Racism and Prejudice in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

By Julian Benson on at

There's an apartment in Deus Ex: Human Revolution where you can break in and read the occupant's emails. The messages tell a story of someone who wasn't able to compete as a trader without getting an implant that would hasten their thoughts, allowing them to buy and sell at the same speed as their augmented colleagues. They had to go to a loan shark to afford the implant. Yet, they couldn't keep up with the repayments, and the shark came looking for his money. In lieu of cash, the shark takes the implant, killing its owner. It's a simple, sad story, one of many that weave the political and philosophical ideas of transhumanism into a real-seeming world.

In Russia last month, when I spoke to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's game director Jean-Francois Dugas, it was that side of the game I wanted to know more about: what everyday stories would it be telling to flesh out the politics of the world?

"It's called 'Mankind Divided' for a reason," Dugas tells me. "It's set after the events of Human Revolution, [where] augmented people went into a killing frenzy. It was like a 9/11 kind of moment. Now in this world augmented people are feared. They're looked at as dangerous and the normal people, the naturals, they want to shield themselves, protect themselves."

This fear drives some countries to take a hardline stance on the augmented. "All over the world it's an issue, but some places are faster than others to take action on it," says Dugas. Prague is one of those places. When you visit it in Mankind Divided, its government has carved the city in two: the 'normals' can stay in their homes, the augmented must move into a ghetto called Golem.

"Prague is a place where a lot of the eyes of the world are looking," Dugas asserts.

deus ex mankind divided 4

"Adam Jensen is in that world," Dugas goes on to explain. "We like to say he's a stranger in a strange world, in the sense that because he's augmented, the naturals look at him one way and on the other side augmented people are like 'How can you have that snazzy stuff that's all shiny and good-looking while we're in pain?'. No matter on what side Adam Jensen is, he's never home. He has to navigate through that sea of tensions between both parties."

Interestingly, Dugas and his team are using the transhumanist setting to frame a discussion of contemporary racism. Throughout the game you encounter moments of prejudice and persecution. They're not "always in your face, beating you over the head", says Dugas. Instead, "sometimes it's just a comment from someone looking at you with judgement, small things like that.

"There are still places where you can go in the city and they won't check your papers to see if you're augmented," Dugas continues. "But you will experience the daily-life, everyday racism... like, in [modern] America, everyone has the same rights, but for some reason the police shoot more black people than white. It's that kind of hypocritical, kind of institutionalised racism, where we don't necessarily have a reason, but we have already made the judgement."

deus ex human revolution 1

Ideas of division will manifest in the game's architecture, too. "Golem is wildly different from Prague so even though [they're] next to each other you're going to feel like you're in two different worlds," Dugas tells me. "When you're in Prague it feels like this historical city. And then you go in Golem and it's full of containers packed one above the other and it's more like cages for chickens [than a city]. The mindset is totally different. Augmented aren't seen with respect. It's almost like they're not treated like humans anymore. We're going in that direction, so that no matter where you go you will feel the theme but from a different perspective. Sometimes it will be more in your face, other times more subtle, but always present."

In this sense, Eidos Montreal is a making a proper sci-fi game: one that uses a futuristic setting to frame discussions of contemporary issues. Though as Dugas points out, transhumanism is fast becoming a reality, and less of a futuristic discussion. "It's happening already," he tells me. "It's happening big time. I think the day someone deliberately removes a part of their body to have a pimped up version of it, is the day that transhumanism will be part of our daily life." In fact, someone's already done it, replacing a human hand with a bionic hand through elective amputation - though in that man's case it was for medical reasons and research, rather than purely cosmetic reasons. "I think we're going into this world for real and there's no turning back.

deus ex mankind divided delay