Detroit: Become Human – A Sci-Fi Heavy Hitter

Renowned Heavy Rain (2010) and Beyond Two Souls (2013) creators, Quantic Dream, released the much-anticipated PlayStation 4 (PS4) exclusive Detroit: Become Human on 25th May 2018.

David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream, has released his fifth successful video game title with the company as Detroit: Become Human proves another successful phenomenon for the writer and director.

A hard-hitting moral story, Detroit: Become Human follows the stories of three playable androids: Kara, Markus and Connor, as they embark on independent moralistic adventures that determine the future of their kind and the history of the world. With 23 possible endings for the science-fiction tale, it is no surprise that the dialogue choices made by players tailor the lives of all the characters. The simplest interactions can have the greatest repercussions.

The player controls three characters whose arcs eventually begin to intertwine:

Kara – a housekeeping android on the run from authorities after escaping her owner to protect a young girl.

Markus – a sentient android part of an underground group, who seeks to free his kind from humanity’s grasp.

Connor – a new model android assigned to the Detroit police department to hunt down sentient androids.

Detroit: Become Human takes its story line from the traditional science-fiction theme of artificial intelligence. We see this simple yet effective troupe throughout popular fiction and cultural discussion. From cult classic predecessors including Blade Runner (1982) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the question of advanced technology developing sentience demonstrates continued success.

An undying question of ethics: Is technology capable of free will? Or perhaps a larger question: is it entitled to it?

The desire for sentient AI to rebel, achieve equality, freedom from human oppressors, and seek human acceptance is a recipe for success after success that never ceases to entertain and grip audiences. We see it time and again; Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence (2001), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979-2017) franchise, The Matrix (1999), Channel 4’s Humans (2015-2018), Bicentennial Man (1999), I, Robot (2004), Ex Machina (2014) and Ghost in the Shell (1995 & 2017) only name a few. Society is fascinated by the concept of conscious technology.

In Detroit: Become Human, we see this idea explored further by placing the player in each individual perspective on the subject and giving them the power of choice. An android activist, an android hunter, and an android caught in the middle of their war.

Detroit: Become Human is the daughter of revolutionary Blade Runner. Presenting audiences with many parallels with its mother franchise yet with its own clear narrative (or possible narratives, depending on the players’ paths and outcomes).
Connor and Deckard play the torn and troubled android hunters who ultimately must choose loyalty to humanity or empathy for new intelligent life. Markus and Roy are the leaders of their selected rebellions, actively protesting for freedom for their kind, serving as the initial adversaries to Connor and Deckard. The parallels between Blade Runner’s Racheal and Detroit: Become Human’s Kara are, however, where the comparisons become less clear-cut and more interesting.

Kara’s parallelism to a Blade Runner character lies more in the symbolism of her narrative than her physical role. Whilst Markus/Roy and Connor/Deckard serve as the heroes and anti-heroes depending on the player’s choices, the Kara/Racheal pairing is interesting from the perspective of representation rather than their narrative function. Detroit’s Kara and Blade Runner’s Racheal mirror the development of love and relationships.

It is perhaps an outdated view to present female characters as the representation of love. However, Kara differs from the traditional troupe by transforming the theme of romantic love into a journey of familial love. Whilst Racheal is initially unaware of her technological origins and develops romantic love for a human (this is another complex debate that I won’t dwell on), Kara is fully conscious of her android nature and develops motherly love for a child.

Spoiler Alert (do not read this following paragraph unless you have made at least one play through of the game; I advise scrolling past the following)

Whether Alice is a human or an android is not important for much of Kara’s journey – although it does become a key plot point later in the narrative. What is important to the character’s development is the care she feels for Alice, and motherly traits she builds because of her feelings towards Alice. The audience are forced to address several questions surrounding the origin of Kara and Alice. Whether their nature determines the depth of their relationship? Does the fact that Kara and Alice are both androids, make their connection less meaningful? Is it perhaps more beautiful that two androids mimic a human mother-daughter relationship? Or is the cross-creature nature of their relationship imperative to what they achieve and what they symbolise for greater society?

End of Spoiler

Each character in Detroit provides its own unique perspective on the debate surrounding the free will and equality of artificial intelligence. Much of its importance lies in whether artificial intelligence becomes artificial life and whether artificial life deserves equality with its creators. Kara represents the emotional complexity of artificial life. Markus represents the harsh struggle artificial life faces. Connor represents individualism and identity in artificial life. Each android exhibits a value of humanity. Their unique journeys parallel human history. The parallelisms to segregation based on gender, race, religion are evident throughout the game. We see android camps that clearly align with concentration camps from the Holocaust. We see compartments on public transport reserved solely for androids, which are easily reminiscent of black/coloured sections on buses and businesses. The protests, violent or peaceful, mimic that of suffragette and suffragist movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The creators delicately and expertly weave this near futuristic society and moral dilemma to a familiar world. Which contributes both to the unsettling nature and beautiful storytelling of the game.

Inevitably, these parallelisms serve as sufficient evidence that humanity is still unsure of the answers to these questions. The game’s menu android, Chloe, even engages its audience to review the themes of the game in an external real-life context. Outside of the narrative, the Chloe android engages with its users perusing their opinions outside of the fictional universe by surveying their opinions and delving into such questions as: ‘Do you think technology could become a threat to mankind?’ and ‘Would you let an android take care of your children?’. Players even face a final decision of whether their android can be free or keep the intelligent artificial life-form around for their minor entertainment on the menu screen. This allows to audiences to not simply delve into a fictional game and form decisions for that universe, but also see how its moralistic themes and ethical choices differ or are replicated by their external real-life values. As ultimately, even this choice effects the player’s experience outside of the narrative.

Ultimately, Detroit: Become Human delves deep into this traditional sci-fi theme. With  a diverse history of sophisticated and entertaining science fiction creations, Detroit had a large pool of inspiration to draw from but consequently a large amount of competition to determine itself among. However, with Cage’s impeccable writing talent and determination to explore more than the hero/good guy dynamic’ of video games, he moulds Detroit into an exploratory narrative that forces players to make difficult decisions and choices that are more than black and white and good/bad play throughs. As Cage himself has stated: ‘There are so many other stories to tell, so many other emotions to trigger – this is a fantastic new medium, we can do much more than we currently do with it.” Cage’s style of storytelling allows audiences to mould their own journeys, thus utilising the unique video game devices that former mediums of film and novel have simply lacked.

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