Deus Ex Machina

released on Dec 31, 1984

Deus Ex Machina is a 1984 ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 game with a heavy focus on sensory experience above interactive gameplay.

Reviews View More

Having "played" this now, it's very easy to look at other games released in 1984 and 1985 and see this "game" stick out like a sore thumb. The cover art goes hard, and the concept itself is very cool.
Deus Ex Machina is not a good "game," and I found myself dozing off during a few sections of it. But it is a very cool experience overall. I will never play it again.
Weirdo shit (complimentary).

Played during the Backloggd’s Game of the Week (11th Apr. – 17th Apr., 2023)
There is a joke I have heard here in Spain, essentially so called Art Films are usually called "Cine de Arte y Ensayo" , essentially experimental art cinema. This is then twisted into the similar sounding "Cine de Fraude y Engaño" essentially 'fraud and deception cinema'. Of course the joke does come from a place of anti-intellectualism, it can also be seen as saying that the emperor has no clothes when something is given undue praise.
I'm not going to say that Deus Ex Machina is fraud, I guess for what it was it was an interesting experiment in audiovisual art (very confused by steam calling it the first interactive movie?! If anything its the first interactive concept album) but in a revelation which I'm sure will lose me whatever respect I have accrued on this site, I hated every second I played this game.
I didnt really get this game in all honesty. I got the basic outline of being a retelling of the 7 stages of life with varying degrees of sort of minigames, of the life of some sort of "Brave New World" government planned artificial baby, presumably our control of them from birth mirroring the control of an all seeing dystopian force?
I was very confused and frustrated, despite being very artsy the actual game parts seem pretty token to me and I did very poorly at them. I don't think there is a failure state but I was nevertheless annoyed at these sections frequently and just hoping they would end. The game lasted 45 minutes and to me felt twice as long. I'm not going to give it a score, I guess I appreciate it for the experimental nature and for the era in which it was made (nowadays this shit would be made in bitsy and posted on to receive like 10 downloads tbh) but I honestly would have enjoyed it more just listening to the music.

     ‘If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ‘tis true that a good play needs no Epilogue. And [yet] good plays prove the better by the help of good Epilogues.’
     – Rosalind, in William Shakespaere, As You Like It, Epilogue, 4-7.
Played during the Backloggd’s Game of the Week (11th Apr. – 17th Apr., 2023).
Already accustomed to paraludic experimentation with PiMania (1982), a video game that doubled as a real-world treasure hunt and foreshadowed contemporary alternate-reality games, Croucher became convinced that the ZX81 was above all a creative platform for art with unlimited potential. In 1981, Welsh women protested against the storage of nuclear missiles at Greenham Common airbase, leading to a long escalation of the movement in the months and years that followed. The establishment of the Greenham Common camp was a key event in the English protest register of the 1980s. Mel Croucher, who was close to these circles and married to one of the protesters [1], imbued his artistic project Deus Ex Machina with the typical themes of the time: the game tells the story of a man's life under a dystopian and totalitarian regime through a sensory and artistic experience.
The title must be played together with a tape containing the title's soundtrack. From the start, the player must follow the audio instructions and synchronise the two components before immersing themselves in a psychedelic universe. The music takes full inspiration from Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, mixing sung passages with theatrical narration, while the script takes Shakespearean passages and alters them to fit a dystopian aesthetic. Deus Ex Machina, for example, quotes Jaques' 'Seven Ages of Man' monologue in As You Like It (c. 1599). Misinterpretations have seen the famous monologue as a moralising critique of Orlando's behaviour in foolishly falling in love, rather than demonstrating the moral excellence of the Duke Senior. This overlooks the fact that As You Like It is a comedy, and that the passionate winds of love blow through the play: Orlando is not a character merely in love with romance, but a complex figure driven by authentic emotions. Most of the characters in the play are also imbued with genuine personalities.
On the contrary, Jaques is the only 'character', as he resembles the malcontents of Elizabeth I's reign, whose dissenting thoughts and potentially subversive actions are feared by the royal power. A great traveller, he is convinced that there are no universal values and that belief in anything – including love – is a sign of immaturity and folly. He shows little inclination to denigrate the foreigner, something Rosalind criticises him for – since xenophobia was a characteristic feature of English identity under the Tudors. Jaques is a counterbalance to the romanticism of the other characters in As You Like It. He is never sentimental or idealistic, preferring to wallow in cynical dilettantism. Yet Jaques, the eternal witness, is nowhere near as unpleasant as Shakespeare's other villains, far from the vile and contemptible Thersites (Troilus and Cressida, c. 1602) and Iago (Othello, c. 1603). One explanation could be that Shakespeare put himself into Jaques. Perhaps the playwright was bitter about his inability to conjure poetic magic outside the stage; Elizabethan society looked down on artists, and Jaques's tirades and his belief that the world is a stage should be seen as a self-effacing expression of artistic regret. [2]
Mel Croucher seems to have had the same creative drive, seeing potential in all forms of expression and believing that the world is indeed a playground for artistic experimentation. It is not surprising, then, that he also uses Prospero's speech in Act IV of The Tempest (c. 1610) before he decides to renounce magic. Just as the disappearance of magic in The Tempest allows Prospero to see the world more clearly, the end of the sensory experience in Deus Ex Machina invites the player to consider it in a broader context. This is not a simple video game, but a lively, vibrant and boundless artistic production, as the recommencement at the end of the title demonstrates. In Shakespeare's time, the baroque meraviglia took precedence over the supernatural miracle. In The Tempest, the idea of wonder is ever present, but it shifts from Prospero's magic to the possibility of social harmony and gentle human relationships. [3] Similarly, Croucher moves from the wonder the player can experience in Deus Ex Machina to a wonder for art in general, which is consubstantial to existence.
waverly_khitryy insisted on the transient nature of Deus Ex Machina, an analysis that I fully share. Croucher embraces the poetic and artistically curious voices of Jaques, Prospero and Shakespeare, blending them with his own experience and the cultural imagination of a protesting 1980s Britain. Orwellian accents sit alongside a veritable panorama of visual and auditive ideas: Croucher creates contrasts and uses mock interactivity to capture the player's attention. This ode to the ephemeral is above all an artistic statement whose contours are inevitably political. Because it makes no concessions, Deus Ex Machina is a unique avant-garde experience whose roughness is matched by an unusual creative exuberance.
[1] Mel Croucher, Deus Ex Machina: The Best Game You Never Played in Your Life, Acorn Books, London, 2014, p. 45.
[2] William Shakespeare, Comédies, vol. II, ed. Jean-Michel Déprats, Gisèle Venet, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2016, pp. 1534-1535.
[3] William Shakespeare, Comédies, vol. III, ed. Jean-Michel Déprats, Gisèle Venet, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2016, pp. 1682-1683.

A multi-media experience so expansive and revolutionary it had to be put on TWO tapes.
In all seriousness though, I think most descriptions of this draw a weird line of comparison with trying to match it to one specific medium. You'll see the odd person say that this is an "interactive music video" or an "interactive movie" — I don't think either of those completely make this make sense.
Deus Ex Machina primarily consists of various scenes you can interact with set to an accompanying album which features vocal and musical accompaniment, loosely putting together a story reminiscent of the Shakespearean 'As You Like It'. The seven stages of a 'defect' in an allegorical science-fiction world woefully painted with the fantastical and broad strokes you would expect in British popular media, complete with theatrical music and story beats you'd expect from mainland Britain post-The Wall.
For the most part, you are a bystander without much agency towards the situation at hand, a single square bunch of pixels only goading other pixels to bounce off you or simply waiting idly by as a percentage meter ever so slowly drains from 100% until 0%. Perhaps a lump of molecules that sees existence as a recycled cell, interacting with new parts of the body. One moment a simple muscle cell in the neck so the newborn can let out its first roaring cry, the other a brain cell for coordinating jumps across barbed wire while connecting your physical efforts to political motivation.
In this sense, the protagonist of Deus Ex Machina is equal to most fleshed human. We are born, we live for a belief, we evolve it over time, and we die having moved and changed to the point of sheer unrecognizability. Even the traumatic probing and prodding by police and military commanders echo the lived experiences of minorities who never got to live a 'normal life', one unhampered by brutality. The only thing that truly changes is how we, the audience, view it. To us, we simply see numbers ticking down on a screen. To the protagonist, it is years gone by in an instant.
'Imagine if this were nothing but an electronic game. Your life is expressed as a percentage score. Observe the percentage. Your score changes.'

So, I'm just gonna go ahead and be 100% honest with all of you... I have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what I just witnessed in this game. It is without a doubt the weirdest and most abstract game I have ever played or seen, and I have seen a lot of weird shit. Hell, I never even heard of this game until earlier today. However, with that being said... just because I don't understand something doesn't mean I hate it, and if I were to give any thoughts on it, I would say I weirdly enjoyed this.
This game is more so an experience than anything. From what I can gather, you are basically experiencing the creation, life, and death of a defect, playing a part in what "percentage of life" you live throughout the many stages of its life, paired along with music and voice tracks throughout the experience that are just as confusing as everything else. With that being said, I did enjoy a lot of it. The presentation is very unique, especially for a game released around this time, and the music and voicework is extremely well done.
As for the gameplay itself, while it may seem inconsequential, it does provide a bit of insight into what's going on with this defect, even if I myself couldn't see it, and despite the little impact you have, what you do does feel like it has a genuine effect on the subject itself. Throughout the entire thing, you can tell that there was love and care put into this, and it has shown, given the rereleases and legacy this game has had throughout the almost 40 years that it has been a thing.
Overall, while I will probably never properly understand it, I did find it to be a very unique and unforgettable experience that is definitely worth remembering and preserving for years to come.
Game #65

~ Juegos que Hay que Jugar Antes de Morir ~
Juego 65: Deus Ex Machina (1984)
Me duele la cabeza después de haberlo jugado, y no solo por los colores o el nivel del bebé (gente ha muerto ahí, estoy convencido), sino también porque no he entendido ni media. Y aún así, con su confusión y su dolor de cabeza, no podía apartar la mirada del monitor ni quitarme los cascos. Este juego te hipnotiza como pocos. Y, aunque es cierto que hace poco o nada a nivel jugable y es confuso hasta el extremo a propósito (ingleses, supongo), te mueve por dentro. Eso trata de hacer el arte, al fin y al cabo, hacerte sentir, y Deus Ex Machina lo consigue.
PD: Ha sido como ver un capítulo de 'Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared' puesto de alucinógenos. Espero no tener terrores nocturnos xd.