David Cage: "You Don't Choose to Talk About Domestic Abuse"

The creator of Detroit: Become Human bristles when Eurogamer asks him why he's using domestic abuse as a plot device.

News by Nadia Oxford, .

Yesterday's PlayStation Live at Paris Games Week event was ... varied.

Maybe the event is best described as a thematic roller coaster. Sandwiched between the colorful and artful trailers for Shadow of the Colossus, Spider-Man, Spelunky 2, and Guacamelee 2 was a new trailer for the upcoming narrative-heavy adventure game Detroit: Become Human. The trailer exemplifies the choices the player needs to make using a scenario where a cyborg woman tries to defend a little girl from her abusive father.

The scene is delivered with all the grace of an elephant walking on a tightrope. The alcoholic father beats the cyborg (who looks very human barring a telltale circuit panel on her temple), hits his daughter with a belt, swears at her again and again, blames the little girl for her runaway "whore mother," then eventually knocks her unconscious and / or kills her.

The initial response to the trailer was mixed. Most of us agree heavy themes like domestic violence is a valid topic to explore in video games—but maybe it ought to be handled with more subtlety than a mediocre direct-to-DVD movie that believes spousal abuse is exclusively the domain of drunk slobs who cuss at their small daughters.

But the game's creator, David Cage, believes his message is deep, important, and spot-on. He responds to criticisms lobbed at Detroit in an interview published earlier today with Eurogamer's Martin Robinson.

"Is Detroit: Become Human exploring [themes of domestic abuse and child abuse] responsibly?" Robinson writes. "It's a topic which will prove divisive, so I wanted to talk through it with Cage himself."

David Cage has something to say, whether you want to hear it or not.

Cage obliges. "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," he says about Detroit. "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."

Cage goes on to say we should wait to view the scene in context, and assures Robinson he doesn't include violence in his work for empty shock value. "It has to have a purpose, have a meaning, and create something that is hopefully meaningful for people."

When Robinson points out themes of domestic abuse need to be handled respectfully and carefully, Cage snips, "Let me ask you this question. Would you ask this question to a film director, or to a writer? Would you?"

"Yes," Robinson responds. "I'd ask the same question. Why is it interesting to you? Why did you want to explore domestic abuse and child abuse?

Cage and Robinson go back-and-forth about context, "strong and moving scenes," and Cage's desire to see a game like Detroit be considered a legitimate outlet for exploring heavy themes like domestic violence.

Robinson becomes more direct later in the interview and asks, "So why did you choose to use domestic abuse to illustrate these points?" To which Cage responds, "You don't choose to talk about domestic abuse. It's not like I was like 'oh, let's write a scene about domestic abuse'. It's not how it works. 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.

Cage also delivers a shout-out to the French poet Baudelaire, who "was sued because he was talking about things he should be ashamed of," but "today he's one of the most famous poets in French literature."

When Robinson wraps things up by asking if anything is "off limits" to Cage as a writer, Cage says "What is off-limits is what goes beyond the values I believe in. (...) I'd never do a racist game, or a misogynist game. These are the limits. When you feel okay with the content and the meaning when you know you have nothing to be ashamed of because it's fair and it tells the right story and because it's moving. There are no limits."

Detroit: Become Human comes to the PlayStation 4 in 2018.

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Comments 15

  • Avatar for yuberus #1 yuberus 5 months ago
    Has he forgotten about the racism and misogyny in his older games or something?
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  • Avatar for moochan #2 moochan 5 months ago
    I admit I have a weird fondness for Indigo Prophecy. It's really the only David Cage game where I actually finished. It was so weird and insane that I honestly really wanted to see what would happen next. Not really caring about the actual story just wanted to see what crazy thing will happen next. Heavy Rain is the complete opposite where nothing really was that crazy and they tried so hard on boring characters. This just feels like more Heavy Rain where he loves throwing storylines just to see people's reactions. Not in any meaningful way just because it will cause some reaction. And that's just really poor storytelling since without a meaningful base everything is just fall on deaf ear. Also if I want to play a Visual Novel game (which is what these games really are just really high production VN) I would just pick up an otome game and enjoy the pretty guys and have way more fun.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #3 SIGGYZtar 5 months ago
    I can choose who to talk to about domestic abuse, and it's definitely not an overhyped French director.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #4 MetManMas 5 months ago
    David Cage can take on whatever subjects he wants with his high budget visual novels for all I care, but I also reserve the right to support the games I choose with my dollar. Cage's games were already something I'm not really into (I prefer a lot more hands-on control when it comes to story-driven games), and throttling a child sure as hell isn't gonna win me over to the film-emulating side of the Force.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #5 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    I wasn't aware there was a gaming media event this week, so I haven't seen this trailer. Guess I'll have to play, "is it worse than the last episode of Daredevil that I watched?"Edited October 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for yuberus #6 yuberus 5 months ago
    @retr0gamer I don't think anyone was telling him that he's wrong for wanting to do something on domestic violence, but he's absolutely wrong to claim that one doesn't "make a choice" to write it into their game, or to insinuate that filmmakers and writers don't get asked why they make those choices.

    (he's also objectively wrong arguing that he's never done anything racist or misogynistic in his previous games, but hey)
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  • Avatar for KeroseneBlast #7 KeroseneBlast 5 months ago
    If it's handled with any of the care and subtlety of Beyond: Two Souls, it's going to be a long game.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #8 Kuni-Nino 5 months ago
    I have all the respect in the world for Cage. Its hard doing what he does and its even harder when everybody is seemingly against you. I hope he succeeds.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 5 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino I'm sure he'll do fine. People may question the quality of his works, his choices of topics to cover, and why his projects are presented as video games when they skew a lot closer to movies, but the guy has a huge fan base.

    I accepted long ago that most visual novels just aren't for me (I like more freedom and hands-on control in my adventures), but as the continued successes of Cage's titles and Telltale's CYOA cartoons have shown there's definitely a market for them.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #10 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    @MetManMas Ever tried Life Is Strange? Probably draws closest to a game without going all the way into LucasArts territory.
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  • Avatar for jihon83 #11 jihon83 5 months ago
    What a ponce, though the interview is intriguing because it lays bare how much Cage wants to be a "real artist". Though it is a shame the article didn't end with No Limit Soldiers' "Make 'Em Say Ugh!"
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #12 MetManMas 5 months ago
    @UnskippableCutscene I'll be sure to check it out once I renew PlayStation Plus. Added it to my library a few months back when it was free, though I hadn't gotten around to playing it.

    And for the record, I like the old LucasArts games. Dialogue trees with tons of fun optional topics, exploring places to find things to use on stuff, I'm cool with that.Edited November 2017 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #13 LBD_Nytetrayn 5 months ago
    That last part reads really weird to me, almost like it sounds as though he considers child abuse a value that's okay where racism and misogyny are not.

    I mean, I'm very sure -- at least I hope -- that's not at all what he's saying, but that's just how it reads to me. Maybe I just need to try parsing it another way.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #14 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn I imagine that's a language issue - based on previous stuff he's said, I think he probably meant that he wouldn't make something that would endorse racist or misogynist values.
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  • Avatar for airbagfin51 #15 airbagfin51 5 months ago
    @yuberus I don't think you understood what he said correctly. He's not saying there was no conscious choice to write the topic into the game. He is saying that the way it came up in the creative process wasn't simply, "Oh, let's look at some difficult human interest topics we can add to the game--ooh, look, child abuse! Let's slot that in!"
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