How Deus Ex Predicted the Future

There's an interesting editorial over on Kotaku this evening that isn't your typical retrospective piece for the original Deus Ex, but instead focuses a spotlight on some of the predictions the sci-fi FPS/RPG made about terrorism, artificial intelligence, and more that unfortunately turned out to be eerily correct months or years later. The article features commentary by Deus Ex lead writer Sheldon Pacotti, too, so you should definitely spend some time reading through it:

For the first chunk of the game, JC works as an agent for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO). Although you can choose to play a stealthy, non-lethal character, if you go soft on UNATCO's enemies, the veteran field agents will chew you out and question whether you've really got the stones for the job.

"The terrorists have wired the platform with explosives and put in hostages", says your sometime-mentor, Anna Navarre, of an NSF group who have barricaded a subway station. "Get the hostages out if you can, but make sure the NSF learn that human shields will not work against UNATCO".

UNATCO HQ is a house divided. You're free to talk to the secondary characters whom work there between missions. General Sam Carter, a war veteran, runs the armoury. He's not happy with the way UNATCO's mission is being handled by the higher-ups, but affirms that the majority of people working in the building the civilian staffers and the boots-on-the-ground are "24-carat gold".

Wander down to UNATCO's bottom level, however, and you'll find the holding cells; several hold NSF prisoners. You're forbidden to talk to them (though you can), and later, one of the game's primary antagonists (a shady government higher-up) arrives to conduct the interrogations personally. Follow him surreptitiously to the cells and you can watch his 'interrogation' of the captives who are, it's made clear, US citizens with families. The interrogation begins with carrots, moves on to sticks, and ends with murder. The government representative coldly rationalises his actions as "responding to a threat". The doctrine of the Bush and Cheney administration is carved deep into the foundations of UNATCO HQ.

"We may not have the premeditated lies of Deus Ex, but we do see extraordinary feats of storytelling when governments overstep or mis-step", says Pacotti. "To me, at least, some of the malaise of the Deux Ex dystopia has been present during the years after 9/11, during which torture, mass surveillance of civilians, and disregard for due process have all been touted as necessary for fighting terrorists. It's the story of totalitarianism nicely wordsmithed by the West and provided free of charge back to the rest of the world".