Developer Quantic Dream and David Cage have come under fire in the media recently for their upcoming game, Detroit: Become Human, particularly involving the controversial Paris Games Week trailer which showed a scenario of domestic violence against a child. The issue was first brought to light by UK tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, who criticized the trailer for glorifying domestic abuse. The outcry seemed to gain plenty of traction in the news media, later being covered by The Sun, 9 News, and even a member of UK Parliament, who all expressed pretty harrowing dissatisfaction with the depiction of violence. As much as this is another heated argument about videogame violence, it rather highlights a more troubling issue surrounding censorship in gaming and how distressingly misconceptions can affect the creative vision of an artist.
The root of the problem has always existed in the ongoing debate about whether videogames can, in fact, be considered art. Films and television have already been declared forms of art, so they naturally face less scrutiny under the media’s magnifying glass than videogames do. The age-old problem here is that videogames are still not seen by a majority of the news media as art. Games, much like movies and television, can tell moving, engaging, and layered stories that personally affects people in different ways. Detroit: Become Human is no different to your average film or television series that tackles similar issues and themes. However, to the ignorant media, this can be problematic to the image of videogames and breeds terrible misconceptions about the medium.
After reviewing the Paris Games Week trailer for Detroit: Become Human for myself, I was honestly moved by how powerful Quantic Dream’s message about domestic violence was. I had friends in my younger years who were victims of domestic abuse, and having them share stories of that pain they had to endure, I felt this personally struck home on an emotional level. I honestly admire Detroit: Become Human for tackling such a dark topic in society, even if it is veiled by science fiction. If these themes were presented in a film or television format, I doubt it would get as much controversial coverage as a game. This is where misconceptions come into play, and has unfortunately trivialised gaming since its earlier decades.
Games, being an interactive form of entertainment, were always going to be negatively (and unjustifiably) seen as simulations for real-life actions. Politicians, media outlets, and news stations have used this edge to cement videogames as harmful products to children whenever the agenda suited the situation. The same could indeed be said about any form of entertainment, especially music, which walked hand-in-hand with games in the mainstream spotlight in the late 90’s; particularly with Eminem, Marilyn Manson, and the game Doom being blamed for the tragic Columbine Massacre in America. This was only one of the instances in which videogames were targeted for accusations that didn’t make a whole lot of sense – and continues to make little sense with the debacle around Detroit: Become Human now.
The people speaking out against the game do come from a good place. Several of them, such as Peter Saunders from the National Association of People Abused in Childhood and Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner of England, have built their careers on great intentions and good will; so its unfortunate to see these misunderstandings about videogames stem from a heartier place than uninformed journalists with an agenda. In their discussions and statements, it’s pretty clear that they still carry the old mentality that videogames only belong to children, when this has been disproven several times given the modern average age of a gamer is now 35 years old. A handful of games being released now are geared towards a mature audience, and while it doesn’t really excuse children from being able to walk into a store and buy any game on the shelf, I highly doubt anyone below the age of 16 is clawing to play a David Cage game.
The controversy around Detroit: Become Human and the call for censorship is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. It’s apparent that the lawmakers and those who can make the appropriate calls for censorship in entertainment are basing their entire judgments on ill misconceptions, especially for videogames, which are still infuriatingly under the assumption that only children play them. I’d hate for developers, comprised of talented writers, storytellers, and artists, to have to compromise their creative visions because a higher authority can’t tell black from white.
If censorship gets the upper hand for Detroit: Become Human, we may begin to see an abuse of the system that will impose severe restrictions on creativity in the future of gaming. We, as a gaming community, need to reinforce the idea that our medium is art, that gaming is capable of telling sprawling, epic stories on the level of any other form of entertainment, and can have great positive impacts on its consumers. In defense of Detroit: Become Human, I stand by David Cage’s, and any other developer’s, artistic vision. Creativity and powerful storytelling in gaming is a precious commodity that cannot be negated so easily.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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