Feature Editorial: XCOM: Enemy Unknown; Allies Abstract?

I’m looking forward to Firaxis’s new game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The original game is a classic that I still pick up from time to time, despite certain flaws (such as game-breaking bugs and mechanics, along with a tendency towards tedious gameplay). The combination of high level strategy and research and tactical combat scratches multiple gameplay itches simultaneously,

Greenlight Spotlight: Contrast

Having established the sort of games on Greenlight I downvote to oblivion and why last week, I will now move on to highlighting games I think deserve your attention. Before I do that, though, I will note that Steam has made the user interface for Greenlight a bit more friendly, offering to generate you a

Greenlight Spotlight: Thinning the Crop

So I think Steam’s Greenlight program is a pretty amazing idea as far as providing another way for indie developers to get themselves noticed. I plan to use this blog to post some game concepts I see that I think are worth seeing completed. All that being said, however, you’re definitely mobbed with a lot

Privilege, Crime, and Spirits: What I Hope to See From Legend of Korra Season 2

As the credits rolled on the season one finale of The Legend of Korra, someone remarked, “What are they going to do for season two? They’ve tied up all their loose ends.” To a certain extent, he was right. The villains had been exposed and disposed, Korra confronted her fear of losing her bending and finally

The Ethics of Transhumanism in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, like any good piece of science fiction, explores the future to comment on current issues as well as issues that might arise from proposed or envisioned technologies. The game uses its concept of “mechanical augmentation,” or advanced prosthesis that restore or enhance human capabilities to explore a variety of issues. One issue explicitly explored is the ethical problems that arise when doctors are forced to make far reaching decisions about the health and quality of life of a patient whose life is in danger and who is unable to give consent due to being unconscious. Adam Jensen’s “bionic man” montage is peppered with snippets of conversation dropping lines like “He doesn’t need that,” indicating that decisions about what to keep and what to replace are being made without his input. This problem is continually invoked by the game, both in Jensen’s own ambivalence to his augmented state (spawning the viral meme “I never asked for this.”), and in a side quest where Jensen discovers a man who has been shot in the gut and is paralyzed from the waist down and wishes to be euthanized rather than get augmented legs to restore his ability to walk or spend his life in a wheelchair. Jensen (and therefore the player), faced by a man who has the opportunity to make the decision that was made for him, has the option of complying with the man’s wishes and giving him a lethal dose of morphine, talking him out of his desire to die, or simply leaving him and calling an ambulance. In this way, the game addresses quality of life issues and the right to die in a thoughtful manner and asks the player to make (or avoid making) a decision.

An interesting issue that is almost entirely subtextual in the game, on the other hand, is the question of how the ability to enhance human capabilities can be turned into an excuse to shape other human beings for our own benefit. Arguably, the really ethically questionable part of Jensen’s augmentation is not that his organs and limbs were replaced without his consent, but that the augmentations went so far into making him into an unstoppable killing machine. The current idea of prosthesis is to, as much as possible, restore the functionality and quality of life lost, and our current level of technology generally falls short of this goal. Mechanical augmentation in Deus Ex:HR is capable of completely restoring functionality, but the augmentations given to Jensen go far beyond that. They don’t just replace his arms–they give him arms with hidden blades that are capable of punching through walls. They don’t just restore his vision, they give him eyes capable of seeing through walls, and so forth. Jensen’s employer, David Sarif, essentially turns him into his own private super-commando, treating him as a tool to be shaped towards his own ends. Surprisingly, the question of how much this cost and whether Jensen is obligated to stay with Sarif industries until that liability is equalized is never raised. Nor are the ethics of enhancing Jensen beyond human capabilities without his consent really raised except in a couple of snippets of text you can easily miss if you don’t go snooping around hacking into other people’s computers and poking about the back area of the local LIMB clinic. This idea is raised in a side quest in Hengsha which deals with prostitutes being forced into augmentations for the pleasure of their clients, and it is also briefly invoked by the anti-augmentation figure Bill Taggert in the latter stages of the game, but it is rather surprising that Jensen himself doesn’t raise the question of whether they could have installed basic augmentations and asked him about going further after his life was saved instead of implanting a prototype explosive device in his arm while he was unconscious.

If technology moves in this direction, either in the field of prosthesis or in genetic engineering, this is a central issue that will have to be addressed. Is a life threatening accident or the loss of a limb an excuse to make someone “better” than human? What happens when “augmentation” (whatever its form) becomes a requirement to certain jobs, or for promotion within certain careers? Will people of lesser means attempting to improve their lot be forced to take on loans or enter into what is essentially indentured servitude to afford the means for upward mobility? Or are we already dealing with this issue now, in the mushrooming student loan debt and the reliance of small businesses on credit to get off the ground?

Thursday Reviews: ParaNorman and Zita the Spacegirl

I couldn’t decide which of the two texts I should review this week, so I’ve elected to do short reviews of both. For starters, I have to drop a link to Faith Erin Hicks’s wonderful comic review of ParaNorman: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/08/appreciating-the-animation-and-story-of-paranorman. The basic concept of the movie is that Norman is a boy who can see and

The Lorax and Dystopian Texts

Disclaimer: I have never read Dr. Seuss’s book, The Lorax. I have seen the 1972 TV special, which I have been told is an almost word for word adaptation. Any comparisons I make are relative to the TV special, not the book. Being as fabulously behind the times as I am, I only got around

Recettear and the Grocer/Shopper Relationship

I recently read an article in the anthology Food Nations by Tracey Deutsch entitled “Untangling Alliances: Social Tensions surrounding Independent Grocery Stores and the Rise of Mass Retailing.” In it, Deutsch makes the argument that chain stores supplanting and taking over small, family owned groceries had as much to do with the tension-fraught relationships between those small