Systemic Oppression In ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’

M. Joshua Cauller examines a snap shot of systemic oppression in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller

“Out of the way, you damn clank!”

The first time I hear this slur, I’m not sure if it’s directed it at me — someone with life-saving biomechanical augmentation. But by the third time, I feel the seething hatred directed at me — most of the time from other white law enforcement professionals. In fact, everywhere I go in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s future-Prague is littered with officers prejudiced against people with augmentations. Police checkpoints litter the city: everywhere I go police filter us “augs” through security checkpoints where our paperwork is picked-apart while we’re given the third degree.

"We made the day brighter for one person, at least."
The game often strips me of control, forcing me to endure yet another checkpoint cutscene — in a series defined by go-where-you-want freedom. These security checkpoints mechanically introduce the themes of systemic oppression far better than anything in the haphazard marketing missteps — like the use of terms such as “mechanical apartheid” or “Aug Lives Matter.” However, it’s not my character’s minor inconvenience that illustrates oppressive bias best, but a particular sidequest I’d like to call the Golden Ticket mission.

DeusExMD2

One particular police checkpoint stands in the way of getting to my augmentation specialist — who I need to fix my glitching system. There only seems to be two ways of getting past these police: acquire forged paperwork or bribe the police officer with an outrageous amount of money.

I was directed to a guy selling forged documents, who said that the documents might work, but that they’ll often need to be updated for another payment. He assured me, however, that “his girl upstairs does really good work so I shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” I decided to cut out the middle man and climb some rooftops, sneak around, and eventually find myself in front of this blue-haired forger myself.

To my surprise, she was there against her will — introducing herself as Milena, she says she was trying to help the augmented victims — but was powerless to help as a kidnapping victim under lock and key. She also elaborated on the gravity of the extortion ring — often forcing augs to pay these extortionists six and seven times — though, still not able to move freely as they want.

She told me that the police checkpoint that was holding me back was actually an illegal front setup by the extortionist ringleaders — and that she’d help me rescue some of the victims of this crime. She even gave me the access codes to the extortionists’ safe in good faith. All I’d have to do is break into a police station and use their computers to create legitimate immigration documents for the victims — and find a way to take out the ringleader.

While most of the police in Prague are corrupt, there are a few who still uphold justice for all: so I talked to one of the good ones; told her about the illegal checkpoint. She wasn’t impressed, as widespread corruption and police impersonation were too big of an issue for her and her squad to handle. When I mentioned that the ringleader kidnapped a young woman to force her to be the forger, however, she got all fired up and took off in the direction of the illegal checkpoint. I was shocked that as soon as she went around the corner, I didn’t find any discourse, but open fire. The ringleader was dead, along with his cronies.

DeusExMD3

There’s a vent on the police station just above a van. I climb up and in, bypassing all security cameras. Once I’m in, I start the presses for the immigration documents — that will get the two extortion victims far from of the systemic oppression of Prague — once I’m in, Milena takes over remotely, only to find that there’s only one pass left to print. I have to pick which of the two gets a free pass and which one is forced to stay subjugated. It’s not easy to choose.

I make the decision, Milena prints the golden ticket. We made the day brighter for one person, at least.

This quest-line reminded me of my present reality. As I write this in our home office, my wife and our friend are meeting next to me updating on our Youth Center where we try to help teens out of horrible family situations. One teen just lost his dad and his aloof mother is giving him an ultimatum to leave town or not receive any of the life insurance benefits — taking him away from us (his support system). Another teen won’t return our calls because we confronted him about making inappropriate advances on a volunteer. It feels like all our work for mentoring and investing in their lives results in dead air and separation. It seems futile. But then on rare days, we get to hear from somebody who we haven’t heard from in a long time — somebody we quested for — who simply says, “Hey, thank you for trying. It meant a lot.”

My motivation to play Deus Ex has changed over the past 16 years: once I only wanted to be a badass who could incapacitate a Liberty Island full of terrorists. Now all I want are more opportunities to champion the cases of the have-nots.