I am, indeed, a badass.'
Adam Jensen. He’s definitely not a woman. Not with that gunslinger cool and Eastwood gravel in the vocal chords. So why mention him? In Mass Effect players are given the option to create their own version of Commander Shepard. You can go with the game’s standard Commander (based on Dutch model Mark Vanderloo), or make you’re own. Due to the game’s conceit of only referring to Shepard by his last name in the dialogue, he (or she) is effectively gender neutral – which means you can create a female protagonist.

And lo! There was much rejoicing from female console players across the land.

What a shame then, that Deus Ex couldn’t get in on the gender parity action and make Jensen gender neutral. This is a small gripe, Adam Jensen is great character, but the option to make him Alice Jenson would have shown real foresight.

So, let’s get to the ‘real’ ladies:

The vinyl, Neo-Victorian look had really taken off in Detroit.
Dr. Megan Reed. Ex-girlfriend of one Adam Jensen and scientific mind bar none. She manages to be fairly simpering in the opening sequence. I can't say more for fear of spoiling the game. Label under Victim (at least in this play through).

'And our boss wrote his name on my flight suit, just in case I forget it.'
Faridah Malik. refreshingly non-sexualised pilot of Sarif Industries' ‘chopper’ (effectively Adam’s chauffeur). With her strictly unrevealing flight suit, short, boyish hair and laissez-faire attitude, she’s a nice representation of a competent, confident woman. Not hooker, or doormat then. There is a possibility she becomes a victim of corporate violence later in the game...

'Have you seen Pris anywhere? I need to borrow her airbrush to apply my make up.'
Eliza Cassan. World famous news anchor and persistent thorn in Adam’s side. Label under... tricky. Not a hooker, not a victim but perhaps a doormat in as much as she answers to other, more powerful individuals.

'I've never felt like this before... I think it must be a software glitch.'
Zhao Yun Ru. President of Tai Yong Medical, the main competitor of Sarif industries, whom  Adam works for. Zhao Yun Ru is often depicted as a hard-nosed and heartless business woman, but is she really as bad as she seems? Not a victim, hooker or doormat. Label under femme fatale instead.

Hookers. Yes, one of the side quests is based in a brothel. Noir of any hybrid is always mixed up in the seedier side of life, so I suppose it’s inevitable really. Label under... yeah, you guessed it.

The reason I write about this at all is because I was pleasantly surprised by the anticipation of Mass Effect 3 by some women gamers on my Twitter feed. It makes me wonder if games designers are doing enough to appeal to women gamers in a traditionally male dominated are of entertainment. It stands to reason a relatable protagonist of the same gender is a strong start. Even Halo Reach, a game saturated with machismo,  offered the chance to play as a female Spartan, so when are other games designers going to improve their game? 

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Fizzy Pop Vampire Is Go

Sometime ago I mentioned that I had a children’s book in production with the artist Sarah Anne Langton.  You can read how that creative process occurred here.

Hmmm, spoiler alert.

And now, the day has come. The Fizzy Pop Vampire is winging his way to an iPad (or iPhone, or iPod touch) near you, right now. If you’d like to get in on the confectionary-related madness you can obtain a copy for yourself over at the iTunes store.

Anne C. Perry of Pornokitsch says it's "The cutest book about the importance of good dental hygiene you'll ever find."