As a white kid born and raised in South Africa during the late apartheid era the thing that stuck with me all this time while growing up during that period was the segregation enforced by the apartheid government. Signs everywhere that stated “Whites only”or “Blacks only” not to mention the Udompasi (Domspas) law. All black South Africans over the age of 16 had to carry a passbook, known as a dompas, everywhere and at all times. The dompas was extremely similar to a modern day passport, but it contained more extensive information than a passport. The dompas contained their fingerprints, photograph, personal details of employment, qualifications to work or seek work in the area, and reports on their behavior.
Not to mention the Bantustans or homelands, established by the then apartheid government, which were areas to which the majority of the blacks people were moved to prevent them from living in the same urban areas as white South African’s. The obvious idea behind this was to separate blacks from the whites. And then give black people the responsibility of running their own “independent government” denying them protection and any remaining rights they might have had as South African citizens. They even had their own homeland police force and army to keep the peace and the citizens in check should any protests happen. Which were quickly stopped and more often than not ended in violent bloodshed.
And Robben Island, an island just off the coast of South Africa where the apartheid government built a maximum security prison for political prisoners who dared to speak out or act against the government. The above events and facts pretty much mirror the plot/story/events of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and this struck a chord in me, because as a 14-year-old at the time that apartheid ended in 1994 what did I know about it? What we were taught was that segregation and racism was okay because we were the supposed “superior” race. So for me to actually experience this first hand in a video game like Deus Ex was an eye-opener for me, because as children at the time and due to the segregation we weren’t exposed to these elements at the time.
This is exactly the type of stories we should all want to see in video games, and that we should all be celebrating and lauding companies like Eidos Montreal for tackling things like apartheid in an interactive medium such as video games. But they aren’t the first to use apartheid as a theme in their story, District 9 a science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp a fellow South African. It was obviously based on apartheid, and the historical comparisons the move made added a whole new dimension to the film and made it a Sci-Fi cult classic, and my opinion not talking about or tackling sensitive issues from the past is stupid. Neither District 9 or Deus Ex glorified the act of apartheid, it is actually showing the dark nature of it through a Sci-Fi themed story.
These stories ended up being extremely thoughtful, well-intentioned, drawing on interesting real-life events. From the 8 hours I have played of the game so far, the game has one of the most intelligently thought out, and well-executed themes in the gaming industry today. It actually made me think about racism and segregation and all those other kinds of social constructs that have restricted our society in the past. What I have seen and experience so far in the world of Deus Ex that looks authentic and not just added on for the sake of causing controversy. They had a chance to seriously tackle apartheid themes, and they took it. An opportunity like this is rare, especially in a medium like video games.
The Deus Ex is a series that has always tackled themes like racism, apartheid, terrorism, transhumanism, conspiracy theories, you name it. After Human Revolution, I have some high hopes for the next Deus Ex game in the franchise, and while I don’t know if the choice to do a direct sequel with Jensen is the same one would have made. But what I do think is that he issue of segregation based on augmentations is one that has never been tackled before in video games needs to be taken head-on. So I was pretty surprised to hear that the constantly offended social justice warriors found issue with the games portrayal of segregation and apartheid based on physical differences. They seem to believe that because apartheid was such a bad thing.
And that it cannot be used outside its original context anymore. But what these people fail to realize is that apartheid always had several meanings and was never just referring to what happened in South Africa’s dark past. Those who do not understand beyond vague ideas of what a word might or might not mean, cry out against a subject they do not really understand. This is exactly the type of games we need as I stated earlier. These people want video games to be taken seriously as a medium but they won’t do so themselves. They want people to talk about these sorts of issues in video games but if anyone does so but isn’t in their clique/group or doesn’t hold the conversation on their terms then they get shouted down.
Art and entertainment isn’t always supposed to be comfortable, it’s not meant to be. Most of the times things like video games and movies are there to provoke different emotions and reactions from us. Basically, the story of Deus Ex is just racism in a new package, between the augmented and non-augmented humans. Deus Ex also did a great on the philosophical battle of what it means to be a human being and the impact that robotic augmentation would have on our society in the future. This is already a pretty relevant topic because of all the debate surrounding prosthetic leg blades and whether or not they give you an advantage over able-bodied runners.