Procedural rhetoric of Deus Ex: Human Revolution

While we get to see the optical augment in Adam’s discussed debut, we don’t see Adam’s other enhancements just yet. The reason is because his augments are locked. As Adam gains experience by completing quests and exploring the world he can use the experience to upgrade or unlock his augmentations. The experience that Adam earns is his strength; the stronger he is the more augments he is able to handle. It’s a fairly simple idea translated into compelling rhetoric. After all, if one is now powerful enough then they cannot handle the power given to him or her. The process of gaining experience is quintessential in demonstrating that you must first build yourself up before you accept the changes that your body can handle. The idea of augmentation is once again the focal point here as you learn first that while they may grant new abilities, you must first have the aptitude for it. 


The strongest procedural rhetoric that exists in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the ability to play with or without unlocking and upgrading your augments. While the previous two procedural rhetoric depicted what augmentations can do and what is necessary to maintain it, this last example is the rhetoric of difference. I’ve mentioned that there are differences in ability to those that have the augments and not but the game doesn’t demonstrate it using the processes that are embedded in it. By the end of the game you would have multiple augmentations at your disposal for various situations. For instance the ability to see through walls, detect enemies and an expansive map allowing for tracking of personnel make infiltrating areas easier. Not only that but it allows for you to avoid firefights and reach objectives in a less complicated manner. 

However, if you choose to not get these augments that allow you to maximize your stealthy encounters, it will make navigating areas difficult in a quiet fashion. Having augments at your disposal just makes life easier. What if you didn’t have them? If you so choose, you have the ability to run through the entire game without upgrading or unlocking any of your augmentations. The game becomes extremely difficult, gunfights are excruciatingly painful, and the stealth aspect becomes challenging. Put yourself in shoes of two different people. One who has augmentations like Adam and another as yourself, a normal human. Who would have an easier time running away from enemies that are chasing him? Who would be able to survive in a gunfight longer? Who can maneuver around buildings and sites better? Obviously, you who is augmented will do much better. Procedural rhetoric at its finest in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is its ability to demonstrate the difficulty of the game depending on whether you are augmented or not.


Even if you don’t have the right augmentations for certain situations, just having them is a reassurance. Take for example if you’re stealthily circumnavigating a rundown building and suddenly you get caught and it’s inevitable to fight. If you happen to have combat augments then this will be the perfect time to make use of them. Augments enhance you regardless of what happens and the game wants to rhetorically show this using its gameplay mechanics.  

Procedural rhetoric is a strong type of rhetoric since the processes that you carry out yourself is a form of persuasion. In the case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the rhetoric of augmentations becomes more clear with each conscious action you take as Adam Jensen. You are suddenly involved in a world where augments dictate a person’s ability, strength, and prowess. To know that this future is possibly ahead of us and what happens in the game could very well happen in the future is something else entirely. Even so, what the game attempts to do by revealing to us what augmentations truly are using a powerful form of rhetoric is refreshing. 

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.