Before we dive into the game, I'd like to talk some about the story leading up to it. I'm going to separate this into three sections. Public History, Secret History, and Personal History.
Public History is what is known to have happened in the world, it is stuff that the player character would probably be aware of when the game starts. Secret History will be the history of conspiracy groups, it will contain spoilers. The player character believes that at least one of them is fictional and has probably never even heard of another when the game starts. Personal History will be about the player character's family and life up to this point. It will also contain spoilers and things that the player character has no idea about.
Where possible I will be augmenting this with information from sources outside of the game such as interviews with the creators and a somewhat modified portion of onethe the Deus Ex design documents that was released. My feeling is that, provided these things don't contradict the game, they can usefully be accepted as canonical or something like it.
It's the world as you know it. Deus Ex was released in the year 2000 so it doesn't take the last ten years into account though the Twin Towers are eerily absent and the explanation given when that was noticed was that some terrorists destroyed them. By the end of 2001 that explanation seemed a lot less glib. (The real reason has never been sufficiently explained because the explanations that have been offered don't make sense. It could be as simple as someone forgetting that they had a texture with the World Trade Center towers in it, because the texture is definitely there it just isn't used.)
In theory the game was made with the story including Britain adopting the Euro in 2003, but that tidbit never made it into the game and I don't think having it be later really changes that much so I'm actually pretty comfortable saying that we can start public history right now and move on into the future from here.
In the 2020s human augmentation becomes a reality. People who have lost limbs or eyes and possibly other body parts can have them replaced with mechanical appendages that do the whole better faster stronger thing. Unfortunately the response to this is is not a universal, “Yay.” Instead many people react to augmented humans with fear and disgust. The way the world works changes. New classes are created. Total humans look down their noses at augmented humans, though they are also afraid of them.
It's hard to tell with 2000s era graphics, but the augmentations are supposed to look crude “like primitive borg” and they can't be hidden. You don't meet many people with mechanical augmentations in the game, but you'll meet one who doesn't want to talk about hers and yet, because of them, is forced to wear a sleeveless shirt making her mechanical arms unmissable. Mechanical eyes don't fit in their sockets and thus can't be easily hidden under sunglasses or the like. No mech can pass as a non mech for long.
There is one area where they're in demand, and that's the military. Three out of the four mechs you meet in Deus Ex were augmented to make them better soldiers.
We're told, in non-game sources, that Israel falls to invasion in 2022. I wish we had an official confirmation or denial on this because it would make a lot of difference in how we should think about a certain character who was Mossad trained. On the other hand, the fact that she's Mossad trained is also not mentioned in the game. Barring evidence to the contrary, I'm taking the conquest of Israel to be part of Deus Ex history, though I reserve the right to assume that the government of Israel somehow managed to survive in exile thus explaining any inconsistencies with tenuous handwaving.
Many diseases come out and start doing damage to the world. We're told that AIDS made a major comeback before being cured in 2030. Also in 2030 a disaster struck that would change the course of world history. A massive earthquake devastated the entire west coast of the United States. It was declared a disaster area and the US struggled to cope. A year later Utah declared independence, claiming Arizona and Nevada as its own. Fringe groups in Texas followed Utah's example. Shortly afterward Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming banded together to form the Northwest Secessionist Forces, or NSF.
None of the groups succeeded but the civil war convinced outsiders that the nearly bankrupt US was vulnerable and Mexico invaded to reclaim all of the formerly Mexican territory in the US. Mexico was assisted by Russia, and by the time of the game the battle line in the three way war between the US government, the secessionists, and the Russo-Mexian alliance is north of Austin.
After the cure for AIDS came out in 2030 other diseases made themselves known. I'm just going to quote this bit directly from the Deus Ex Continuity Bible (the design document linked to above):
Since 2030, millions have fallen prey to antibiotic-resistant diseases long thought to be under control. Resistant strains of tuberculosis hit the developing nations, particularly India, very hard. And a researcher's misguided attempt to procure samples of the deadly 1918 flu virus from bodies buried under the North Polar icecap unleashed the disease on the world once again. In 1918, that virus killed more people than all the 20th century wars that followed -- it did the same in the late 2030's, killing millions. Together, these pandemics left the population notably smaller than it was a hundred years earlier.
That number may be a case of not having a sufficient sense of scale, or it might be the case that, between the various diseases none of them did make it beyond (hundreds of) millions. Regardless, in the late 1930s the world population was less than 3 billion. Significantly less than three billion. Closer to two billion. What the above section actually says is that billions died. More than two thirds of the world's population died by plague.
A company called Versalife came to prominence by producing cures and vaccines and treatments and whatever to fight off these diseases. It was a genetic engineering firm you see. The money it made saving the world allowed it to branch out into every nook and cranny of science and commerce.
I said that the events of 2030 changed the course of world history, not just US history. Their most significant visible effect outside of the US was in Europe. Basically, we took them down with us. There was a time when I wasn't sure if that was really realistic. Could collapse in the US really destabilize Europe? After 2008 I feel like it might very well have that effect.
And so the world painfully made its way into the future.
In 2042 the US tried to ban certain weapons. Every state milita then banded together to form the new NSF, all they had to do was change the N from “Northwest” to “National”. They were united by the common belief that they shouldn't have to be united and so banded together to overthrow the government and then go their separate ways. Their leader, Leon Woods (whose name I always misread as Leon Leonwood, since I'm from the same state as LL Bean) was eventually killed off in 2045, but his legacy remained.
At some point in here an organization called UNATCO was formed, we don't know a lot about when or how because it would later be reformed (the NSF isn't the only thing with multiple beginnings) and that the origin we hear about.
UNATCO, by the way, stands for United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition.
Also at an unknown point, a new virus, called the Gray Death, emerged. Versalife was the only company able to produce a vaccine, which was known as Ambrosia.
In 2050 UNATCO was ready to try nano augmentation on on of its agents. The process involved altering the person on a cellular level and anyone without certain anomalies in their immune system would reject the modifications, and their own cells along with them, and effectively have a very dangerous (potentially lethal) autoimmune disorder. They only had one agent with the right genetics. JC Denton's brother Paul.
In 2051 the Statue of Liberty was bombed. The US President, by executive order, made the US a member nation of a rechartered UNATCO which was given Liberty Island to base its operations. The Statue was not repaired and instead lest to stand, damaged, as a reminder that, “terrorism must be eradicated if we are to be free..”
This same year JC Denton joins UNATCO at the age of 22.
In 2052 JC becomes UNATCO's second nano augmented agent, and the game begins.
Deus Ex was built on a foundation of conspiracy theories from the 1990s. The belief that FEMA was going to take over the US under guise of an emergency and send all of the dissidents to concentration camps? True. The belief that Kennedy said he had to warn the American people of a plot against them days before he was killed? True. The belief that aliens crash landed in Roswell in 1947? Ok that one's probably false in Deus Ex too. The suggestion is that the idea of aliens was used as a cover up for what the conspiracy groups were really doing.
So, anyway, secret history.
In 1090 the Order of Assassins is formed. The Illuminati can trace their roots back to this but not in an unbroken line. Instead the conspiracy has gone through cycles of death and rebirth.
In 1118 the Templars are founded they'll work out modern banking, get rich, and eventually go into hiding when the French turn on them in 1307 and the Pope disbands them in 1312. They stay involved in banking, and remain influential. They were allies to the most recent incarnation of the Illuminati but UNATCO and Interpol “diminished” them in 2051 and they don't show up in the game as a result. (Originally there had been plans to feature them.)
A present member of the Illuminati dates their most recent rebirth to 1776 when Adam Weishaupt did it, but admits that that could be disputed because Jefferson independently did the same thing in America a bit later. Since then they've been manipulating global events. They would add arms and remove them as the need arose. They had largely relied on political and religious manipulation using things like the Priory of Sion and the and the Trilateral commission. Also, apparently they owned China. In the mid 20th century they felt that the times they were a changing and created two new arms in an effort to keep up. They created the Bilderburg group to manipulate all things economic, and Majestic Twelve (MJ12) to deal with the technology and communications side of things.
Things largely went their way, but they did have some spectacular failures. The Soviet Union was not supposed to collapse on them and the Balkans definitely weren't supposed to Balkanize. But by and large they were working toward their goals.
In the 21st century they stepped up their efforts to destabilize governments in hopes that the increasingly more powerful UN could eventually be their one world government. But the 2030 earthquake took them by surprise. Caught completely off guard they improvised on what do do and decided that the right thing to do was to let the US collapse. They'd step in to pick up the pieces afterward and it would be easier that way. Saving the US was simply considered not worth the resources. (In their extremely limited defense, the decision was described as painful.)
This proved to be a mistake for a number of reasons. First, it meant losing all of their influence in the US. Second the US didn't actually collapse. Third, MJ12 was based in the US while most of the rest of the Illuminati was based in Europe. They were in the US watching the Illuiminati's bad plan in action all around them and they thought that the inaction was nothing more than shortsighted weakness. So they went to war.
It is worth noting that MJ12's work in technology included genetic manipulation and Versallife was an MJ12 front. It's founder, Bob Page, was MJ12's leader. Those diseases they cured to become rich could very well have been diseases they released with cures already in stock. Which would potentially mean that 2/3rds of the world's population or more was killed off as collateral in a war between MJ12 and it's former comrades.
The earthquake struck in 2030. MJ12 had successfully defeated the Illuminati by 2035. The leaders were sent into hiding, most of their resources were claimed by MJ12.
At this point the human augmentation project had been going on for a while (more on that in the personal history section) and under Bob Page's leadership it was also worked to be turned into a weapon. He realized that it could be used to create a plague, and so he used it to do just that.
While the nanites can be programmed in such a way as to kill an individual who does not have an immune response, that was unnecessary since the vast majority of people do have one. People get infected, their cells are augmented, their immune system rejects their cells, and the people die. This was unleashed on the world as the Gray Death. Ambrosia simply reprogrammed the nanites to make them shut down.
The effect of releasing the Gray Death was twofold, first it was another virus that they were the only ones with the cure to. It could be used to destabilize governments and manipulate people. Second it meant that labs all over the planet would be working to treat the Gray Death, and if even one of them found a way to stop the immune response without shutting down the subject's entire immune system they would have successfully discovered how to integrate nano augmentation into a person without a genetic predisposition. That was information MJ12 desperately wanted.
Other MJ12 projects included the physiopharmaceutical augmentation project. A completely different take on augmentation that required neither the genetic predisposition that nano augs needed nor the disfigurement of mech augs. They had glowing red eyes and albino skin (insert jokes about sparkle vampires here, and no we never do see them in daylight) but with the proper attire it could be covered up because unlike mech augs they could wear sleeves and sunglasses. Those clothes make them resemble your traditional Men in Black (MIBs), except when they're female in which case they're Women in Black (WIBs).
The People in Black (PIBs) are created in series that are identified by letters. At the the time of Deus Ex they've reached series P.
A PIB isn't just physically altered, they're also brainwashed to increase their loyalty and resistance to pain.
MJ12 was also working to change the internet for, while they had taken control of almost all other forms of communication, the internet was difficult to manage. They did two related things on this front. One was to try to create an AI capable of doing the sifting for them. Bob Page worked on this using stuff he'd stolen from his former boss, Morgan Everett. He succeeded but the AI created wasn't into that sort of thing, convinced him they failed to create an AI in the first place, and then escaped onto the internet. He named himself Daedalus.
Later they would create another AI, this time putting greater focus into the whole loyalty thing (once they realized that Daedalus was out there.) This AI would be called Icarus.
The other thing in their internet monitoring front was the Aquinas Hub. And they didn't just limit themselves to the internet. They made it so that every form of electronic communication would be routed through there. Make a phone call and the signal doesn't go from you to the person on the other end, it goes from you, to the hub, to the person on the other end. Every email, every text, every call, every broadcast, every transmission. (Well, not short range radio signals, but you get the idea.)
And, finally, in 2050 they got nano augmentation working well enough to try it out on Paul Denton. Then they blew up the statue of liberty. Oh they eventually blamed it on a resistance group in France, but they blew it up. More specifically UNATCO did, because UNATCO worked for MJ12 (though most of the people in it don't know that.) They Blew it up to manipulate the US into joining UNATCO. (They also got the US to repay all of its debts to the UN as part of the deal.)
Then they augmented JC Denton, and that is when the game begins.
(Trigger Warning: abuse of children, brain damage, infertility, death of parents)
The people who tell you that the date is all screwed up will usually also tell you that JC Denton was grown to adulthood in a vat and had his memories implanted. They're still wrong.
JC's history begins in the 1940s with the smallpox vaccinations. The Illuminati used these to collect genetic data on everyone who was vaccinated. In case you need a reminder: In Deus Ex the conspiracy theories are actually true.
Decades later that data would be used to screen for couples likely to produce offspring who were genetically viable candidates for nano augmentation. The plan was to then clone the offspring. Two such candidates were JC's parents. It is hinted that MJ12 might have even played the role of matchmaker. Their first child was Paul, and when he was five he was found to be a good candidate and he was cloned. (Paul and his parents were completely oblivious to this) when the clones were five they were in tested on. Most of the tests resulted in abject failure and the clones suffered horribly with the result tending to be severe debilitating brain damage. There was enough success for them to deem the project worthwhile and continue.
They also decided that they should have a clone from the same womb as Paul. As it turned out Paul's mother desperately wanted another child and was trying as hard as she could to get pregnant, but she couldn't. MJ12 scientists approached her claiming to be fertility experts and offered to let her participate in a study that would make her fertile and pay her well. It was everything she ever wanted.
They implanted her with a clone of Paul, the pregnancy went well, and nine months later JC was born. JC and Paul were born eleven years apart but otherwise identical and they thought that was kind of odd. They grew up suspecting that they were not natural. At the time of the game Paul erroneously suspects that he isn't really his parents' son. He never learns he's wrong about that.
Anyway, MJ12 carefully monitored Paul and JC. And if you want to know how human they thought of them as, they referred to them as the primary unit and the secondary unit respectively. They also continued their tests on clones. The year JC was born (2029, if you were wondering) MJ12 scientists perfected the artificial womb. That allowed them to make bunches of clones and thus do lots of tests. Of course the year after that was the earthquake, and after that was when MJ12 went to war with the Illuminati, so one wonders if that might have slowed things down a bit.
In 2035 Bob Page decides that he doesn't like how Paul is turning out and decides JC would be better raised in a more supervised environment. Paul and JC's parents are murdered by a terrorist faction MJ12 controlled. They're adopted by MJ12 employees who send JC to an MJ12 run school in Switzerland. The next year Paul goes to a four year university. No word on what he majored in.
When Paul graduates in 2040 he joins UNATCO, which was mostly under the control of MJ12.
In 2047 JC graduated from the Swiss School. We have no idea what he did for the next 4 years. Did he go to a university? Did he backpack around Europe? Did he learn to play the steel guitar? We don't know.
The experiments on clones managed to perfect nano augmentation in 2049. In 2050 Paul became UNATCO's first nano-augmented agent. His father gave a toast.
Sometime between then and when JC joined UNATCO, JC and Paul's adoptive parents, who you should recall were really working for MJ12, tried to protest when MJ12 tried to recruit JC. They were murdered. This can make things really confusing. Never in the game does anyone say which parents they're referring to. When Paul says his father gave a toast he's obviously referring to his adoptive father because the other one was dead at the time, but other times it's not as clear.
At one point someone will point out that JC lost his parents and JC will say that his parents died in a car crash by way of claiming that it's different from what he was talking about. Regardless of who he's talking about JC is wrong -all of his parents were murdered- but I can never figure out whether what's going on in the conversation is that they're talking about different parents (the person who brings them up is talking about biological parents, JC is talking about the much more recent deaths of his adopted parents) or if they're talking about the same parents but the other person knows something JC doesn't.
It can get rather confusing is what I'm saying. This is also an area where the continuity bible doesn't help because it looks like this is something that changed between then and the game. In the description in the continuity bible there are no adoptive parents. Paul goes off to college, JC becomes a ward of the state and is sent to the Swiss school by the state.
Regardless, JC joins UNATCO. Unlike Paul, he doesn't have to wait ten years to be augmented. He's augmented the year after joining up.