Ahead of the release of his new title, Detroit: Become Human, David Cage has been discussing the ideas behind it and, more specifically, the intense, difficult themes of domestic violence and child abuse that it explores.
The game delves into a murky, morally-ambiguous future where artificial intelligence has been perfected and commodified by humans, who use them in the same way they would machines. These AI are sentient however, and so arises the main conceit of the game: to rid these beings of their chains, and allow them to live as free rational agents as opposed to slaves.
This particular trailer, released at Paris Games Week, chooses to look at the relationship between humans and their AI counterparts by exploring how an AI can react when they encounter scenarios that are clearly immoral, displaying their capacity for empathy and desire to do good, depending on what the player chooses for them to do, of course.
At the centre of the footage is a female android named Kara, who is tasked with doing the housework for a single father and a young girl, and who quickly discovers that the father is regularly abusive towards his daughter, leaving her floundering for what to do in a society where she is obliged to serve her human master.
In an interview with Eurogamer, Cage was asked for his opinion on why touch on such themes to get a closer look at the role AI have in society was necessary.
“For me it’s a very strong and moving scene,” he said, “and I was interested to put the player in the position of this woman. I chose her point of view. If I’d have chosen the point of view of the man it could have been a totally different story and with totally different emotions, but in this case I chose her point of view. There’s a context in the story, there’s a reason for that – where she comes from and where she’s going to go. What’s important to me, and what’s important in Detroit is to say that a game is as legitimate as a film or a book or a play to explore any topic such as domestic abuse.”
Other mediums have explored such themes in the past, and used them to drive home the importance of certain story elements while making the plight of characters clear in a stark and powerful way. For Cage, as a result, the inclusion of this scene is not a case of making the active choice to write about domestic abuse, but to explore and examine what is moving and emotionally resonant.
“It’s never a conscious decision to say let’s talk about something cool and violence – no, I want to talk about something moving and meaningful, that’s my job as a writer,” he explained. “When you’re a writer you talk about things that move you, that you feel really deep inside you that’s something that moves you, and you hope it’ll move people too.”
In his opinion, video games are as good a place to broach difficult subjects such as domestic abuse as any other storytelling medium.
“Games are a medium like anything – it’s more than a medium for me, I’ve been saying the same thing for 20 years, it’s an art form, and an art form should be free to express different things, including strong and dark emotions as long as it’s done in a fair, honest and sincere way. That’s what I hope I’m doing with Detroit – and believe me, we ask ourselves these questions every morning. We take it very seriously as we feel like we have a responsibility.”
Detroit: Become Human is due for release in the first half of 2018 on the PlayStation 4.