My Conflicting Feelings With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in Regards to Theft

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Posted by Dragontern (19 posts) -

When I was playing 'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided', one constant issue was always plaguing my mind. Why does Adam Jenson need to steal?

In 'Deus Ex: Human Revolution', you are the security chief at Sarif Industries. You would think that working at one of the most prestigious augmentation corporations would lend you some supplies or the cash you need for equipment, but that is not the case. You skulk around different parts of the world, breaking into innocent (and not so innocent) people's homes and stealing their belongings. For some reason, I never quite cared about this as it was a means to an end. In order to best represent the interests of the corporation and find out who was behind the attack that left me barely clinging to life, I'd need to lift every fridge in the game in search of a possible credit chip (Then throwing the fridge in the bathroom because it was pretty funny). However playing Mankind Divided something changed, both because of the game and myself.

Mankind Divided is downright gorgeous, the character models and environments damn near took my breath away on more than one occasion. The issue, however, was how life-like it represented the plight of the people of Prague. Once I arrived at Golem City, the visuals of this decrepit town of thousands living on top of each other left me broken. No matter what I do, these people still live, sleep and try to survive here. Why would I want to steal from these people? One of the first things you encounter in Golem City is a group of police beating up and arresting a bunch of the augmented individuals. I must have stood there for five minutes just watching this harassment occur in front of me, unable to comprehend how there is nothing I can do for these people. I can't give them some money, or even some medicine. This issue of the game conflicting with my own personal beliefs carried on in how the game dealt (or really not dealt) with theft.

Theft in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided is never really addressed in why it makes no sense for Adam to be engaging with. The security chief at Sarif Industries and now special agent at the Interpol Task Force 29, Adam should be given resources or at least the financial backing to get what he needs. However, he steals from those who have done nothing wrong so he can purchase skill points and weapons. In Human Revolution, the only mention I ever found of the world reacting to your theft was an e-mail in your office of people asking who was stealing their stuff. It even goes so far as to have others in the office accuse other office workers of the thefts. This reinforces one simple rule to the player, you can get away with theft. I felt like this was fine in Human Revolution because I never felt like I was presented with anything of true value. A couple of credits here and there isn't going to kill anyone, no problem. Mankind Divided presented too many scenarios in which your theft could easily cause devasting consequences. The most striking to me was after I broke into an apartment then went into the bathroom. The whole room was littered with empty beer cans and cigarette butts, and on top of a box was a vial of Neuropozyne which is the drug that keeps a person's body from rejecting their augments. Without thinking, I walked in, grabbed the drug, and almost left before I realized what I had done. This person might have been scraping by to afford the medication, and I stole it only so I could sell it. Adam has no need for the drug, as his body does not reject the augments. What surprised me most was that Adam does not reflect on this, on how his actions could hurt an innocent person. When it comes to combat Adam can be a pacifist which the game reflects, but his day-to-day actions are not given any acknowledgment. In a later cutscene Adam even says he has a no kill rule, but does he factor the many ways his actions could hurt people besides terrorists or gang members?

Adam Jenson is in a world where he has no reason to steal besides the fact that since he can, he will. He could put in a request for nutrition bars and gas grenades, but since no one will stop him why not just steal. This is what put me off continuing Mankind Divided, as I felt conflicted to continue playing a character that had no qualms with stealing from the less fortunate. When it came to almost stealing the Neuropozyne, not only did I return the drug but I also left a second one for them. I imagined that person coming home and finding the drugs left for them, and how much joy it would have brought. This small human gesture gave me more emotional satisfaction than any of the scripted scenarios presented to me which do not see me as a person, but as a robot badass with no soul.

(Hey everyone this is my first time going at this so if you have any feedback please let me know, thank you for reading!)

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#1 Posted by pnevares (108 posts) -

Really glad you wrote about this, I had a similar reaction in the opening hours of the game but couldn't voice it as well as you just did.

However, I remember being less forgiving than you with Human Revolution, in a min/max sense it totally pays off to steal everything that isn't nailed down -- in a roleplaying sense for both games why is this super soldier/stealth ninja stealing weapons and valuable medicine from the poor and sick in Detroit/Hong Kong/Prague/wherever. When a character is pillaging vaults in a bank (owned by potentially evil corporations with billions of dollars) I can see the justification.

It sounds like I'm asking for a paragon/renegade system from Deus Ex, and maybe that's a preconceived notion I brought into a game that's more about privilege and preserving humanity. But if the Adam Jensen that you've built through your conversation choices is sympathetic to the people of Golem City, why doesn't he acknowledge when you're acting against those values in private?

Thanks for a thought-inspiring post.

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#2 Posted by impartialgecko (1863 posts) -

I never really looted in these games. I figured out my Mankind Divided Jensen was going to silenced pistol his way through almost every encounter (the late game enemies gave me multiple tension headaches, naturally) and that meant I needed very little in the way of money or items to survive. That being said, your point highlights the limits of the "immersive sim" genre as being inescapably tied to its origins in Thief and old-school dungeon crawlers. Even its modern zenith in Dishonored 2 demands stealing everything in sight with only marginal justification. I guess it's on writers to adapt their storytelling to the core tenets of the genre, so that we're not still eating apples out of garbage bins in 2025.

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#3 Posted by Dragontern (19 posts) -

@pnevares: Hi there, thank you for reading!

I can totally see where you're coming from in regards to Human Revolution, however it was Mankind Divided making Neuropozyne a physical item in the world that pushed it over the edge. Human Revolution didn't have Neuropozyne as an item you could loot and sell, the only thing that I can remember is a side quest where you have to find out who has been stealing Neuropozyne. I remember siding with the character in agreement that it was noble to take them to give to the poor of the city, besides that I cannot remember Neuropozyne in the game (If I am wrong please correct me). Mankind Divided lets you just take people's Neuropozyne without any reason besides financially, and when you sell them you can see they are worth a lot.

I really like your idea of a morality gauge that not only reflects choices and character alliances, but also the minute actions in the world. It's something that would apply great to a lot of games, but possibly in a large game world it would be too much to deal with? I'd really like to see it in action though!

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#4 Edited by ArtisanBreads (8074 posts) -

I think the answer is most often they want you to feel rewarded for exploring, most often with finding cool stuff to take. It's pretty much always been there. In the first Deus Ex you are stealing people's ATM money who live in the slums with no judgement really.

It's just to me always been a gamey aspect. Same as it doesn't make too much sense why UNATCO didn't give you all the augs you could get in the first game or equip you well to start. Those help for the game, same as the stealing. I haven't played this game yet, but I saw that this one actually does call you for hacking and/or stealing at HQ which is cool.

Also what you are mentioning about a game judging your actions, I would point to Fable as a game that does that, even in a simple kind of way.

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#5 Posted by probablytuna (4917 posts) -

I wish there were more open world games that allows for more interactions with random NPCs. In GTAIV, you can actually give money to beggars on the street. It's one of the many little things about that game that made me appreciate GTAIV despite its flaws.

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#6 Posted by Dragontern (19 posts) -

@impartialgecko: I haven't had the opportunity to check out Dishonored 2, but I did play the first one and felt it had some story justification for why you must steal with how you're a ragtag group of rebels trying to restore the throne. You were camped out in a locked off portion of the city due to the plague and didn't have much of any resources so that's why you must steal to just survive. It's still a bit weird that you're stealing sick people's medicine and food but it wasn't as bad as the way Deus Ex just throws any logic out the window in regards to that.

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#7 Posted by Dragontern (19 posts) -

@artisanbreads: I can definitely see that in regards to wanting to feel like you earned something for your actions, it's just the way they used this life-saving drug as another means of earning money killed any sense of realism for a character that wants to help people.

I never had anyone in the HQ catch my for hacking or stealing, possibly just lucky but that's good I just wished Adam himself commented on his actions with the world around him.

I have heard some very good and some not so good things about the Fable series, but that's great to hear it tracks that. I'll definitely try it out when I can!

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#8 Posted by ArtisanBreads (8074 posts) -

@dragontern: I understand your point on that.

Adam commenting on it to himself would be a cool thing to see. I don't know the exact set up for them to call you out at HQ but I heard a couple people mention it. In the original Deus Ex, you got yelled at for going in the women's bathroom. Seeing these kind of games be more reactive would be cool but it is hard to do and you have to weight the trade offs.

I really enjoy Fable II and will highly recommend that game. Simple gameplay but it's fun and cool to see how it changes and reacts to how you play.

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#9 Edited by rethla (3438 posts) -

Aint this every single game to date though?

Im currently replaying Mass Effect 3 and wondering why mankinds highest ranked elite task force with an state of the art spaceship and the hope for organic life on their shoulders have to steal credit chips from refugees to buy a handgun? (Or maybe buy new fish to my private quarters because i forgot to feed them)

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#10 Posted by SpaceInsomniac (5947 posts) -

@rethla said:

Aint this every single game to date though?

Im currently replaying Mass Effect 3 and wondering why mankinds highest ranked elite task force with an state of the art spaceship and the hope for genetic life on their shoulders have to steal credit chips from refugees to buy a handgun? (Or maybe buy new fish to my private quarters because i forgot to feed them)

See also: You want me to save the city / nation / world / galaxy / universe, but you still want me to BUY weapons and armor from you? And if I don't, you're fine with me going into the final battle without the best weapons and armor? Really?

That one is in a lot of games.

As far as theft goes, I can definitely relate to what you're saying, though. Fallout and Elder Scrolls games do such a good job of point out the fact that you're stealing, that even when there was no red text indicator, I still found myself not taking anything from someone's home. Just because I did them a favor, doesn't mean I should just take anything I see. I don't care if the game says it's okay or not.

Another quirk I have is refusing to save my progress in any GTA type game, after I go on a senseless murder spree. That would mean those people would STAY dead!

I think it says good things about the social value of video games, when they make you care enough to adhere to moral principles, even if you are ultimately talking about lifeless software.

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#11 Edited by rethla (3438 posts) -

Also that Neuropozyne comes in plenty so you can choose from who you steal and who you give to pretty freely without being punished for it.

In my playthrough i have taken everyone i see and given to everyone who asks for it and i got loads.

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#12 Posted by LeStephan (778 posts) -

@rethla said:

Aint this every single game to date though?

Im currently replaying Mass Effect 3 and wondering why mankinds highest ranked elite task force with an state of the art spaceship and the hope for genetic life on their shoulders have to steal credit chips from refugees to buy a handgun? (Or maybe buy new fish to my private quarters because i forgot to feed them)

Another quirk I have is refusing to save my progress in any GTA type game, after I go on a senseless murder spree. That would mean those people would STAY dead!

I do the same haha your the first person I've heard of doing that as well.

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#13 Edited by Freedom4556 (266 posts) -
@dragontern said:

I really like your idea of a morality gauge that not only reflects choices and character alliances, but also the minute actions in the world. It's something that would apply great to a lot of games, but possibly in a large game world it would be too much to deal with? I'd really like to see it in action though!

Fallout 3 was a game that did that, with every theft of an "owned" item reducing your karma by a tiny amount. In that instance it mostly led to abuse of "fix my karma" features, like donating to the church. Fallout New Vegas tried going with a faction-based reputation system, where theft from the NCR would reduce your rep with them, specifically, and eventually you could get locked out of entire endings. It turns out players (in general) really hate being locked out of content for past decisions. I personally tend to play games however I want, and then if karma or rep keeps me from making the big choices I want, I'll grind them out. Honestly, I think the solution is games that don't encourage wanton theft and murder on the part of the protagonist, but then how are you going to pad out your Ubisoft tower?

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#14 Posted by BladeOfCreation (251 posts) -

This is an issue in games from Mass Effect to Dragon Age to Fallout to Skyrim to the Witcher 3. I've found myself over the years attempting to play these games without stealing from random innocent NPCs. I start the game telling myself that I won't, and for many hours I hold to that. Eventually, as I get closer to the end and don't have the money or resources to buy or craft the gear that I want, I say, "Fuck it," and start looting everything. I mean, I'm saving the world here, these people can afford to spot me a few bucks. It doesn't help that games like this will put high-level legendary items or long-lost schematics for the BEST SWORD EVER in grandma's cupboard.

I remember really hating the karma system of Fallout 3, in which you could kill raiders eho attacked you on sight, and then lose karma for stealing their stuff. There's an old PC Gamer UK podcast in which one of the guys talks about it an says something along the lines of, "These raiders decorate their homes with dismembered people hanging from hooks and corpses on mattresses, but I took some stuff from them and I'm the monster here? Really?"

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#15 Posted by NoneSun (622 posts) -

I love stealing.

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#16 Posted by NTM (9798 posts) -

The best answer I can think of is that Jensen believes it's vital to complete his tasks, and the game doesn't do a good job of conveying that. Otherwise, yep that's a good point.

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#17 Posted by Justin258 (14373 posts) -

I take everything that the game will let me and don't feel any remorse for it.

...ok, seriously, I guess I just don't think about the consequences of my actions for non-existant super-basic NPC's. It's the same reason why I drive on the sidewalk in GTA or Saints Row without a second thought but would be horrified if it happened in real life. It would be cool to see a developer tackle this concept and make sense of it (in a more engaging way than hanging a lampshade on it).

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