The game “Detroit: Become Human” markets itself as the next big thing. Centered on three enslaved human-like robots called “androids,” the story dives immediately into discussions about racism, civil rights, and free will, but badly fails at getting below the surface. Instead, we get pretentious social commentary.
We open with one of the three androids, Markus, buying paint for his owner. On the trip, he is stopped and beaten up by protesters whose jobs have been taken by androids such as himself. Then we meet the second character, Kara, whom we realize has been bought by a drug-addicted father who frequently abuses his daughter, Alice. David Cage, the author, shows him screaming, beating, and degrading the 8-year-old. It’s unfortunate, but what’s even more unfortunate is that’s all we get from it. We’re just meant to feel bad.
The game doesn’t want you to forget that they have a thesis that they worked very hard to come up with – racism is bad. From androids being banned from restaurants to Kara and Alice being sent to a concentration camp, the game is anything but subtle about its ¨message.¨ When Kara meets Rose, a black woman who smuggles androids to Canada (which oh-so-conveniently has no laws against androids), we are not only slapped in the face with a painfully obvious allusion to the underground railroad, but Rose plainly tells Kara that her struggle is just like what black people have gone through. It’s so glaringly obvious what this game is about, and yet it still presents itself as the deepest thing ever. It’s as if Cage watched a “Black Mirror” episode and wanted to make something just as intellectual and edgy. And yet, for some reason, he also tells us it’s not about race.
“The story I’m telling is really about androids,” he tells Kotaku, a video-game newsletter. “They’re discovering emotions and wanting to be free. If people want to see parallels with this or that, that’s fine with me. But my story’s about androids who want to be free.”
Then why are we constantly reminded of it? The murals Markus follows, decorated with civil rights iconography, tell us of where we are- Detroit, a city that is famous for their rich African-American history. But it’s strange to see white faces in the spotlight for a story like this. This is a story about breaking the barrier, and yet when we encounter our first black character, Luther, he is a stereotype, a big, scary black man who for some reason is the only android out of hundreds we meet to tower over every human around him.
Almost comically, we choose pivotal moments with quick time events (Press X to activate free will!), really showing how surface level this game is. The game tells you every option is possible, but it clearly has an opinion on your actions. For example, if you choose to protest violently (which an NPC of the game pressures you to) you lose your chance at any sort of a “good” ending. Your friends die, the movement fails. But if you protest peacefully, everyone lives! It’s just a little bit condescending to the nature of why civil disobedience is effective in the first place. You don’t submit because it’s “right,” but because there’s a camera right there and millions will see the relentless cruelty of your enemy. You accept punishment to make people question why you are being punished at all. Attempting to answer which mode of protest is more effective, or morally upright, is a very complicated question that this game has no business answering.
Besides the badly mishandled politics of the game, the story is just bad. Kara´s story becomes more like a “Dateline” episode as time goes on, a spectacle of suffering we’re supposed to enjoy. The one saving grace is the acting of Bryan Dechart, who plays one of the three main androids we follow, Connor. And of course, the game is visually stunning. So, instead of wasting 60$ to play “Detroit,” just download some JPGs and save them to your desktop or something. Or follow Bryan Dechart on instagram.