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The case for Deus Ex as “The Great American video game”

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A bit of a foray into literary theory (which is useful to understand games cus of their relation as a narrative medium), Moby Dick is quite often refered to as "The Great American Novel", not because it's the only great American novel, but because of it's status as an epic which manages to quite definitively capture the essence of the American spirit. A benchmark of literature which captures the prevailing thoughts, ideas, wants and needs of a nation. Similarly, Les Miserables is occasionally refered to as "The Great French Novel". Shortly, it's a Great Novel (great not just because of quality, but also size, scope and ambition) which manages to capture The France, as she is in spirit.

Now, Deus Ex. Despite its influences on the medium, it still manages to be a very unique game, especially in spirit, and very different even from its sequels, in fact there's nothing like it. There's games about agents, conspiracies, robots and explosions, but the way Deus Ex ties everything together in its depiction of a not too improbable future of America, but also in an epic overall thesis of its main theme, the future of human governance and power, profoundly depicts a specifically American mindset and spirit, especially in the modern era.

The US in the modern era has been a country largely concerned with demonstrating and showcasing power, usually in the military sense. Ever since the end of the second World War, it's a self appointed position as the lead governor of the free world, and the difficulties of extracting and maintaining power to be in such a position. Governance, not just its people, but the people of other nations as well, is an issue weighing on the country's mind. Adding to this the self contradictory nature of American patriotism, a firm strong belief in the spirit and ideals of the nation, with simultaneous extreme distrust of the government. America apparently being a country so beautiful no party is fit to rule her.


These are the issues Deus Ex directly confronts, along with problems of large income disparity, consolidation, terrorism, media propaganda, the justice system and it's not by chance the world-visiting trip JC Denton goes on includes the US' main competitors of world power, Europe and China.

These aren't only what makes Deus Ex stand out, it's also very large in scope and ambition and manages to quite heavily tread on the entire issue of human power. In fact the ending of the game serves the entire experience of the game to you on a platter and asks you to directly answer the game's main issue, what will be the future of human governance? How should humans relate to their power? It's by no mistake the choices are either regressing, stagnating or progressing into the most futuristic concept of the game yet.

Why this is the great "American" game, rather than just a great game, is because these issues are tackled from a primarily American mindset. The ideal being the freedom of the individual, America is familiar and intimate whereas China and Europe are the other, distrust of governance and large companies beyond the scope of the individual, and also that the future is primarily determined by power, above anything.

The end result of Deus Ex being a great insight, not only into a likely future, but also the worries of doubts of the American spirit, as it stands on the precipice, and thus also becomes a great insight into the past, and how it got into this situation overall.

And before anyone asks, no, I don't believe that Deus Ex is the only great American game ever, that's not what the phrase means.

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