Revisiting Detroit: Become Human
by Duygu BAYRAM
This article contains minimal spoilers.
The early 20th century brought upon the rise of the automobile to Europe and the United States. In the US, Detroit became the capital city of the automotive industry which, coupled with Ford being willing to hire black workers, jump-started a wave of black immigration to the state of Michigan. With the growing population and developing technology, job opportunities started to dwindle and the white population started to accuse black people of stealing their jobs. The resulting racial tension then lead to the demise of Detroit, a city that regressed to being known for its abandoned infrastructure and growing poverty until recently. Therefore, it is no surprise or coincidence that Detroit was chosen as the location for David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human. A game that, despite being a story about androids becoming sentient, is an intricately designed allegory for many real-world issues with racism at its center.
The game is more of an interactive movie than it is a game, much like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch but with as many as 100 different endings that are directly affected by player choices. The storylines branch off an impressive amount, you can even accidentally or knowingly kill off your character early game which makes playing the game much more engaging as the decisions you make have direct consequences.
At its surface, Detroit: Become Human is a game about AI uprising, a topic that holds interesting questions of its own. The game consists of three playable androids with separate but related stories: Kara, Markus, and Connor. Each character gets several chapters and the player gets a different character every turn which helps capture curiosity and attention. When it comes to the story, Cage was not afraid to go into dark themes and this decision was criticized by many who did not feel he handled these issues well. Kara’s story, for instance, deals with domestic slavery, child abuse, and drug addiction. Connor is a detective whose purpose is to catch androids who began acting out of their programs (deviants), but who is becoming a deviant himself. Markus, an android with a privileged background, is accused of killing his owner and goes on to lead the revolution. These stories have the potential to tackle many questions, but that is not the goal of the game, the goal is to offer an experience of conflicts that you might not otherwise find yourself in. The story does not give solutions to these issues because depending on your choices, you might not even resolve them in your story. Even though they were heavily criticized as well, the control designs where you often find yourself doing mundane tasks such as washing the dishes or serving a meal also hint at this intention of providing an immersive experience. Much of the discrimination and public opinion of androids is received through background events and media that you have the option of not even paying attention to most of the time. Everything in this game, from controls to graphics to narration to branching, is there to provide you with freedom and immersion while you experience the story.
The story draws parallels between the dehumanization of androids and the dehumanization of minority groups in the real world. From the beginning of the game, we are given the side of the humans, that androids are just machines, they are servants, they are not people, and they do not deserve to be held to human standards, and if they are not being exactly that, they need to be destroyed. This narrative about androids is not new, and it is also only a philosophical discussion, not a real issue we face today in our lives. However, human history is similarly all too familiar with this narrative and in the case of human history, those who are affected are real people.
Many of us are aware of the concept of racism but that does not mean we know what it is like to experience it. That is what Detroit: Become Human offers to its players, in this game, you are the android that is facing discrimination. While it could never compare to the real-life consequences of racism, it provides a way to empathize with the victims for those who may not experience it. Overall, Detroit: Become Human offers an incredible gaming experience with beautiful graphics, meaningful decision making, and an interesting story. Despite the criticisms mentioned, the game continues to receive high ratings as it makes up for its possible shortcomings.