By John Powell – Culture of Gaming
When I was a kid I remember the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. That’s not because I watched the film or was even curious about seeing it. I just recall the firestorm surrounding it. Despite the disclaimer that the film was not based on the Gospels but just Nikos Kazantzakis’ fictional account of the life of Christ, massive protests plagued the release.
People holding peaceful protests is the cornerstone of our society. People of all beliefs should always feel comfortable speaking their minds. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was people objecting to a movie they admitted they had never seen. Yes, you can express your expectations based on the material, tone or theme of a piece of art. However, can you really come to a definite moral, ethical conclusion without experiencing whatever it is for yourself first-hand?
It’s Happening Again
Sony and Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human is currently embroiled in a similar situation. Few have played the game in its entirety but some are calling for it to be banned. It’s incredibly unfortunate considering the multitude of positive messages it presents.
Their stand is based on one, five-minute scene which is but a small part of the entire story. In the scene, we play as Kara, an android who has been tasked by an abusive, drug addicted father to be a housekeeper and a nanny to his young daughter. When we are first introduced to Kara, dad picks her up from a repair shop. We learn that Kara needed to be fixed because she was severely damaged when dad had one of his episodes. He a successful sports star until he was replaced by an android and his wife left him. Since then, Dad has habitually taken out his frustration on his daughter and Kara.
When in a fit of rage he slaps his daughter, Kara becomes self-aware. She defends the child against his attacks, taking the abuse herself by shielding the child. The scene is indeed one of the most brutal and painful scenes I have ever played through, partly because I grew up in an abusive household. It certainly was uncomfortable for me because it is so realistic, however, it served an important purpose.
We Can’t Hide from What We Don’t Like
It isn’t enough to be aware of the wonderful things in life. We need to confront these terrible circumstances. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist. Domestic abuse is one of those issues. It ruins lives and it changes lives. For me, growing up in such a household made me realize what kind of parent, father I didn’t want to be to my own son.
Watching the daughter be abused by the one person who should unconditionally love and protect her is a disturbing experience, as it should be. Like the infamous airport scene from Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2, the scene is not exploitive in any way. It boldly presents the uncensored, ugly reality that some people would rather pretend doesn’t exist. When one shuts out or filters out the things that are upsetting to face, life doesn’t actually get better.
Kara’s story though is only one of three that intersect in interesting and unexpected ways. The first android we are introduced to is Connor (voiced by Bryan Dechart). In the near future, androids have become commonplace. They live and go about their daily tasks alongside humans and are assigned simple duties from picking up groceries to complex assignments. Connor, for example, is a specialized law enforcement android assigned to dealing with “deviants”, androids who violate their core programming and have hurt or put humans in danger. Connor has the ability to thoroughly analyze crime scenes and recreate happenings to reveal important clues. Think of Batman’s detection skills in the various games that have been released in recent years.
Connor’s partner is Lt. Hank Anderson, whose voice is unmistakably actor Clancy Brown. Known mostly for voicing Lex Luther, he has portrayed everyone from Mr. Freeze to Long Feng in the Last Airbender. Anderson is a heavy-drinking, morose police officer who doesn’t trust androids due to an incident in his past. Although he argues bitterly with his commanding officer, he assigns Anderson a case. He must find the cause of an unsettling outbreak of android violence. The adversarial relationship between the well-meaning Connor and the antagonistic Anderson is one of highlights of the game as is how their relationship evolves.
The third android is Markus. Markus looks after the eccentric, successful and disabled Carl Manfred. Manfred is voiced by veteran actor Lance Henriksen which is very, very curious since as Alien fans know, Henriksen played Bishop, an android, in the sci-fi/horror series. Carl treats Markus like his son, even teaching him how to express himself and his emotions through painting. Carl’s real son doesn’t like this. He takes exception to their relationship. Eventually, he sets into motion a series of tragic events.
The three stories, three timelines, do intersect with one another in remarkable ways which shows you just how much thought went into Detroit’s intricate storytelling. And that is what makes it such an engrossing experience, the fate of each Android and the people in their lives. As their stories unfold you begin to actually care about, become invested in Markus, Connor and Kara’s journeys as each takes a different path to self-enlightenment, to becoming more human.
Detroit’s gameplay mirrors mostly point and click adventure games, although there are a host of quick time segments, puzzles and even a chase scene or two. For the most part, you will be using the right stick and buttons to interact with objects and people. Except for some of the quick time segments, the gameplay is not that challenging for any veteran gamer but then again like Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, story and the characters are what is most important.
Theres a timeline sequence that depicts each part of the story, a flowchart of sorts. If you fail to achieve the outcome you desire or you just want to find out where alternative choices would lead, you can replay the different portions like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure book’. I did so when my fumbling got Kara and her ward killed in the abuse sequence. Obviously, I couldn’t let that outcome stand and I didn’t. I replayed things, changing everyone’s fate for the better.
As sci-fi godfather Isaac Asimov did, starting with the seminal I, Robot, Detroit: Become Human raises a lot of intriguing questions. Can you abuse or kill something which is not technically alive, such as an android? Should androids, robots take over human tasks and which ones? Is an android with corrupt programming or a virus responsible for its actions, no matter how heinous they are? How do we determine whether something is alive or not? Should self-aware androids have inalienable rights like humans? It is these curious quandaries and more that filled my thoughts during and long after I finished the game. Detroit: Become Human will get you thinking and that is always a good thing.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
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- THE GOOD
- Gripping story and characters.
- Solid replay value.
- The bold, uncompromising depiction of domestic abuse.
- Fantastic voice acting from veterans Clancy Brown, Lance Henriksen.
- Brings up a bevy of ethical questions revolving around technology.
- THE BAD
- The gameplay could have been a bit more challenging.
A gripping, intense yet human story that reflects our times and what could be our future.