Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #2: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

In PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360 on September 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Title: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Released: August, 2011

Box Art

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a sci-fi epic all about choice. Consequence. Making a mistake at any point leads to repercussions further down the line. Example: an early mission has you meeting your boss to sort out a “situation”. Not being told what it was, I ignored my boss’ repeated requests to come find him; I’d just been given a whole office to explore, and that meant picking locks, hacking computers, and stealing as many energy snacks as I could. Fine.

I stole a lot, spoke to well-rounded NPCs (non-player characters), and got a feel for the game world. Then: “Get here right away Adam; the situation’s just got a whole lot worse.” Hm? Turns the “situation” was a terrorist attack, and my pissing about has resulted in the termination of eight hostages. Ouch.


I am a meticulous gamer. I like to slowly, methodically explore each environment, making sure I’ve swiped all collectibles and found all secrets before moving on. This poses a problem when faced with time constraints. But, usually, they’re not strictly enforced. Usually, a game will present you with one or two sound bites that repeat every few minutes, reminding you to get a wriggle on. No consequences. This was different, and it really shook me; rarely has a game had the stones to treat me in so un-game-like a manner. I felt real guilt as I played through the first mission; reading PDAs replete with bomb-defusing codes, e-mails from terrified hostages and advice on how to sneak past guard patrols unseen. It was all there, but none of it mattered. The hostages were all already dead. People had died because I tried to play a game like a game.


Let me be clear: this is a good thing. Games shouldn’t always take the easy road and provide guilt-free thrills. Sometimes, they should have choice. Sometimes, they should have consequences. Not all the time, of course; sometimes you just want to shoot some baby-eating Nazis in the face. But the older you get, the more you start to appreciate the middle ground.


I’m 25, soon to be 26, (at time of writing) and I’m a private tutor and comedian. Until January 2011, I worked a 9-5 office job. I hated it, but it paid far more regularly than self-employment does. However, I made a conscious choice to branch out on my own because I want to write and perform. Rarely do I regret it. One of the many upsides is that I’m not stuck in an office doing bullshit chores for a low wage. Another is that I get to play video games whenever I want. One of the downsides, however, is that I get to play video games whenever I want.

Allow me to explain. When I worked a desk job, I used to save up my days off for months, and unleash them in a timely fashion, often when a really exciting new game came out. I did this for Heavy Rain. I did this for Assassin’s Creed II. I would have done it for Deus Ex. My colleagues couldn’t understand it: “So, how are you spending your day off, Jon? Going somewhere nice? Meeting some friends? Cinema?” “Kind of. I’m going back to the guttering throes of the Old West, meeting my friends online, and watching in-game cinematics.” “Sorry?” “Ah, it’s a PS3 game. Called Red Dead Redemption. It’s like GTA. But with cowboys.” “Oh, cool. Sounds…great.”

They could never understand it: why would I use my precious, hard-earned days off to play video games? Why indeed. Because I loved it. It was glorious. Totally guilt-free. Those days off were hard-fought-for and fully mine, and I could play the day away knowing full well that it was back to grind-stone when my time was up. Immersion was total, and importantly, I could never get too carried away. Responsibility was innate in the set-up.

But now, if I so choose, I can spend every day doing this. And you know what? It’s not the same. For a start, it loses its lustre. One of the treats about a hard day’s gaming is that it’s just that: a day. If every day’s a hard day’s gaming, then it’s no longer special. More importantly: your life atrophies. Chores don’t get done, or get half-assed so you can rush back to level up. Meals get relegated to quick snacks, or become quick-fix McDonalds, so you can try out that new augmentation. Your character improves, to the detriment of your character. Too much spare time, badly managed, is just as bad as not having enough.


This happened to me with Deus Ex. I got hooked. I loved it, I really did; it’s a fantastically designed and put-together game. Well-paced, with brilliant, open-ended levels and a compelling, relevant story. But I had no immediate reason to stop playing. Hours went by in a haze of gunfire and hacking mini-games. Two Thursdays ago I played all day in my room without leaving the house. I have never done that before. Living at home I had my family to interact with and keep me in the real world. At university I lived with five best mates, most of whom weren’t gamers and kept me on the level. But now, it’s just me. It requires more willpower to address the things in life that need to be addressed. And they do need to be addressed. Bills need to be paid, friendships need to be maintained, careers need to be made something of. But for a few short days two weeks ago, none of these things happened.

Which brings me back to responsibility. I found it painfully ironic, that playing a game which championed choice and consequence so eloquently brought out the least responsible side of me I have ever witnessed. A game in which irresponsible action leads to profound regret, was in reality eating away my days, leaving me nothing to show at the end of them. Which is partly why I started writing this blog; I wanted to express this guilt, try to understand it, and try to wring something constructive from those many hours.


Do not misunderstand me: I am not blaming video games, and Deus Ex in particular, for any of this. Any time I spend doing anything is my choice, and my choice alone. My point here is not to accuse videogames, but to draw parallels with the issues they raise, and the way in which we process them. I have friends who spend hours every night after work playing online, probably far more per week than I do. Is that a problem? Probably not: if they’re happy, and achieving everything they want to be achieving. I am not for a minute suggesting that gaming is bad. A good game is designed to be immersive and compelling, and if it’s not, why would anyone buy it? The key lies in self-control. In responsibility. And moderation. If you can’t stop yourself playing for hours on end and you’ve engineered yourself a scenario when it’s possible for you to do just that, be aware you’re going to need a large amount of self-control not to slip into an unbalanced routine. If, however, you can switch off the power at any time and go straight to bed, have at it.


As for me: I tend to see things in black and white. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a staggeringly immersive game, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I was done. Each new ability opened up fresh and exciting avenues of gameplay; each new scenario opened up new plot threads and tantalised with the promise of new mysteries; each new weapon opened up more ways to shoot bad guys in the face. I didn’t want to play an hour a day for thirty days – that’s for when you’re married with kids. I wanted to smash through it at roller-coaster speed, put it back in its box and move on. It meant a couple of irresponsible days, but now it’s out of my system and I can sit down and write again. Next time maybe I’ll be more careful. (Though the gaming line-up over the next few months suggests otherwise) But despite any guilt and self-reproach, don’t for a second think I didn’t enjoy those three, ridiculous days.


Besides, anything can be a lesson if you look at it the right way. Video games are no exception. Worst case scenario? You can always write a blog.

  1. […] became one of my favourite games of all time when I played through it on ‘Infamous’, as did Deus Ex: Human Revolution when I played that on ‘Deus Ex’. Suddenly, and most simply, games were fun again as games, […]

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