Detroit: Become Human is an anticipated release. It'll be published by Sony, but it was created and developed by Quantic Dreams, the name behind titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. The company has a tendency to work with much more mature themes than perhaps many are used to when it comes to video games. Heavy Rain was about a serial killer who needed to be stopped. Beyond: Two Souls tackles the concept of life after death with a main character linked to a ghost. It makes sense that Quantic Dreams' next title, Detroit: Become Human would deal with mature themes as well. But there is one storyline that has people questioning the use of mature topics in video games again.
For those unaware, Detroit: Become Human is a game that takes place in the future. Androids are struggling to reconcile their place in society as they become sentient. One is an android named Kara who works for a man named Todd. He's the father of a young girl, Alice, who we come to find out is being abused. A trailer that aired at Paris Games Week 2017 shows off some of the different decisions players can make with Kara to defend Alice from her father. If nothing is done, a sequence plays out that shows Todd walking up the stairs with a belt. We cut to a long shot of the house with Alice's screams playing. It's then that Kara enters the room to find Alice apparently dead, being placed on her bed by her father who says, “It's all over now. Daddy isn't angry any more.”
The rest of the trailer illustrates the choices that the player character Kara can make to save Alice. There are sequences where Kara attempts to speak to Alice, investigates Todd's belongings, and confronts him face-to-face. Kara can also attempt to simply leave with Alice by running away from Todd. The trailer makes it very clear that the player has many options when it comes to dealing with Todd and his abuse. No matter which route the player chooses to take, the threat of Alice's death is made very real. This would normally be touted as an example of video games tackling mature themes realistically. However, because the abuse showcased is that of a child, it's garnered a much different reaction.
Childline is a service in the United Kingdom that works to help children who are suffering from real life abuse. Its founder, Dame Esther Rantzen, has called Detroit: Become Human “sick and repulsive” for its depictions of child abuse. She claims that it sensationalizes violence and makes child abuse out to be entertainment. It's a little naive to put the words "child abuse" and "video games" together and expect that “fun” and “entertainment” are the only outcomes. It's been proven time and time again that media that is typically used for fun and entertainment can also be used to explore the darker side of life. There's still a stigma that because it's a video game, it means it is glorifying or making light of controversial subjects.
There are so many other forms of media that tackle these very same subjects and are met with overwhelming positivity. Take films and novels like Precious, The Color Purple, An American Crime, and This Boy's Life. All of these take on the nasty subject of child abuse. Rather than being met with cries of, “This is sensationalizing child abuse!,” they were nominated and, in many cases, won awards from various committees. When people see a film or read a book that covers abuse in its many forms, they see it as a way for the rest of society to understand just a little better what victims go through. It's a way to start a conversation about something that affects way more people than many are even aware of.
Yet when a video game attempts to do something similar, it is often met with contempt. It should be met with understanding that people play games like Detroit: Become Human for the engaging story. Players will not get “happy go-lucky fun” out of Detroit: Become Human, but rather deal with hard-hitting subjects. At the least, they'll put themselves in the shoes of someone they might never have otherwise. If handled respectfully and realistically, the section of Detroit: Become Human about Kara saving Alice will in fact inform people about the horrors of child abuse. Instead of assuming that it glorifies the act and makes it “fun,” people should give it a chance. The same could be said for many films that feature child abuse, but once critics watch them, they realize that they are informative and productive. Rather than snatching up your pitchforks and torches, give Detroit: Become Human the chance to show you that video games can handle scary and all too real topics like child abuse with respect.
How do you feel about the subject? Do you think child abuse has no place in video games? Or do you believe that it can be integrated well, thus sparking conversations that might not have happened otherwise? Let me know in the comments.