Friday, 4 May 2018

Do gamers fear Responsibility? The real problem behind Detroit: Become Human

On May 25, 2018, Sony Interactive Entertainment will release Detroit: Become Human for the PlayStation 4, a Sci-Fi adventure that has been drawing attention from the media long before its actual debut on the market. Latest brainchild of David Cage, one of the most divisive authors in the game development scene, Detroit places it's narrative foundations in real world issues such as segregation and discrimination. Everything is seen through the eyes of three different synthetic characters inhabiting the same society as humans, and serving as extremely advanced, yet obedient assistance tools. As it often happens in science fiction, some of these androids harbour an independent conscience at the start of the story, or end up developing one over its course, which puts their decision making into a different perspective.

The natural expectation coming out of these premises is that of a social and ethic clash that, as far as the genre goes, has nothing really earth-shattering about it. Detroit, though, embraces the challenge of depicting this clash at different scales: the wide context of society, and the isolated domestic spaces where interactions between humans and robots becomes more granular and nuanced. One of these latter instances marked the exact moment where Quantic Dream's adventure really started to make waves: on October 30, 2017, at the Paris Game Week, the team showed a gameplay trailer featuring Kara (one of the three aforementioned androids, and star of a memorable PS3 tech demo back in 2012), the little Alice and her abusive father Todd. Let's take a look at the scene known as Stormy Night, with a due mild spoiler warning from here on:

As you can see, the player's lack of action or proficiency can cause the death of Alice, which is something that didn't sit right with a portion of the media and the audience. During the following months, Quantic Dream received a slate of accusations such as gamifying domestic abuse, taking things too far in the name of spectacle, or even just dare tackling the issue at all. Part of the concern came from David Cage's debated reputation as a storyteller, something he implicitly acknowledged by seeking the help of professional screenwriters for Detroit, which has the vastest script ever handled by the studio. Some outlets (Le Monde, Mediapart) even tried to root the alleged lack of sensibility in bad corporate culture and toxic work environment reports, ending up sued by the developer as recently revealed by Kotaku's Jason Schreier.

Storytelling doesn't just exists
expose challenges to its audience,
but to 
pose them challenges too.