Posted by: Ben | August 19, 2012

Case Of The Ex: UNATCO HQ

“But what distinguishes true terrorist activity is its gradual escalation towards genuine acts of war. Fringe groups now have access to technology that allows direct assaults on governments, including the classic trio of nuclear, biological or chemical weaponry (NBC). But aside from direct assaults on a nation and its people, indirect attacks can cause considerable collateral damage – rogue software can disrupt financial markets, communication and military operations, while encryption programs allow terrorists to co-ordinate smuggling operations in secret right over the net! Drugs, guns, illegal immigrants and even heavy equipment such as armoured vehicles and cruise missiles are routinely traded across borders, aided and abetted by such software.”
Public Access Terminal Bulletins

UNATCO HQ
United Nations Antiterrorist Coalition

You turn up for work on the first day in your new job and your office is under siege from armed terrorists. You respond by single-handedly subduing the invasion, freeing a colleague who was being held hostage, and capturing (or even killing) their leader. In most jobs you’d probably be given the rest of the day off. At the very least you’d hope your new workmates would be in the lobby to greet you with a standing ovation. UNATCO is not like other workplaces. At least you get a bonus. No salary, just a bonus.

At least you get a little bit of downtime. The standard procedure for most videogames, even to the present day, is a loading screen, or if you’re very lucky a cutscene, to tell you what your next mission is. At least in Deus Ex you get to take some time to walk around your new workplace, meet the staff and find your office (and redecorate it with as many pot plants as you can steal, if that’s your thing).

Mirrors in the original Deus Ex are fully functional. Take that, Human Revolution.

The underground compound has three levels. At the top is the entrance, along with a couple of offices that are off-limits to all but the most dedicated lockpicker. JC’s office is on level two, next to a conference room, a recreation room and the office of the Director, Joseph Manderley.

This section is here to provide context to JC Denton’s world. You already know Jaime Reyes. Alex Jacobson is the IT guy, Sam Carter, the armourer, is an ex-general and Gunther Hermann wants to have a gun implanted in his head so he can kill by thought alone. Even some of the interchangeable soldiers have names, personalities and Vic Reeves-esque leg rubbing fetishes.

As well as some local colour, there are a number of entertaining bugs to be found. I managed to get myself trapped between two panes of unbreakable glass on Manderley’s office door, and was only able to free myself by shooting his secretary in the head, provoking a soldier to arrive and euthanase me.

The trick is to throw yourself at the chair and miss.

As well as the characters, there are plenty of books and emails to read. The documents give the impression of authority struggling to maintain legitimacy in a world that increasingly rejects it.

There are always copies of the UNATCO training manual lying around, reminding you to always follow your superiors’ orders, even when they’re blatantly unethical. It also suggests you “issue a warning before firing on a suspect and always instruct bystanders to “get down on the ground”. But this isn’t SWAT and there’s no button to issue a warning. In combat situations you’re basically going to be firing your gun and hoping the civilians run away. The dedication at the front of the manual reads “Nihil aliud scit necessitas quam vincere” – “Necessity knows nothing else but victory.”

There are research briefings on undetectable covert air transport techniques, a reference to the “Black Helicopter” conspiracy theory, another hobby-horse of the US militia movement and the John Birch society. There’s more background on the NSF, together with the French intellectuals and Chinese gangsters (arms and drug dealers, but special spleen is reserved for their “technopiracy” and “violations of intellectual property and copyright laws”) who make up UNATCO’s other current bogeymen.

We are reminded that the American economy is collapsing and that the Gray Death has left New York in ruins, with a mass grave being dug in Gateway National Park.. Meanwhile newspapers, the voice of the powerful, run stories speculating about whether aliens could be behind the social unrest the world is facing.

Reading a public access terminal, you’ll find a warning about terrorists coordinating their plans through the internet. In the real world, the UK Government is pushing for access to encrypted web traffic and the right to inspect the emails of its citizens in the name of “prevention of terrorism”, a fantasy that appears to be beyond the imaginations of Deus Ex’s developers a little over a decade ago. While their plans cannot possibly cause potential terrorists any more than the mildest of inconvenience, if enacted they will break the security of the web and permanently alter the relationship between the State and its people.

This is the most chilling proposition contained within Deus Ex, and one which will be played up later – the realisation that the secessionists and the right-wingers were right (except for the racism). We really are under siege from our own governments. History will answer whether all those school shootings that have become an unavoidable adverse consequence of liberal gun laws are too great a price to pay to allow a certain section of America a degree of freedom from state coercion. I believe I linked to Jon Ronson’s Ruby Ridge documentary in an earlier article, but the message is this: as long as the Government has a monopoly on violence, the Second Amendment is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

The willingness of self-identified democratic governments to use lethal force against their own citizens has been demonstrated. The question becomes one of whether it is moral for those citizens to arm themselves in defence against a violent and powerful ruling regime when doing so is likely to result in their own deaths and those of their loved ones. Communities have adopted wildly differing viewpoints on this question depending on history and geography. The subjugation of communities and traditions in the name of “unity” has never presented a viable end-point to conflict in the past and will not do so in the future.

In case it needed saying, these are big themes for what is ostensibly a work of populist art.

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