What Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Tells Us about Being Human

The topic of video games often sparks lively conversations amongst gaming and nongaming humanists and can even draw lines between humanists and their transhumanist friends. One recent release has transhumanists and humanists alike captivated. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the fourth game in the Deus Ex franchise made by the Japanese company Square Enix, is a visually stunning masterpiece that has gamers considering the impact of their decisions and prejudices just as often as it has them killing some bad guys.

Mankind Divided takes place in the year 2029, in a future in which humanity has begun to augment itself with emerging biotechnology. Those without limbs are able to purchase hyper-responsive and durable augmented arms and legs, as well as other augmentations that prolong life or increase strength and stealth. Many of those who use the augmentations are regular people, from soldiers and police officers who lost limbs in the call of duty to grandparents who simply wish to be strong and energetic enough to keep up with their overactive grandchildren.

Unfortunately, in this world, society is divided about the use of augmentation technology and in the midst of an existential crisis about what it means to be human. This soul-searching is only complicated by an incident that took place several years before the start of the game, in which people with augmentations lost control of their bodies and began to attack others at random as a result of a hardware malfunction caused by an unknown terrorist organization.

In the wake of this attack and because of the revolutionary nature of augmentations, human society starts to repress and isolate those who are augmented. A UN Resolution passes in the wake of the attack requiring the world’s nearly seven million augmented people to preemptively register with police forces in order to ensure that their behavior is monitored, and many augmented people are being sent to isolated desert cities to live separate from the rest of humanity.

This backstory and political developments make Deus Ex: Mankind Divided an important game because it not only shows the amazing potential of human ingenuity and scientific research, but because it deals seriously with several important questions: What limits should society place on technological advancement? What are the defining features of humanity and human existence? How discriminatory and oppressive should national and global governments be in order to prevent potential catastrophes?

Each of these ethical dilemmas, and more, are presented to the player as he or she goes about the typical hack and slack present in all combat video games. They make a game that could have been just another cliché killing simulator into something a bit more compelling and complicated. And, as the player has the potential to either help marginalized populations or enforce the status quo, the player can discover for themselves how they might behave in a future in which compassion is costly and apathy can be profitable.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and for PC.