I’VE been spending a fair amount of time recently sneaking around a dystopian near-future version of Prague.
As Adam Jensen, a cyborg Interpol agent, I’ve been stealthily knocking out gangsters, fascist cops, cyborg terrorists, corrupt politicians and members of the illuminati in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on PlayStation 4.
It’s great fun messing around in the game’s open environments, figuring out multiple ways to complete the divergent quests, cringing at the game’s laughably bad lip-syncing, watching the story unfold in response to the actions and decisions I make and utilising the protagonist’s technologically enhanced super powers.
However, the most intriguing aspect of the game by far is the parallels it draws with the real world.
Mankind Divided is actually the fourth in the Deus Ex series and is a direct sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, itself a prequel to the entire series.
The previous games were set way in the future but this one and its predecessor happen much closer to our time, the late 2020s.
The world of Deus Ex is a libertarian capitalist’s wet dream, in which three or four multinational corporations run the show and operate, more or less, completely free from government regulation.
The natural environment has been utterly destroyed and most wild animals have become extinct. The poor and working class have few rights, no political representation and all public services have been ruthlessly privatised.
Advances in cybernetic biotechnology have drastically improved people’s physical and mental abilities — provided, of course, they have the dosh to pay for the robotic implants and the medicines required to stop the body from rejecting all that metal.
Those that can’t afford the biomechanical upgrades are outpaced in the labour market, while those who can’t afford the medicine live in a constant state of withdrawal.
That was the backdrop to the beginning of the previous game until — spoiler warning — a rogue member of the illuminati, for reasons the game doesn’t make exactly clear, activated secret software inside the biomechanical upgrades and caused the “augmented” people to viciously attack everyone around them.
In Mankind Divided, non-augmented society has risen up in a rage of right-wing populism and heavily oppressed the augmented, forcing them to live in walled ghettos or concentration camps — which are 3D-printed by the transnational corporations.
One of the reasons why people are so blind to the root causes of their problems is that the media is dominated by a single company which acts as the voice of big business.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a dark prophetic vision of our future. Especially so, since we learnt last week that 69 of the top 100 economic entities in the world are private corporations — which partially explains why governments drag their feet to implement the minor environmental changes recommended by the 2015 Paris climate conference and the motivations behind TTIP, CETA and the other so-called “free” trade deals set to make a mockery of democracy.
The human rights of ethnic minorities, refugees and poor migrants are trampled or straight-up ignored in favour of profits. Desperate people who try to reach the safety and economic prosperity of Europe, the US or Australia find themselves in privatised detention centres, which goes some way to explaining the EU’s inaction over the refugee crisis. There’s profit to be made.
The biomechanical technology in the game might be a bit far-fetched. But, as Edward Snowden’s revelations have shown, corporations are not beyond using secret software to spy on us.
And companies like Uber, Deliveroo and AirBnB are leading us in an “economy” race to the bottom where things like trade unions, guaranteed working hours and holiday and sick pay are a thing of the past.
A note from the editor-in-chimp: This review originally appeared in the Morning Star as part of my bi-weekly gaming column Game On.