Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a Story About Technology, Morality, and… DRM?

I bet you thought I was done writing about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. How wrong you were! Though in truth, I just wanted to share a particularly outstanding piece I just read about the game. So, this is me writing about writing about Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

DXHR tackled some weighty topics, from transhumanism to the limits of human self-improvement to the immortal question, "Rocket Launcher or Crossbow?" But one thing I hadn't thought to connect it with is the current debate about software Digital Rights Managament.

Fortunately, Rock Paper Shotgun's own X-Man Kieron Gillen is all over it with an in-depth piece pondering that, as well as the many other real-world issues addressed in the game. (It's worth noting that his piece goes into great detail about the story, all the way up to the end of the game. So, it's chock full 'o spoilers.)

Gillen's observations about how we are all already augmented are particularly cool:

Right now? We're all superhumans. And as time goes by, at least in the industrialised world, we're all increasingly superhuman. It's almost impossible to over-emphasise how much technology has made us titans. It was said, the Colt is the great equaliser. For the last century, I would favour your gran with a gun over any martial artist in the world. Today, I'd favour anyone with a basic understanding of Google over pretty much any scholar in matters of general knowledge.

...

If people are free to just do whatever they want, they're going to destroy the society. If everyone has a nuke, even if the vast majority can use it responsibly, it only takes a tiny portion to decide to mis-use it to bring ruination. So, by fair means or foul, there must be a way of enforcing discipline. By killswitching this world-ending they maintain control. They have added entirely unnecessary functions to a piece of technology because they distrust human nature to use it responsibly and maintain a societal order.

At which point you see the DRM metaphor. The Illuminati's plan is to put DRM into every piece of cybernetics to ensure that it's not misused – or, if it is misused, it can be prevented from causing wide-spread harm. Darrow's murderous critique isn't just that augmentations are dangerous – but that augmentations will leave you open to something like this. His problem is both what the augmentations let you do ("I can tear that dude's head clean off if I feel like it") and what they make you do ("They can make you feel like tearing that dude's head clean off if they feel like it"). Some technology is just too dangerous for anyone to allow it to exist, because the safety-locks you "have" to add to it are just as rife for abuse as the technology it exists to control.

Give it a read—it's a fascinating line of thinking, and a good reminder of how "improved" we all already are, from our instant access to vast stores of information to the ways we've made ourselves physically stronger, speeding up evolution with advances in medical research. As radical as some of the augmentations in DXHR may seem, in many ways they're already happening. We're each a bit more Adam Jensen than we may be comfortable admitting.

And so comes the inevitable question: How to maintain control? How to keep it all in check? And in the future, will our brains come bundled with always-on DRM?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is About DRM [RPS]


You can contact Kirk Hamilton, the author of this post, at kirk@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.