Deus Ex: Critics Divide

(The following is a post made a while back defending Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.)

Deus Ex has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism for the lore surrounding it’s newest game Mankind Divided. Deus Ex is a favourite among gamers not just for the immersive world you are placed in but for the underlying commentary.

Deus Ex is known for tackling hard issues, and as far as fiction goes, in my opinion, it is one of the best pieces of science fiction to date. Now games journalists want games to be regarded more for their art and message, as evidenced by games like Gone Home and Sunset. Widely acclaimed by a media supposedly representing the gamer. However, for all their talk of wanting social issues tackled in video games. They appear rather shy of Deus Ex.

The first critical articles came up regarding the term mechanical apartheid. Its relevance in the Deus Ex universe relates to the division amongst Augs and non-Augs. Most Augs are seen as the lower half of society and as human revolution demonstrated they are often demonised and as the story progressed, they were hacked leading to them attacking and possibly killing other people with no way of restraining themselves. In later missions, some of the living conditions for Augs can be seen as appalling. They are held to ransom by the black market that makes a living off of their prosthetic limbs.

Polygons criticism of the term begins with the definition of Apartheid;

Apartheid (literally “separateness” in Afrikaans) was the brutal governmental system of political oppression and racial segregation used by white rulers in South Africa throughout much of the last century.

In truth, there is more to that definition. Apartheid is also the segregation on grounds other than race.’ Therefore it can be used to define the separation of natural people from the augmented people as shown in Mankind Divided.

The writer Colin Campbell quotes a series of tweets made by Austin Walker stating “How might we feel if they called it ‘Robot Jim Crow Laws’” and “Apartheid isn’t just a general term, it references a specific period of great trauma and oppression.”

The general consensus is that it’s the wrong choice of term. This ignores the fact as fiction goes, the use makes sense as a reflection of the oppression faced by the Augmented. If we as writers hesitate over terms then how can fiction ever develop as a literary form? This approach by critics reflects how some regarded the Reader, a novel that later was made into a movie. The controversy spawned from the movie as publications moved to slam it and deny Kate Winslet an Oscar she was nominated for. The Telegraph reported at the time;

‘Movie critics are divided on whether Winslet should receive the best actress Oscar for the role. Voting closes at 5pm on Tuesday and supporters of rival films are said to be emailing Jewish members of the Academy in a last-minute campaign to ruin The Reader’s chances.’

And one critic Gabrielle Burton accepted that the film was “flawlessly crafted” with fine performances but went on to say how ‘it was too close to that scary genre ‘Holocaust palatable’’.

Is it too much to say that this fear of dark fiction is what leads critics to get on a bandwagon of hate? Whether it’s Mankind Divided or even the Killing Joke. What stands out is how the ‘intended’ audience reacts. And usually, it’s positive because they, unlike some critics, realise perhaps that fiction should be allowed to tackle dark subject matters. Because it can serve as a way of reflection on our past, as well as looking to our future whilst also exploring our flaws as human beings.

This isn’t to say that people can’t criticise the term ‘Mechanical Apartheid’ but I feel in their haste to push a story, journalists and especially game journalists usually overlook key details in favour of pushing the story to publication. The message conveyed by some of these people is that they want its removal. Campbell does refer to Giles Matouba’s rant on Reddit. Giles formally worked on Mankind Divided and goes into detail on why the term was chosen over other things.

‘When we decided to go all-in on delivering the experience to play as Adam Jensen, an Augmented, in a world aggressively segregating his own kind, we actually wanted to offer to our audience something unique. Something that was close and very personal to us: The experience of being torn between 2 worlds and 2 identities. Augs calling you the ‘uncle Tom’ of the non-Augs, non-Augs always insecure when you’re around, always deeply being scared or appalled by your mechanical body.’

Campbell’s criticism points at how segregation affected those native to South Africa, he also refers to gender apartheid and states that in regards to Mankind Divided;

‘The Augmented in Mankind Divided are a privileged and wealthy elite who mostly choose to put themselves above their fellow human beings through expensive technological enhancements. When these enhancements are manipulated by evil forces, millions of people are killed.’

This statement is misrepresentative of how many Augs are well below the poverty line and struggle even to survive. It also ignores the fact that Augmentation saved a lot of lives, especially that of a woman of colour who is mentioned in a newspaper if the player chooses to read it. The revulsion and forced separation of Augs and Non-Augs by any means necessary is without a doubt a form of Apartheid that literally afflicts everyone who for whatever reason, whether wealthy or otherwise was deemed too dangerous for society. The trailers shown so far clearly conveys a world divided to the break point.

Despite the terms relevance, this hasn’t stopped other notable figures coming out against it. Zoe Quinn’s comments ignore that the man who coined the phrase Mechanical Apartheid and who formerly worked as one of the Directors on the game, Giles Matouba is actually a person of colour. However, she is not the only one critical of the game, Mass Effect developer, Manveer Heir in response to the use of ‘Aug Lives Matter’ among other things tweeted ‘Also, let’s pretend for a minute there was a ton of diversity on that Deus Ex team. It doesn’t mean they understand the issues well enough’ which in turn led to a response from one of the writers that the term Aug Lives Matter was purely coincidental.

Essentially we now live in a world where a critic can basically say ‘sod the content’ attack the creators. It’s why I personally worry that some people need step back and realise they are acting morally superior. Talent for writing is not and I repeat not decided by your gender or your skin colour. Perhaps Manveer should first realise this.

Inevitably, Jonathan McIntosh formerly associated with Feminist Frequency went on his own personal tirade against the game stating that ‘Sometimes when game designers set up “player choices,” the choice itself is immoral because it shouldn’t be up to the player to make it.’ To which I ask should the player be given any choice. Whilst true the game has programmed responses to every action, every consequence is shaped by how you play the game. It’s what makes RPGs so popular with gamers.

The problem with McIntosh’s approach is that it leads to conflating fiction with reality to the point they are indistinguishable when they are two separate entities entirely. Inspiration is natural by product of the writing process. In the end, the only way we will know that Mankind Divided is a success is how it sells and how the actual players respond to the game. Because sometimes I get the feeling that its critics who are actually out of touch with their audience.

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The Last Jedi: A Deconstruction (Part One)

It may come as a surprise that the first review I post following the changeup of this blog is the Last Jedi. I’ve written plenty about it, but I feel obligated to dissect this movie and its relation to the Force Awakens and the other preceding movies. This review will focus more on character, plot, setting and how it relates to Star Wars lore. But first, let us start where the Force Awakens left us. Although Abrams played it safe and did a glorified ‘A New Hope’. The Force Awakens still manages to capture the essence of Star Wars. It’s not perfect but it is enjoyable. Unfortunately, it too is riddled with badly conceived plot plots and characterisation. The Force Awakens left us with a lot of unanswered questions such as;

Who is Rey? And who were her parents?
Who are the Knights of Ren?
Who is Snoke?
Why did Luke disappear and why did he leave a map? Just what was he hoping to find combing over old Jedi artefacts.
And more importantly just how did the First Order come to be?

Regarding the latter, it can be assumed the First Order formed out of the Empire’s fractured remains. As for Rey we only know that she was abandoned. We learn of Snoke’s appearance, but his backstory is left to our imaginations. It was expected then that the Last Jedi might answer a lot of questions but still leave enough to make people want to come back for Episode Nine. Well, I was sorely mistaken on that one. Because Rian took Abram’s plot points and threw them into the sun. Let’s first cover the opening credit sequence, the space battle and the start of the movie.

Contradicting the very essence of Star Wars

The very opening credits of the movie seem to imply time has passed but if sources are to be believed then the Last Jedi and Force Awakens are mere hours apart. It also suggests that the First Order reigns;

The FIRST ORDER reigns.
Having decimated the peaceful
Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke
now deploys his merciless
legions to seize military
control of the galaxy.

If five planets are supposed to represent this New Republic. Then how it survived this long is a miracle. Furthermore, there a dozen examples in science fiction where even when pushed against the wall, factions still manage to rally. The best example I can think of this is Halo. To be specific the game and novelisation of Reach’s fall detail Humanity’s decimation at the hands of a relentless Covenant. Also, of note, Reach is a key military installation for Humanity and upon falling pushed Humanity to the brink with Earth being all we have left. So, I need to understand something. How is it that a military force like the UNSC can still go toe to toe with an alien force greater and more advanced than the First Order yet the New Republic just vanishes at the destruction of five nameless planets. At least the UNSC, for the most part, spread itself across the galaxy.

This movie also seems to forget that the planet killer installation was very recently destroyed. This begs the question, where the hell is the First Order getting resources from exactly? It gets hinted at in the Last Jedi but even then, it doesn’t really give a sufficient explanation. I mean planet killers don’t just pop up and ships aren’t cheap. Furthermore, why wasn’t the New Republic operating from Coruscant or Naboo at least if either of them was hit it would resonate with the fans. Which ultimately leads on to another point. We as the audience are just being dragged along, we don’t care. Five planets got destroyed? Why should I care? They haven’t been shown previously. So why are they so significant?

All in all, the opening credits present here appear to confuse the events of the last movie. It also contradicts Snoke wanting to train Kylo, implying maybe they need to retreat to better prepare in general. The Last Jedi completely brushes over Star Killer base. It’s lazy writing at best and dishonest at worst.

Only General Leia Organa’s
band of RESISTANCE fighters
stand against the rising
tyranny, certain that Jedi
Master Luke Skywalker will
return and restore a spark of
hope to the fight.

But the Resistance has been
exposed. As the First Order
speeds toward the Rebel base,
the brave heroes mount a
desperate escape…

The overall sequence feels rushed and tacked on compared to previous films. We get a little filler and nothing more. These movies happen days apart and, in that time, I’m expected to believe that Snoke only now decided to find the Resistance? How did he find them anyway? It’s not like the Raddus has travelled through hyperspace recently. The First Order just turns up but there’s no indication as to how they acquired the location of the Resistance base. I guess I’ll never know.

No matter though, the First Order is no less deterred, even managing to locate the Resistance base on the planet’s surface and promptly begin the bombardment of the planet’s surface despite one key fact that the rebel cruiser; The Raddus is currently in orbit. A Dreadnought does show up but as with all First Order toys. We’re about to discover It’s pretty fragile. Or it’s as fragile as the writing requires. The lead up to the Dreadnought imminent destruction is the strange confrontation concocted by the Poe Dameron. He flags Hux’s ship and proceeds to inject Earthly humour into a film series set in a galaxy far, far away.

The problem with this type of humour present in this film is that it’s awfully ham-fisted, cringe-inducing and takes you out of the movie. If this was a one-off I wouldn’t bring it up. But this happens time and time again. This opening event is clear warning that this is not the Star Wars I nor my fellow critics wanted or hoped for.

So, after some awful communication and mom jokes, Poe bravely begins his attack on the Dreadnought supported by some bombers. Amazingly the reasoning for the Dreadnought’s inability to destroy Poe is down to its size. Ironic considering surface cannons are supposed to be designed to specifically target small, nimble fighters. It’s almost like Rian wants to tell his story and not the one that makes sense. Although Poe does get shot, this isn’t to add tension but to tell BB related joke. Instead of fixing the problem, BB just slams its head into the circuitry. I guess Poe is just incredibly lucky that such an act didn’t kill him. But then in a movie that can’t decipher its tone. I’m not surprised.

The next issue is the bombers that compared to the Y-Wing Starfighters are slow, sluggish and made of paper apparently. Their bombs are also complicated. Since they are exposed in the ships themselves and even the opening built to eject them seems to open into a vacuum of space. There are no shields. Everyone on board should be dead. As expected only one bomber survives the engagement and finds itself positioned to drop its payload on the Dreadnought. The entire sequence is strange since the person tasked with completing the mission is lying on a mesh surface when directly below her is endless space with the bombs surrounding her. And they’re not missiles, more like thermal detonators or sea mines. How they operate makes little sense since gravity wouldn’t operate as its shown. And what follows is why the First Order are so laughable. Their ships are paper. If a single well-timed bomber that’s’ already going at a snail’s pace can destroy an apparently shied less Dreadnought, then how am I supposed to consider the First Order a threat. Rian tells us they are decimating enemies but what’s he’s shown is that they are in fact woefully incompetent beyond words. Compare this to the Prequel trilogy and dare I say the space combat presented is one hell of a downgrade.

The opening of this movie relies so heavily on timed coincidences and convenience that I honestly wonder how this movie scored so well. It’s opening is a mess of poor jokes and badly written characters. We’ve barely seen Hux but already it’s obvious he’s going to be butchered by Rian’s writing but it could always be worse. He could be Finn. And in Part Two I will go into detail why I feel out of all the characters in the new Trilogy. Finn is wasted and left to stumble around as comic relief when in the right hands he could have been an interesting insight into the First Order and operations. But seldom do we see any of that as its all mostly brushed aside to make way for the story Rian wants to tell. Throwing characters under the bus is just another unfortunate consequence in this film.

I’m not sure how many parts this will be but they will mostly be structured this way, covering events in the film, character and more. I will always welcome feedback also.

Fate/Unlimited Character Works

(The following is inspired by Archer’s Unlimited Blade Works incantation from the Fate/ Stay Night – Unlimited Blade Works Series because it’s bloody awesome.)

Most people bleed red but mine is black and blue.

They outnumber me, characters and their creators who practically live on Tumblr. We’re all guilty of making them, though; the dreaded Mary Sue. A misshapen mess of self-insertion and overpowered goodness. They all have the same torturous back story with no real appreciation for how the past can become a story by itself. But no, they have to be a loner, bullied or some kind of social outcast. Separately these traits aren’t necessarily bad but put them together and you potentially have a walking, talking cliché. A character without flaws is not a character. It’s a god that needs to be struck down.

Or critiqued in such a way to help balance them out a little more.

Even though the distant between us is small, it feels massive. I hear them charge with their unorthodox weapons and superhuman prowess. A stampede of monstrosity. I choose to remain calm for the sake of my sanity.

I am the Ink of my Pen
Criticism is hard to stomach and that’s not just for fictional writing. If you can’t face criticism then what is the point of making the argument? At some point, it will have to stand on its own two feet. And if it can’t do that then perhaps you should open your mind a little. Closing it off and trapping it in a safe space is no way  to live. No matter how much you want to convince yourself otherwise. Humans are naturally drawn to a challenge, regardless of difficulty. And white men apparently have it on easy. The very definition of FILTHY CASUAL.

The Patriarchy is a Lie. Besides, I set my difficulty to Normal. Life is never easy.

Paper is my body and Imagination is my blood
I have created over a thousand characters

The army of cringe-inducing OCs remains distant in my mind, even though I know they are cutting through me like a knife through butter. Being overpowered usually grants an instant death to any poor sod on the other end. But in some exceptional cases. There’s this nice little thing that protects its wearer from the sword, the bullet, the bite, the axe, the high mana attack that took longer than it should charging up. Plot Armour is everyone’s friend. Unless you’re in the Game of Thrones. In which case tough luck, and avoid all weddings.

Unknown to Death,
Nor known to Life.
Have withstood pain to create many drafts

The drafting process is always difficult since you have to mentally tell yourself not read through what’ve you written previously. Even if there’s that glaring typo mocking you. Ignore it until the final draft. But no, the human mind’s strive to create perfection means we will skim over every last word until it’s just right. No wonder I’ve only just recently felt I can finish my first true novel. Self-doubt is a bitch. But every writer should seek to counter it. Self-critique isn’t bad just don’t let it destroy you in the process.

Yet, those pens will never write anything
So as I pray, unlimited character works.

They are scattered, sliced, and sent back to whatever fanfic spawned them.

Isn’t this a fanfic, though. And your immortality is that not a sign that you are also a Mary Sue.

Fuck off Mr Mad, I prefer the term parody.

Alright, carry on then. But they just keep coming back, stronger every time. A new magical resistance to sharp swords. OC’s are like the Borg but on steroids. They adapt, they assimilate, and then there are the ones who wield the sword of criticism in such a way that they intend to distort your creation. Subjective criticism is purely on an individual. One person’s way of looking at art is not a universal truth. Do not be put off by the mainstream media who peddle article after article on sexism and racism like its all they know. Your audience will appreciate what you do. Even when it seems no one else will –

This is a pretty shit reality marble AND YOU HAVEN’T DESCRIBED HOW IT LOOKS! Oh and did I mention that even you can’t beat half-assed characters.

You just can’t help yourself can you.

I enjoy watching a hopeless optimist overcome insane odds.

The only reason I’m not winning is that all of my current characters have fatal flaws that can be used against them. That and even my post powerful ones can’t overpower something that is literally god.

Ah, death is a cruel mistress.

Just be useful for once.

Here’s a serious plot twist in the next paragraph. Have that one for free.
Sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire. Only another Mary Sue can beat another. And I have one final trump card. Buried beneath draft layers of Project Zero, between the fragments of the Grey Watch series, and some random roleplay ideas that looking back really were quite crap. I reveal to you, a wonderful set of cliches called The Circle of Life. The characters are all labelled with stupid names except Raphael (who literally hasn’t changed in years) they are all more or less ridiculously powerful. And one of them has ungodly regenerative powers. It’s like watching Brazil being beaten 7-1  by Germany. Except my old characters have finally found a reason to be useful. And by useful, I refer to how they mop the floor with these OCs because even for clichés, I did at least try and make them three dimensional. Even if the result was still full of cringe. I mean why the hell did I think of naming the at the time protagonist: the Hider. I was a strange kid.

The dust settles, everyone disappears and since it’s probably the end, and expending that much energy to create a reality marble should have really killed me. It’s probably best if I go to sleep. Right here. In the middle of fricken nowhere. FANTASTIC.

What a sh – 

The End

or is it the beginning of a book series and several movie follow ups followed by the nail biting two part film which ramps up the suspense to levels never before seen in film or television. 

The Return of Life

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

Write a post about the topic of your choice, in whatever style you want, but make sure to end it with “…and all was well with the world.”

No Cliffhangers

In the end, atomic fire had savaged our world. We thought it was left bare, after our destructive nature brought darkness, disease, and despair to the Earth. A civilisation all but extinguished, it’s dying embers, nothing more than memories of a past life.

As we emerged from our sanctuary underground, we believed nothing would survive the nuclear apocalypse. We were wrong. The Earth hadn’t just survived our wrath, in its wake, life had found a way.

For beneath the cracks and wounds upon the Earth. A sea of green burst forth. We were stunned, as nature stood before us in defiance. Even in our absence. All was well with the world.

It’s Dread Children

There were but seven in all 
Children of the shapeless, forgotten form.

The Doom Bringer, life eater
the Wanderer, scorned of heart
They dance in its living dark.

The Gambler’s bitter
the Beast, bearing maw
Fools to this dark war.

The Killer, bears scars 
The Doctor, dreams perfection

The Deciever, lost to the world.

But
All are destined to fall, 
By my gracious sword.

~Solomon

Forgotten

We served a cause,
That we hoped would bring peace.

We waged their war,
And watched the suffering, and, thousands dying forever more,

Falling in their Thousands,
Men, women, and children,
Innocents caught in the sight,
Of the machine gun barrel.

As our blood,
And theirs spilled,
On ancient sands.

They fled West,
Seeking refuge from the oncoming storm.

We came to an already war torn land
And left it red with the dead.

As for me,
I returned home,
No welcome, no help,
Left to linger on empty streets,
Forgotten.
A starved victim of their war,
Cast aside,
And damned to die,
Forgotten ever more.

Synapse and Dreamland

Synapses

Spark,
Pupils dilate, vision blurs,
And shadows dance,
Slipping.
Mind fragments, a puzzle of my own derision,
Never to be solved,
Bleeding.
Other thoughts, other minds,
A bombardment of ideas, senses, losses, hope and pain,
Concealed in the subconscious lie,
Power.
Infinite, pure and corrupt, flourishing in my soul,
So much power coursing through my veins,
Pouring through every aspect of my life,
Lost.
Forever, no memories of my own,
My own is theirs,
Theirs are my own,
Who am I and why must I experience their lives?
Freedom
I crave it but
Shock.
Snaps me back, tugs the string and it begins,
Again.

Dreamland

Thoughts are broken in a river,
Bright light above my head,
Burning my mind,

The sweeping light in the darkness the rotary blades whir,
Surfaces cold to touch, my hands ice
And everything I touch is consumed
I dart from the alley avoiding the sweeping light,
My heart beats fast,
Voices near,
Surrounded
Surrender.

A needle so sharp,
A constant drumming in my ear with,
Numbness messing my senses,
I sleep.

Red coat blowing in the breeze,
Causally moving forward with every step.
A snake in my hand, loaded with death,
To kill those who cower in fear,
The abrupt roar shattering the silence,
I was betrayed once before,
Now you will be no more.

To awake,
Chasing shadows,
Synapses strain and spark,
Such pain in a paralysed body,
So raw, my mind deceives me and wanders,
Once more.

Insanity in the darkness,
Drip, drip, drip,
Blood all around me,
Snap the neck and another dies,
I see you now,
The cause of my crisis,
Your shadows gather,
And we dance as hunters.

New memories,
All bleeding together,
I assimilate the past and my own sense of self
Is lost,
I am one,
But many,
I want to sleep,
But once more,
I am breached.