originals\ Jul 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Procedural rhetoric of Deus Ex: Human Revolution


Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game brimming with content, ideas, and philosophies. In a way, the game can be presented as more of a personal journey where you choose, both in gameplay and in narrative. Sure, its RPG attributes lend a hand in making choice a prominent aspect of the game, but it’s more than that. Video games reach a higher level of entertainment and intelligence when it creatively combines gameplay and the message it’s trying to portray. However, what does all of this mumbo jumbo mean? Deus Ex: Human Revolution is game telling a deeper message to its audience through its gameplay and the premise of the plot: human augmentation. 


Ian Bogost, a video game designer and the founder of Persuasive Games, uses a term that applies heavily to Deus Ex: procedural rhetoric. Just as verbal rhetoric uses oratory means to persuade and visual rhetoric is persuasion through imagery, procedural rhetoric is to persuade using processes or a series of processes. Procedural rhetoric is very prevalent in video games due to the gameplay being a series of processes that allow interaction with the player. However, just because a game has processes, there exists rhetoric. As a matter of fact, I find that many commercial games have virtually no procedural rhetoric since there isn’t a message that isn’t being delivered through its gameplay. However, for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there exists a very prominent idea the game tries to demonstrate. 

To understand procedural rhetoric in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one has to understand its gameplay and its narrative. The theme of the game is augmenting your body through mechanical prosthetics. These attachments to your body aren’t simply replacements for missing limbs, they enhance human abilities and push the limits of the human body. There is a clear gap between the abilities of those that are augmented and not. In fact, there are stories of those with augmentations that demonstrate incredible feats. Nearly all of the newspaper articles and the people you meet speak the incredible power of augmentations. 


The narrative clearly focuses on making it clear to players that those who have augmentations will be able to finish their tasks, objectives, or anything in general with relative ease. However, this is just rhetoric in general, rather than it being procedural it simply tells you or gives you text revealing the great divide between those augmented and those that aren’t. What constitutes as procedural rhetoric in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The answer is actually quite simple: the augmentation customization. Adam Jensen, the main character of the game, in the beginning is a normal human being, free of augments. The game plays like a simple first person shooter. In fact, it’s too simple making everything extremely bland.

After an incident, Adam’s eyes, arms, legs, lungs, and other limbs or body parts are heavily augmented. The moment you regain control of the newly enhanced Adam, you notice things are already different. The first person perspective reveals your vitals, a small map, an information bubble, and more. The reason why all of these info blurbs show up on the screen is because Adam’s eyes are augmented. As a result, we get to see the world as those who have the same visual augments as Adam. To truly differentiate and capture that first monumental moment where you are someone entirely new, the game created a normal and bland first person perspective initially to build up to its augmented counterpart. This is the first of the many instances of procedural rhetoric in Human Revolution. While it doesn’t demonstrate the power gap between the two types of people, it does reveal the visual difference. 

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