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ANYTHING NICE: Deus Ex (Ion Storm)

By Failbetter, October 1, 2014 · Anything Nice

One of the first-act Deus Ex levels is the headquarters of a government agency: offices, labs, storage rooms, security posts, toilets.

Because it’s a video game level, most players will snoop into every office, lab, storage room, security post, and toilet, in case someone’s helpfully left a box of stun darts on the cistern.

When your male avatar enters the women’s toilets, the woman standing by the wash-basins has harsh things to say to you.  This is reasonable enough, but unexpected in a videogame.

It’s a great deal more unexpected when your boss ends your next meeting by complaining that he’s heard stories of inappropriate behaviour. The base bathrooms aren’t unisex, he reminds you…

I think it’s fair to say that Deus Ex both has its cake and eats it here. It’s quite happy to tease you about going into a place you never would in real life – but it’s the game’s stinginess with ammo encourages you to look in every cupboard. It’s also quite happy, as Tom Chick has pointed out, to let you bounce a basketball off your boss’ head. In fact you can do this even while he’s chastising you for wandering into the ladies’ toilets.

But still it’s a small daft triumph. It’s a funny moment in a game that takes itself fairly seriously, and more importantly it trains you to look for unexpected outcomes for the next forty hours. Every time you think of doing something that would be sane in a videogame and bizarre in real life, you remember the ladies’ toilets. Every time, you’re more inclined to hesitate and take the world a little more seriously. Every time you take the world more seriously, your sense of immersion benefits.

(hat-tip to Richard Cobbett for reminding me of this one)


‘Anything Nice’ is is a series of very short posts highlighting things I liked about the treatment of narrative in other people’s games. It’s a deliberately magpie, grab-bag approach. Some of these games I adore, some I don’t even like, but I learnt from all of them.

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Sir Frederick Tanah-Chook Oct 2, 10:26am

If memory serves, there were some minor gameplay consequences, too - the woman you barged in on would think you're a creep, wouldn't take you into her confidence, and wouldn't involve you in a quest later on. DX was marvellous for noting the player's minor actions, though - like one miniboss mocking you for trying to sneak into his base via the roof, where you're visible on satellite. And sequence-breaking resulting in the PC being treated as suitably paranoid for spy business.