Detroit: Become Human Controversy Highlights Why Context Matters

Detroit: Become Human's showcase at Sony's Paris Games Week event was ill-advised. Much like the controversial The Last of Us 2 trailer that followed it, Quantic Dream decided to use violence against a minor to sell its game, and the end result was jarring.

The gameplay trailer depicted Kara, one of Detroit's android protagonists, embroiled in a conflict with a physically abusive father of a young girl. Much like Quantic Dream's previous output, players can alter the course of Detroit's story depending upon the decisions they make, with this trailer highlighting the various paths that players can go down in just one scene. However, in order to showcase this feature, Quantic Dream decided to use a scene that features domestic violence and child murder.

As a result of this, Detroit has come under fire from politicians and the media in the UK, with the Daily Mail running a story branding the game "repulsive," while The Sun also picked up the story as Childline founder Esther Rantzen asked Sony to "think again and withdraw this game, or at least remove this scene where a virtual child is put in life-threatening danger."

Tory MP Damian Collins also came out strong against the game, saying that it is "completely wrong for domestic violence to be part of a video game regardless of what the motivation is," and that "it's dangerous to plant the seed in people's minds that the way to deal with abusers is to use violence against them."

While the notion that a video game depicting child abuse will somehow encourage more child abuse is questionable, it's certainly not a surprise to see the game causing such a controversy after its Paris Games Week showing. With the event specifically designed to convince people to buy the video games that are on show, Quantic Dream and Sony opting for a scene in which players must navigate through extreme domestic violence wasn't the best choice. It's a crass decision at best, and utterly, incomprehensibly tone deaf at worst.

Video games should be "allowed" to tackle darker subject matter. However, when doing so their creators also have a responsibility to portray that subject matter with respect, something which doesn't really come across when you're removing it of its context and utilizing it as marketing material. The gaming industry already has a tough enough time as it is when trying to convince a wider audience that there is no difference between a game and a film delving into such mature themes, without Quantic Dream trying to showcase the high level of player choice in their game by pointing out that a child can either live or die at the hands of her abusive father in Detroit as a consequence of your decisions.

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Detroit: Become Human isn't out until 2018, so we have no way of knowing just how tactfully Quantic Dream has handled its subject material. David Cage doesn't exactly have a great track record when it comes to subtlety — this is a man who came under fire from Ellen Page after it was discovered that Beyond: Two Souls contained a fully-rendered, fully naked character model of her that players accessed via its debug menu — so many aren't exactly hopeful that Detroit will be much better.

However, video games as a medium should absolutely be able to confront such themes, even if they aren't successful in doing so. If Detroit fails to properly address the sensitive subject matter it's taking on, that doesn't mean that video games as a whole are therefore incapable of doing so — it just means that we should probably get David Cage to stop writing video games.

I'm joking, of course, but the point remains that while this controversy is yet another overblown reaction to a video game from those ignorant of the medium, Quantic Dream's decision to use this scene for marketing purposes was always going to receive this kind of reaction. Perhaps that was the point — they say that no publicity is bad publicity, after all — but child abuse is an even more contentious subject to broach than the ultra-violence games have been criticized for in the past, and I doubt that Sony would willingly give the go-ahead to a tacky and careless marketing ploy based upon garnering outrage over domestic violence. Or at least, I strongly hope that isn't the case.