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Our Response to Fear and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided} ?> In 2027, Hugh Darrow activates a signal that sends augmented people into a hallucinogenic rage. This results in the Aug Incident in the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Though the signal lasts for mere hours before being shut down, the damage is done. With a push of a button, Hugh Darrow has created a rift between augmented (people who have been “improved” by using cybernetics, nanites, and implants) and naturals (people with no augments). There was already mistrust of the power wielded by the mechanically augmented so this act of violence across the world creates such fear that a mechanical apartheid is put into place in Prague.
The first time I took a train in game from one of Prague’s boroughs to the next, there was a cut-scene where police ask for identification. Two minutes later, when I was walking between sectors of the town, I was again subjected to a short cut-scene demanding identification. The second time I took a train, I was accosted immediately after exiting the train, threatened amidst derogatory terms like ‘clank’ or ‘hanzer,’ and informed that if I kept using the train they would take more drastic measures. That was the first moment I looked around and realized that I’d been using the norm’s entrance/exit to the train and not the aug’s. I pushed it one more train trip and the police were extremely rude and promised violence if I didn’t shape up… Suffice it to say, I didn’t use the normal entrance again.
I started paying more attention to my surroundings after that. I saw an uninviting walkway surrounded by an electric fence, the entrance for augmented people. When I used this entrance, I was not subjected to any obnoxious cut-scenes or identification interruptions and I experienced something new when it came to moving around a free world: I was afraid to walk where I wanted. The un-augmented entrances and roads were clearly lit and inviting, while the augmented pathways were surrounded by rough concrete, barbed wire, and menacing turrets. And even though I had the necessary paperwork to move through these areas, I was often subjected to cut-scenes where I was disrespected, insulted, and threatened. When I walked through a nice area of town, NPC’s gave me wary glances and muttered derogatory terms under their breaths. Apartheid stopped being merely annoying and became frightening.
I became jumpier as the game went on and was quick to draw a weapon as I travelled around the city. When approaching a police checkpoint, I would start looking for alternative ways around it, even illegal ways, because the checkpoints were stressful. This was a new experience for me because I’m a 30’s something white male. In life outside Mankind Divided, the police are my friends and the lighted paths belong to me by default. The fear of being treated as something other was made more real because it was a new fear. What I noticed more and more was that as the police increased their deadly presence, I was more likely to open fire or incapacitate a police officer than support or capitulate to their demands. And in the same vein, the more the augmented people attempted to carve out some space for themselves and resist the oppression, the more the police increased their presence and armament.
By the end of the game, the police are the enemy. The opening scene of the final act has them declaring marital law with a curfew and cutting down someone running through the streets after hours. Upon realizing they’ve executed a ‘norm’ and not an augmented person the one officer remarks to the other, “If they’d been a proper citizen, they wouldn’t have been out.” At this point, I stopped caring about the police or their wellbeing at all. They became my enemies, NPCs to incapacitate. The mix of fear and anger made it feel acceptable to use force on the police, even before they saw me, because I knew they were going to judge me and use force against me. It didn’t matter that I was the good guy because they wouldn’t see it.
I feel Mankind Divided has given me some insight into the trouble North America faces between law enforcement and people of colour. A history of aggression has led to a place where neither side is sure of the other and so are prepared to shoot first lest they be shot. I imagine police officers are terrified of being killed in a routine traffic stop and so their responses are extremely aggressive; guns are drawn in case the person of interest they are approaching already has a weapon out. On the other side, anyone being stopped who fits a profile knows that there is a good chance they are going to be aggressively persecuted and possible shot at, so the presence of fear and anger create situations where they feel shooting first is the only way to prevent getting shot themselves.
This fear creates a perfect environment where attacking first seems like the only way to survive. I, as Adam Jensen, had to incapacitate police first before they opened fire and killed me, and there were a lot more of them and they had superior fire power. I understand a little better now what is going on in the minds of minorities of North America. But Mankind Divided makes a very important point in its closing moments: the apartheid is hurting both the augmented and the natural citizens, but benefiting certain individuals who market chaos and make their living off fear. Perhaps we too need to start looking outside the issue of who can harm us and start thinking about who profits when we harm each other. My dream is that we will take steps to leave our fear of each other behind and make real changes to the policies and structures that profit from the violence. My hope is that we will see each other as human beings and not as attackers, as friends and not as enemies.