The Deus Ex Series

Posted by Stuart Lindsay on December 01, 2008 in Blog tagged with

By Stuart Lindsay, graduate of the Masters in the Gothic Imagination (2008).

Restaging the Grand Tour Again?



As videogames become ever more technologically advanced, their capacity to represent time and setting with any degree of accuracy constantly shifts. With the anticipated release date for Deus Ex 3 sometime next year, it’s perhaps an apt time to reassess the relevance to the Gothic of the first two games in the epic cyberpunk series.

Both Deus Ex and its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, are games which place you in the role of one of The Dentons: a family of cloned and nanotech-augmented detectives. In attempting to solve the global conspiracy that surrounds your creation, you embark on a Grand Tour of sorts, traversing European locales familiar to the Gothic, re-staging the progress of its very own Gothic heroes. Obviously, the most apparent of these is Frankenstein’s Creature. As a Frankensteinian creation in search of its origins, you travel Europe and eventually Antarctica, asking and often killing those scientists and government officials which were involved in the project that created you.

However, what made the Deus Ex games so groundbreaking was their use of satellite imagery in creating their European environments. This fictional Grand Tour, constructed from charts and maps, emphasises the visual aesthetic through the power of the eye’s geographical omniscience, using imagination and pre-existing cultural knowledge to fill in the details. The comparisons between this technologically and culturally entrenched representation of Europe with that carried out by Anne Radcliffe and her successors more than two hundred years earlier, are strongly apparent.

The first game at one point takes you to Paris. Here, it engages in all the philosophical debates surrounding the French Revolution, well-tilled in Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Deus Ex invites you to explore the catacombs and châteaus of the once-grand aristocratic families and, in its own re-staging of historical eighteenth-century events, gives you the option of helping their descendants escape the occupying government oppressors which created you.

 



Although Deus Ex was famous for its multiple-choice moral situations, its subtle alignment with conservative values reveals the cultural entrenchment which characterises Radcliffe’s European-set Gothic Romances. For example, the game represents the oppressed sympathetically: enlightened individuals hiding out in the catacombs of their ancestors. It evokes the narrative of Romance of the Forest: the La Mottes taking refuge amongst Gothic architecture from their Paris debtors. As with Radcliffe, the Deus Ex developers politely ask you to take a certain side, despite never providing any evidence other than their own perspective to support it.

In the second game, Deus Ex: Invisible War, the globetrotting adventure takes you to Trier in Germany, including a memorable visitation of the town’s Porte Nigre. The building takes on all the associated elements in keeping with the Radcliffian perspective: a Catholic fortress symbolic of its nation’s paranoia and fear of foreigners. Much like in the first Deus Ex, the new inhabitants of this ancient environment are representatives of their forebears, preserving a sense of history throughout the Gothic. The monkish Knights Templar, believing themselves to be descendants of the ancient medieval order of the same name, protect their borders with religious zealotry. By laying out this representation, the game follows the Radcliffian take on Catholicism, once again rendering it barbaric and savage.

 

 



The Deus Ex games, then, deliberately offer themselves up as a continuation of the history of Gothic, transplanting and updating the discourses laid down by the Radcliffian Romance Novel and its surrounding socio-political theory. The technology of the videogame allows us to simultaneously experience and interrogate other nations, without leaving the comfort of our own homes, a power that Radcliffe gave to her readers in the eighteenth century.

 



 

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