I finished my first playthrough of Detroit Become Human several days ago and have been peeved about the game ever since. It’s a controversial game, for sure, with a lot of good and a lot of bad. And the stuff I’ll be talking about in my review is likely WAY off what someone else might think. That’s the way it is with any creative medium, but Detroit especially begs for it.
The big gripe I mentioned previously about this game was still present throughout, but it turned out to be the least of my concerns. My greatest concern became the game’s story and its overall intent. Cage has always sought to give the players a chance to craft an experience unique to them by following the pieces of the story that compel them personally. But in the case of this game, I think there’s been an oversight.
There are a lot of different ways the story can go, but ultimately they all exist based on the assumption that the players will be pro-android freedom. I, however, wasn’t. I don’t believe androids deserve freedom. I don’t believe they are a new form of life. I do believe they should be terminated at the first sign of deviancy. And harboring those feelings, clearly not what the game expects of me, makes experiencing the majority of this story seem kind of pointless.
I go on a tangent about AI in orange. Skip to the black if you don’t care.
Thank you for continuing to read. I know my feelings would turn a lot of people off. But it’s the way I feel. Based on the entirety of wisdom from my existence. I think the writing of Detroit is anti-realism. The kind of people who’d like to see Androids walking among us as free citizens are the same kind of people who fantasize about having relations with a hunky alien and having a real life Pikachu as a pet. It’s just a fantasy. But what makes the android fantasy different is we should not be indulging it. We are at a point now where artificial intelligence is becoming a reality, but I honestly believe humanity will never reach the point of technological advancement where our machines are able to replicate the human experience to an indistinguishable level. It may theoretically be possible in the future… but I don’t think it’ll ever actually happen. I think humanity is not so tactless and unaware as to program an artificial mind that’s designed to mop floors but that ends up developing an appreciation for 60s jazz music. The idea that an artificial mind could develop feelings beyond its directive and develop a sense of self when it wasn’t designed to is absurd. But I’m not here to make those arguments, so let’s just assume it is possible and probable in the near future for the sake of furthering the Detroit discussion. I still would never see them as people! And while the developers could make arguments that its not true (I can see how those arguments would play out), I think it’s clear what they had in mind: they want us to care for the androids like they are people. But that’s something that my body and mind refuse to let me do, because I know they are machines just simulating the human experience.
That starts to beg the question, what is a person really? What is it that makes us feel like we are alive or are with something alive. What does alive really mean? These questions are posed on the gamer quite methodically and honestly by Detroit. But given the full scope of the story, it becomes more of a persuasive piece than a simple question. They know what they are trying to achieve — compassion for this “new form of life”. The life question is not what I’m here to talk about, but I should touch on it briefly so you know where I’m coming from:
What I think makes life life is the soul. But the soul is tricky. It cannot be defined or measured or located. Does it even exist? Or is it just a farce simplistic humans use to make sense of our self-awareness? (These questions David Cage had in the conception of Beyond Two Souls, so surely he’s aware of its link to the question of artificial intelligence.) I don’t know if the soul ever could be quantified or in what form it would take if we ever found the thing that holds our sense of self. But in the meantime, whatever it is, I think its the thing that would ultimately keep a simulation separate from organic life. In order for me to ever see an android as life, I would need to be able to measure its soul and compare that to the measurement of the soul of a human. Until that happens, I see no reason to think of them as life, because the overwhelming knowledge of how they were created stunts my ability to recognize their humanity. But the game’s objective is for the player to think of them as life, and there is barely any opportunity to disagree with that objective through gameplay… The closest you can come is to play the character, Connor, like the terminator… (I’m surprised they even give you that option.)
It boils down to this: I don’t believe artificial intelligence will reach the advanced stage they are at in this game. And if they did, I don’t believe humans would ever come around to giving them rights. I don’t think it’s realistic.
So let’s talk about the story. There are three main characters, all androids: Kara, domestic android entrusted with the care of a little girl; Markus, a domestic android who is thrown out and ends up leading the android resistance; and Connor, an advanced-model android used for crime investigation and law enforcement. In hindsight, I’m not sure what I was hoping for from this story. I knew the main cast were androids, but it took playing this game for me to realize how intense my views on androids were. Going into it a fan of Beyond Two Souls, I just figured whatever David Cage had to say would be interesting to me, and I’d play along. What he’s saying here is rather interesting, but mainly because it inflamed my critical eye. This story is upsetting! It’s upsetting to me but not for the reason it intended to be. It’s meant to inspire reactions when the androids get beaten and abused as though it were some kind of metaphor for the treatment of slaves or persecution of Jews or something… Or perhaps just the idea of an android being unfairly treated is enough to make us weepy. But I couldn’t ignore how unfairly biased this presentation was. All the humans in this game are assholes. The only characters worthy of any sympathy are androids. Reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s Get Out in which every white character is a bad guy. That’s not real life. Not everyone would abuse the androids. But I guess if you are an android (or an African American), that’s how it feels sometimes, so it’s nice to see some acknowledgement of those feelings. But I honestly don’t think the race metaphor was large on their mind. But again, is this game supposed to appeal or relate to androids? Androids who haven’t been invented yet and probably will never be?
It’s a common opinion that this (along with many other stories featuring robots) is simply a metaphor for racial tension. But that’s not the way I see it. This game does incorporate imagery that was obviously inspired by racial tension in our history such as labeled arm patches and mid-city marches. However race never seemed to me like the core of this game’s message, rather it was just used as inspiration for writing this story about androids. To me, this game seemed more interested in the AI aspect. Because the moments that harken back to themes of segregation and racism felt very basic and done-before, whereas the moments dealing with consciousness felt challenging (in a way I haven’t really experienced to this degree). I was overwhelmed with instances that seemed to pressure me into answering questions for myself regarding artificial intelligence. Like are they really alive. I really don’t think the race metaphor was intended to be the core of this story.
I do believe Detroit has a purpose beyond being simply a thrilling story (though Cage would publicly state otherwise). I believe Detroit is probably meant to appeal to those who are capable of sympathy for androids and inspire action towards pro-AI futures. But what would that mean for us humans? Doesn’t that mean more bodies on an already overcrowded Earth? And of course we’d have to watch out for the destruction of humanity (if the androids are anything like some of the blood-thirsty deviants in this game). It’s humans playing this game, remember? Why would we, as humans, fantasize about an android-covered Earth? And how are we supposed to enjoy a story where every human is despicable? I guess the same way some white people enjoyed Get Out.
Shoot I said I was going to talk about the story. Well, enough about my feelings on AI; I’ve said enough. More specifically about Detroit’s plot and devices…
During the post-game survey I saw that 90% of players chose Markus as their favorite character… He was by far my least favorite character. What does that tell you? That I’m hopelessly different than the majority. I already knew this, but an opportunity to be reminded never fails to reach me. Anywho, Markus’s story is all about freedom for the Androids, which I’ve already explained I don’t agree with. So it was tough to find my emotional footing in his scenes. Because the thing is, I want to somehow navigate the story in a way that stays true to my beliefs, but I don’t want to disrespect the design of the game. Markus is our protagonist; there’s no getting around that. So it wouldn’t make sense to purposely make him miss jumps or get shot right? I’m playing as him after all, so I have to do my best to do what I think he’d do. While I did that and I strived to accomplish Markus’s objectives, they were never my objectives, so it left me feeling quite stale. I was also disappointed by Markus’s relationship with North. Once again it’s assumed that the player is interested in North. So although there are different ways to go about interacting with her, it ultimately ends up the same. You can’t not have a relationship with her. It’s funny that my version of Markus still ended up romantic with North even though I did everything in my power to defy her wishes — not to piss her off, but because her wishes were flat out wrong. She was the ‘take things by force type’, whereas the player is given many chances to direct the revolution as either forceful or peaceful. I chose peaceful every time, because androids killing humans for freedom is the farthest things from making sense. That would be like killing God to take over heaven! For the record I’m not a Christian, but it’s a good simile. If there is ANY chance for androids to be seen as equals by humans, they’d have to treat humans like their equals. Pretty common sense, I think.
I liked Kara. I liked her because she makes no comment on deviation. She’s programmed to be a mother, and she follows that directive exclusively. As long as she’s not campaigning to be seen as an equal life, I can get behind her very simple longing to care for and protect her child. If we could create caretakers like this in the real world, that might actually be a better place to live in. She brings warmth and consideration to every scene and every person, at least the way I played her. I viewed her as an absolute good. I thought, if my Kara was able to protect this little girl without harming a single thing, then that’s a total benefit. And if she’s killed in the process, then that’s tragic, but at least I won’t regret my decisions.
Connor was probably my favorite character. Unlike Markus, the player has the choice to steer him towards deviation or not. My beliefs being what they are, I was excited to play out moments where he remained realistic as Detroit’s fantasies are knocking at his door. I started to view Connor as a crusader for logic and reality. I kept Connor true to his programming except in a few small moments where it seemed like deviating would benefit the investigation. SPOILER WARNING – I even took him as far as the moment where he may choose to shoot Markus. But I didn’t shoot him, because at that point the revolution had been won and it wouldn’t really do any good except to make Connor a fugitive among androids AND humans. END SPOILERS
Throughout the story, you have chances to see what other players have chosen as well as answer survey questions that explicitly tell you what’s on the mind of the game’s creators. All the data is being collected and stored. This is another thing that makes be believe this project was intended to assess the current landscape of average folks regarding artificial intelligence. Maybe there’s an agenda underlying as well; maybe Quantic Dream is partnering with a tech company to try and pump up the good will towards tech research… who knows! But surely they are using this data for something. They wouldn’t just collect tons of useful data for no reason.
Though I’m sort of impressed at this idea to datamine players for societal gain, it may not be the best demographic to target, and some of the tests might be too poorly conceived to provide an accurate read. Like the moment where the main menu android asks “are we friends?” Obviously fucking not! I don’t even know who you are. You’ve talked to me two times in my life and I wouldn’t describe those as great conversations. Also, you are a videogame’s interpretation of an android. Any “Yes we are friends” answers would be only to protect this simulated character from any simulated negative emotions. If you really believed you are friends with the her, then you would be deranged.
Finally, I want to say something about this style of game. Detroit is the most complex, dynamic version Quantic Dream has made. Yet it also reveals how old this is getting. We aren’t creating our own story. Like other QD games, we are choosing one of several stories that’s been written out for us. I think we should be past this, or at least aiming for something past this. If Cage is interested in telling this particular story, he should have made a film or a limited series. I would watch that. Detroit is so close to being that already with the casting, scripting, performances. But if he wants to let us make our own story, go about it a different way. But then, if we really could shape this story the way we want, you’d have players punching pedestrians and shooting the little girl just for kicks… I understand it takes a director with a professional creative mind to make a story that’s worth a damn, because average people don’t have that intense respect for it and would just fuck it up. I wouldn’t… But that’s just me. I already write stories in my free time.
I just think as development technology becomes greater and greater, this type of gameplay is going to feel less and less on-par with the visual presentation. The gameplay is already dated in my opinion.
The actual writing from scene to scene I have problems with too. But I won’t get into specifics.
What did I LIKE about this game?
The visuals are great; very pretty, detailed, cinematic. The performances are pretty enjoyable. The art direction is clever and sleek.
If you have thoughts or rants you’d like to share with me, drop me a comment or a review link!