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.
Well that was a lot of F-words hurled at a little girl.— Nadia Oxford (@nadiaoxford) October 30, 2017
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."
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.