Tag Archives: deus ex

I’ve been having ideas about a story that involves widespread transhumanism, but when I think about it, there’s stuff about the concept I’ve never understood. What happens to your augments as you age or your body shape changes? How are the augments maintained? Do you clean them? What powers them? What happens when technology advances and your augments are obsolete? If your job requires augs that are weapons, what happens when you’re off duty? I know it’s MY story, but I’m stuck for answers.

We had a professor in college who used to say, “when you encounter a word you don’t know, look it up.” It’s good advice, and might have helped you here. I’m going to assume you first ran into transhumanism in association with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So, let’s look at all three pieces of this, transhumanism, cybernetics, and the philosophy at play in Deus Ex.

Transhumanism is a philosophy that advocates the use of technology to transcend the human condition. I’m being a little reductive here, and this isn’t a philosophical strand I’m well versed in, but, the entire goal is to use technology to make life better.

For someone who views cybernetic augmentation as the path to take, the answer is fairly simple; if a body part is failing, you repair or replace it. But, that’s not the full extent of the philosophy. In fact, at this moment, as you’re reading this sentence, you’re engaging in another strand.

Remember, the basic idea is to use technology to fundamentally improve the human condition. Welcome to the internet: giving you free access to information that, thirty years ago, would have taken months of research going from library to library, fishing through the stacks for that one thing you needed.

At a fundamental level, the internet is, already, a major piece of transhumanist technology. It brings us together and opens up exchanges of ideas that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. It changes the nature of the world, and they way you can interact with humanity as a whole. Using technology to make us more than we were.

It’s really hard to explain to someone born after ~1995, just how massively the internet has changed the world.

While I’m not very familiar with his work, another major proponent of transhumanism, and a separate strand of it was Timothy Leary. In his case, he was advocating higher human consciousness through pharmaceuticals. That is to say; LSD. Using, drugs to achieve some kind of spiritual enlightenment isn’t what comes to mind, when I hear the term. But, there it is.

That said, pharmaceutical transhumanism can also include things like anti-agapics (immortality serums), and any superhero that got their powers from drugs. Retroviral engineering might also count, depending on how loosely you define “pharmaceuticals.”

The term itself originates in the 1960s, but there’s actually elements of the philosophy far earlier. The health science craze of late 19th century is probably an example. Finding a way to be more than human through the wonders of science and technology is not a new idea.

Now, that’s the philosophy in very broad strokes. I’m not well versed in the political strands. The two political outlooks I know of are ones that take a libertarian free-market approach, and one that takes a self deterministic approach. But, again, I have a bachelors in political science, and this is the first time I’ve ever run across a formal write up on Transhumanism as a political ideology.

For cybernetics, it really varies based on what the piece of hardware actually is. Pacemakers and other powered implants require some power source. So that requires either an external accessible port, or they require surgery every-time the battery needs service.

Internal prosthetics, like hip or knee replacements, have a shelf life of 10-15 years. They’ll decay over time and from use, and eventually need to be replaced. That does involve surgery. The implant gets pulled, tossed, and replaced. The old one might be refurbished, but it’s not user serviceable.
I’m less familiar with external, removable, prosthetics. I suspect the overall lifespan is lower, with some user serviceable parts.

As for full on powered augmentations? I don’t know. Anything with that many moving parts is going to need to be serviceable. Especially if it’s going to get shot at. Exactly how modular they are, or if the pieces use proprietary tech is a world building question. It will depend on what you’re saying in your work.

It is probably worth dragging out the old observation. If you replace someone’s arm with a cybernetic one, it won’t let them toss cars around. The arm itself may be superhumanly strong, but that just means it will be able to tear itself from its owner. So, if you’re wanting to give a character super strength, they actually need to have their shoulders, spine, and legs also reinforced, or replaced. I have no idea what those would do to someone as they age, but I suspect that they would interfere with any changes to the body from aging. Actually, I know that’s the case, to some extent, because it’s a real concern for people who suffer serious injuries in childhood.

So, Deus Ex is about transhumanism. All three games are, actually. But, the original game, and it’s title, come from the transhumanist apotheosis in the plot. The title derives from the phrase, deus ex machina, or literally, “god from the machine.”

As writers, we usually use deus ex machina in reference to an author pulling a resolution out of their ass. To an extent, that’s the meaning of the original Greek. In some Greek plays, an actor playing a god, would descend on a crane or ascend using a levered platform, to resolve the story.

With the original Deus Ex, the title is oddly literal. A major chunk of the original game, after you get past the whole Illuminati versus Majestic 12 storyline, is the use of artificial intelligences to function as all knowing, all seeing, gods in the machine and, in one ending, merging a human consciousness with an AI and giving it full control over all human communication.

In spite of that, the philosophical core of Deus Ex is an information age state of nature debate.

I usually break the state of nature debate down into the Superman/Batman dichotomy. That’s probably disrespectful to the historical discussion, but, it is a very good abstract. The basic question is, how will humans behave without a civil society or government? And, it has direct implications for how you govern.

The Superman side of things is that humans are fundamentally good. Laws and society are necessary to protect people from their worst impulses. But, those impulses are an aberration, not the norm.

The Batman side is that people are fundamentally self interested and dangerous to the whole. “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” to misquote Hobbes’ Leviathan. Laws and government are necessary to coerce people into line.

Most of the state of nature debate happened in the 17th and 18th century. It’s not “resolved,” but, modern philosophy has moved elsewhere. Deus Ex revisits this basic question, and frames it in the context of global conspiracies and a counterterrorism plot that was, honestly, a couple years ahead of its time.

The original game is the one most relevant to your question about obsolesce. The main character in Deus Ex is a nanotech augmented agent, working alongside, now, obsolete cyberaugmented agents. The game presents this with a mix of fairly solid character moments. Some of this runs as a basic analogy for aging soldiers, but the residual prejudices regarding cybernetic augmentation make for some interesting texture. Especially given that nano augmentation is much less invasive, and difficult to detect at a glance.

The second game, Deus Ex: Invisible War is mostly a rehash of the first game, and as a result, probably the weakest Deus Ex title (ignoring the spin-offs). This does have some of the most disturbing endings in the series, however. Including two different endings where the entirety of humanity is forcibly augmented.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the game you’re probably familiar with. As with the original game, it’s more interested in letting you participate in the conversation then explaining three-hundred years of state of nature thinking. This is probably the best one for looking at how normal people would look at cybernetic augmentation. This generally gets used as an analogy for racism, which is probably useful, if you remember that’s what they’re doing.

-Starke

Any tips on a character who’s been trained to fight humanoid militaryish robots?

Kyle Reese from the first Terminator film comes to mind.

Also, Blade Runner, though in that case, it’s more of a traditional film noir storyline, and the robots are more bio-organic, rather than your normal Terminator style killing machines.

Anything more detailed would require a little more information on what kind of robot you’re talking about, though. If they’re more bio-organic, then Blade Runner might actually be your best entry point. If they’re more mechanical, then you might actually get some millage out of digging up walkthroughs/guides for games that mix robotic enemies in with human ones, with a focus on needing different weapons and strategies depending on which ones you’re facing. And, then, reading up on what players use to deal with them. I’m not suggesting actually playing the games, but, read up on the strategies players use. If you don’t know what games to look at first, I’d suggest System Shock 2, and Deus Ex guides.

It may seem like a weird suggestion, but it could give you some insights into what you want.

-Starke

This is probably an odd question, given that it deals with a setting that isn’t by nature realistic, but what would be your advice on writing fight scenes set in a universe with video-game elements (ex. health bars, experience points, level-ups, combos) but where the fighters react realistically to pain, and medical knowledge is still in effect (limbs can still be broken, internal organ damage is still possible), like a particularly realistic RPG?

So, my first suggestion would be… play a lot of video games?

Okay, so, thing is, if you’re going to write about video games, you do need to know what you’re talking about. Actual violence isn’t something you’re likely to experience, but, if you’re building off video games; well, violence in video games is something that’s on tap.

Using just what you’re describing, the first recommendation that comes to mind is Fallout: New Vegas on hardcore mode. Hardcore doesn’t actually make the game more difficult, per say, it just enables some simulation like mechanics. Basic healing items only heal the player’s health, damage to limbs is persistent without medical attention, and starvation, dehydration, and sleep deprivation all become threats that you have to manage. There’s some writing in quests talking about more specific injuries occurring to other characters, even though the mechanics themselves don’t support them. (Fallout 3 lacks hardcore mode, so stimpacks will automatically heal limb damage, which basically negates that mechanic while you’re healing.)

If your setting is post apocalyptic, the STALKER games might be a good franchise to look at, even if they are brutally difficult. Character advancement is non-traditional, and I’ve taken flak in the past for calling them RPGs… but all three games fall someplace between an RPG, survival horror, and an FPS.

If it’s a modern setting, then some of the Tom Clancy titles, particularly the two Rainbow Six: Vegas games come to mind. They also don’t have any persistent damage mechanics, and are also extremely lethal, with a focus on “realistic,” tactical gunplay. It’s not, you know, actually realistic, but it’s also accessible.

If you’re looking at a fantasy setting then Dark Souls might be a good choice. It honestly isn’t has hard as some of it’s fans would have you believe. That said, it is unforgiving of mistakes, so expect to take quite a bit of time mastering the combat system. I’m actually going to come back to this one again in a second.

I think I’ve mentioned Mount & Blade before. I haven’t played the more recent games in the series, but it’s a sort of medieval version of Elite, where you build up a mercenary band and then go… do, whatever. Sign on with one of the factions, trade goods, prey on bandits. The mounted combat is really good, and it does mass combat really well.

If you’re wanting to go with a more cyberpunk setting Deus Ex: Human Revolution is worth looking at. The original Deus Ex is also, though the combat itself is a little wonky.

Now, this is all assuming you want a sort of real time, action game style combat system. If you want a more abstract system, looking at games like the Firaxis XCOM reboot, or Shadowrun Returns might be more appropriate. Also, on that subject, if you have a solid understanding of 3rd and 3.5 Edition D&D, Order of the Stick is probably worth a look.

Okay, that’s just writing combat… if you’re wanting to write about video games and RPGs, and play with the concepts there, you’re going to need a slightly different recommendation list.

I’d start with Knights of the Old Republic 2. This does some brilliant stuff with talking about mechanics like discussing leveling up as the player consuming anything they fought, and addressing how once party members join, they’re effectively stripped of their free will in service of killing for the player.

The developers revisited some of those themes in Neverwinter Nights 2’s first expansion, Mask of the Betrayer, and I would recommend that game, but it requires spending a lot of time getting through the main NWN2 campaign to get there. (Technically, you can fresh generate a preleveled character for MotB, but without having a solid grasp of the systems going in, it would be a horrible introduction.)

Dark Souls actually does some interesting setting stuff. Some of this requires digging around in the item descriptions and trying to piece it together… or just looking up YouTube videos, with someone else doing the musing. Marcus “EpicNameBro“ Sanders is probably the best in depth source out there, and VaatiVidya has some good primer videos. (Somewhat obviously, there’s a fair number of spoilers in both of those links.)

The one thing I’ll highlight that is really interesting to me is this: In Dark Souls (and the sequel) you play as an undead, and most of the characters and enemies you encounter are also undead. The mindless undead are called “hollows” and what differentiates the player character from hollows is that they’ve been completely broken by the constant cycle of death and revival. This isn’t an instantaneous process, and as the game progresses, you’ll see several NPCs who become increasingly despondent, until they ultimately go hollow. Without something to work for, they eventually give up the will to live. Which works as a fantastic metaphor for player burnout and fatigue, with hollowing being the point where you put down the controller and walk away forever.

The Saints Row series (particularly 3 and 4) are excellent snapshots of the psychopathic impulses of the average player, codified into dialog and decision making. For all the puerile jokes, the games actually have some surprisingly strong writing, so, if your setting has any inclination towards a GTA style, these are worth looking at.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Spec Ops: The Line is an absolutely fantastic tear down of your standard Modern Military Shooter protagonist. The game itself feels fairly generic, up to a point, but, if you want to present your protagonist as an actual person trying to deal with what they’re doing, this is almost exactly the opposite of the Saints Row games, so one of these should be useful to you, though probably not both.

Also, read The Metaphysics of Morrowind. This is a really interesting discussion on player agency, and the implications of it. Specifically, the author is talking about The Elder Scrolls setting, but the discussion on modding, cheat codes, and quickloads as part of a larger coherent multiverse is worth reading.

I’m also going to toss this link to Super Bunnyhop’s Metal Gear Solid 2 analysis video in here. This one might not make sense for a few minutes, just stick with it, you’ll probably learn something. (Also, obligatory spoiler warnings for a game that was published in 1998.)

-Starke