Thursday, January 3, 2013

Deus Ex & the Pacifist Run

Many role playing games for computers and consoles have introduced a “morality system” that allows you to cast your character as a hero or villain, depending on your temperament at the time.  In the early days the distinctions were pretty simple. For example, a little old lady only has half the money she needs for rent and the tyrannical landlord is coming soon.  Do you:

Pay the second half of her rent?  Hero!

Stab her and take what little money she has?  Villain!

As games got more morally complex, the answers did not always seem obvious.  For example, if you kill the landlord and turn the deed over to the little old lady, are you a cold blooded murder?  Or did you save the woman from eviction?

If you provide the rent money to the woman, then swindle all of the rent money plus the deed from the landlord, are you a thief?  Maybe, but at least this time you didn’t kill anyone.

In recent years the morality systems presented in games by companies like BioWare and Obsidian have been less black and white, focusing on the differences between a subtle approach (paragon, open palm, light side of the Force, etc) and a direct approach (renegade, closed fist, dark side of the Force, etc).  Okay, the differences between the approaches in the Knights of the Old Republic games can be argued.  But even in systems like these it is possible to play a character categorized as an honorable person who looks for peaceful solutions, but ultimately leaves a trail of bodies in his or her digital wake.  What is a peace-minded gamer yogi to do?

There is a growing group of gamers who look for “pacifist runs”, games where it is possible to play in such a way that you never kill a single enemy.  One such game is Deus Ex: The Human Revolution, a near-future prequel to the excellent cyberpunk influenced Deus Ex from 2000.  DX:HR has lots of interesting points to consider (and I am only 1/4 of the way through so far) but let’s just stick to it’s potential for pacifism.

For a game where you play a bionic super-soldier with enhancements that allow you to carry huge machine guns and stab people with arm-knives, there is a lot of flexibility to how you navigate the story.  Most of the game’s challenges can be overcome by combat, stealth, hacking, influence, or some combination thereof.  From a combat standpoint, in addition to the assault rifles and rocket launchers you also have access to a number of non-lethal weaponry, like tranquilizer darts, stun guns, concussion grenades, etc.  You also have the ability to sneak up behind opponents and knock them unconscious.  Sound peaceful?

One of these moves, by my count, would cause a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, possibly destroy an eye, and finally cause a massive concussion along with a broken nose and many lost teeth.  But hey, the bad guy still lives, right?

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