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Game Commentary: On Suicide
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat May 1st, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat May 1st, 2004

By Steffan DelPiano

I could hear her screams from where I was hiding. She was a secretary in some office building. Innocent, except for the people she worked for were crooks and bastards and were designing the MagRail prototype, a devastating new rifle. You see, she had to die. He had to kill her. You've got to understand, it was the only way he could get into the basement. He was in that building illegally and he had tripped an alarm only moments prior, and I heard it announced over the intercom that a major lockdown was to now be in effect and if any employees saw anything suspicious that they should immediately alert the appropriate authorities (i.e. heavily armed security guards).

I knew for a fact that she had an alarm switch right at fingertips. She had pushed the switch on him once before. I had no choice but to have him tap into the security computer. I would have disabled the alarm mechanism if the interface would have allowed me to do so. But it didn't. It only allowed me to reprogram the gun turret mounted to the ceiling directly above the secretary. A gun turret that would tear him to shreds if he slipped into its view or if the secretary pushed the alarm switch,which she had done the last time.

And so it was decided, I speak as if there was more than one person involved in the decision,but then again, perhaps there was, that he would hack into the security computer, reprogram the gun turret to attack his enemies rather than the company's, and wait until the coast was clear; which meant: until the secretary was ripped apart by a torrent of bullets and any security guards in earshot of her screams, who were foolish enough to try to help, were mowed down alongside her.

The killing of security guards had ceased to wear away at my callusing morality. They had guns. Big guns. Shotguns, machine guns, and grenades which they had no qualms about using. And they usually shot first and asked questions later. The first time he tried to talk my way out of a messy situation he ended up a bloody, unconscious mass. After that incident, killing security guards before they could attack him was an acceptable strategy even though it violated one of the tenets I set for myself when creating Alex D.

I had been watching the Indiana Jones trilogy the week before buying Deus Ex 2: Invisible War. Using Indy as a guide I would play Alex D, the game's protagonist, according to three rules I adapted from the archeologist's behavior. 1) He'd help someone if they deserved and requested it and attack someone if they were physically belligerent towards me. 2) He would kill only if someone was trying to kill me (if attacked with non-lethal force I would return the favor). And 3) He would never attack a woman.

The first level I maintained my moral character without question. When the government building he was housed in was attacked by a religiously based terrorist organization Alex fought back with vigor. Jettisoned onto the streets of New Seattle in the following level I stuck to my code as well: when a guy asked Alex to commit arson so that he could get ahead of his business competition he told him off and when a group of thugs got snippy with him in an alley he showed them who was boss. But, as the levels progressed and the world which Alex D interacted with grew muddier my compartmentalized morality began to shiver.

Deus Ex 2: Invisible War is the sequel to Warren Spector's original Deus Ex which was a hit on the PC. Touting a game world in which every problem and situation has multiple solutions the Dues Ex series has been highly regarded by critics and players alike. The original was awarded Game of the Year status for 2002 by over 30 publications. The sequel (on the X-Box and PC) has been showered with awards and positive reception as well. What sets the Deus Ex game world apart from most others is that every plot line has more than one, and usually more than two, angles to view it from and that the player is free to side with any one of the factions in the game at any time, and then change his allegiance repeatedly.

By the time Alex was flown to office building, whose basement housed the prototype MagRail, I had a government set on uniting the world's economy; the Order, a religious movement set on uniting the world's major religions; a group of Borg-like entities fighting for the proliferation of bio-modification; and the Templars, an organization bent of keeping the human bloodline pure and free of scientific modification, all whispering in my ear. The whispering didn't drown the sounds of the secretary's cries though.

After the turret was finished killing the secretary, who had enough time to hit the alarm switch as she was being blown away (which sent another four security guards to their death), I had him survey the room. Five dead. A deadly silence hung broken only by the mechanical pivot of the turret overhead. It still set on attack, just in case.

I was looking at her body when I set the controller down. I thought about the domino effect that led to her death: if I had chosen to sneak in the back way rather than enter through the front he wouldn't have been spotted. When he was spotted he fled haphazardly and tripped the alarm which alerted everyone to my presence. If I hadn't done that perhaps she would still be alive.

He had to kill her. He had to get to the basement to kill the scientist who was finishing the prototype. According to the Order, Alex would save millions of lives that way.

I couldn't stomach her death the way I could stomach security guards' though. This was a different type of game. One that didn't march you from level to level mindlessly, with a sole purpose and a single way out. I had a choice. I had a say. My actions led me to this point. My actions led to murder.

I thought of when Macbeth says to his Lady, I am in blood/ Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er.? Turning back was not an option afforded me by the game and yet, with every step forward more blood would be shed, guilty and otherwise. For a second I looked at the controller and considered killing Alex D. I would have him commit suicide. He would reprogram the turret back to its original orders. He'd be killed in seconds. The room, like a Shakespearian stage, would be piled with corpses.

But I didn't kill off Alex. His death would solve nothing. The secretary's blood was not on his hands. It was on mine. Her death had been caused by choices, not Alex's. Alex's death would be a meaningless, symbolic act.

So I stopped playing that incarnation of Alex D. I started a new game a few days later. My next Alex, I swore, wouldn't carry a gun. He wouldn't kill. He wouldn't even shoot. He'd be non-violent. I'd find alternate ways to complete the prescribed missions. I had heard of people beating the original Dues Ex without killing a single enemy. I would imitate them. No blood would be shed.

I haven't erased the original Alex though. He's still there on the hard drive. Staring out from the load screen; asking unanswerable questions. Suspended. Afraid to move forward. Unable to turn back.