Detroit: Become Human Includes a Scene of Domestic Abuse, and People Are Perhaps Reasonably Unhappy About It
Children's campaigners and a UK Member of Parliament have criticized Detroit: Become Human for including a scene depicting a moment of domestic abuse and using it as a trailer. During Paris Games Week, Sony released a new trailer for the game which heavily involved a scene of domestic and child abuse.
In the video we see android housekeeper Kara charged with taking care of a young girl who is attacked by her belt-wielding single father. The video tries to get the point across that you're able to change the course of events at multiple points in the scene. The video shows that one of the potential moments sees the young girl shoot her father as he chases Kara. It's a pretty rough trailer, even if you come in fully prepared — which many people did not.
You can find that trailer here if you want to watch it. Because the subject matter is a bit, well, dicey, I'm not posting it directly here. (Yes, yes complain about people needing safe spaces and trigger warnings in the comments, but I like to be nice to people who've had a rough time of it and might be affected by watching that trailer again. If you really need to see it again, you can. I'm leaving that choice up to you instead of letting our site start auto-playing it for you without giving you an option.)
The developers at Quantic Dream quantified the trailer with the following statement:
"The scene we are presenting is a very important moment in Kara's story: we discover that Kara is owned by a human, Todd Williams, the single father of a little girl called Alice. Confronted with Todd's violence toward his little girl, Kara feels compelled to disobey and risk her life to save Alice."
However, that might not be the best way to frame what is obviously a domestic abuse sequence that can potentially end with watching a child murder her father.
As Eurogamer reports, the Paris Games Week trailer has been negatively received — especially in the UK.
UK tabloid The Mail published an article on Sunday that includes quotes from several children's campaigners who questioned the decision to include a scene about domestic abuse. The Sun also picked up the story, and there's a similar article with an Australian angle on the website of 9 News.
There are also a collection of statements that have come about, including one from Andy Burrows of the NSPCC, who said:
"Any video game that trivialises or normalises child abuse, neglect or domestic violence for entertainment is unacceptable."
Meanwhile, founder of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood Peter Saunders said:
"Abusers will get off on this stuff and the other thing we know beyond question is that videos [sic] games end up being played by children and, scarily, the proliferation of salacious and abusive images is actually encouraging violence and abuse."
Detroit: Become Human development chief David Cage has provided statements defending the scene that can be summed up with the following quote:
"I try to tell a story that matters to me, that I find moving, interesting and exciting and my role as a creator is to maybe deliver something that people don't expect. Would I be doing my job as a creator if I was making the game you want me to make? I don't think so – I'm creating something that I find moving and meaningful. And I think people should see the scene, play the game and see it in context to really understand it. The rule I give myself is to never glorify violence, to never do anything gratuitous. It has to have a purpose, have a meaning, and create something that is hopefully meaningful for people."
Now, video games are an artistic platform for entertainment like any other. And many films have depicted scenes like the one featured in the Paris Games Week trailer for Detroit. Games have shown similarly triggering scenes before. However, none of those games have used those scenes as marketing, and trailers are marketing. However, video games are not just entertainment. Each form of entertainment requires the work of dedicated craftsmen — they are art. And art exists to push boundaries, make us uncomfortable, make us think, make us feel, and be entertained at the same time. Video games might not be enshrined like paintings and sculptures are, because they're coded as more "commercial", but they've become much like films over the years. And no one would argue that film isn't an art form.
However, the scene also involves children, which often gets people's hackles raised. Most people are pretty blasé about violence against adults, even when sexually or racially coded. When that violence is turned toward children, that is when it is near-universally reviled. That's why Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen has called on Sony to remove the scene or pull the game from sale. She said:
"Violence against children is not entertainment. It's not a game. It's a real nightmare for thousands of children who have to live through these kinds of scenarios. The makers of this game should be thoroughly ashamed. I think it's perverse. Who thinks beating a child is entertainment?"
While I agree with Rantzen that violence against children is not entertainment, I think there has been a massive communication failure between Cage and Quantic Dream and the trailer's major detractors like Rantzen. The domestic abuse scene doesn't exist in the game to titillate you with a moment of child abuse. It exists to present you with a moral quandary. It exists to present an android with a moral quandary, which is a fantastic moment of storytelling. Kara is an android, and therefore an outsider. What Kara decides to do here becomes a moment that sci-fi has been pondering for generations — is an artificial life form that looks and thinks like a person actually a person?
But because the trailer used that scene to highlight the game's sophisticated decision making and consequence web, it comes off cheap.
While I personally do not think the game needs to be pulled from shelves, if I were Quantic Dream or Sony, I'd issue an apology at this point. Maybe donate some proceeds from the game to a charity designed to help children who suffer from abuse. There are a ton of those out there, and Detroit: Become Human has been poised to be a hit since it was announced at E3 2016.