It’s a rare occurrence when a single voice embodies an entire game.
Unlike the prestige that is built around a famous director or screenwriter, video games don’t tend to promote individuals. Instead, studios and creative teams tend to get most of the spotlight.
This is usually due to the nature of game design.
There are so many more procedures, focus groups and sub-committees that a game has to go through that if there was ever a single creative direction, it is usually lost by the time the product reaches shelves.
However, that is different for David Cage.
Whether you love him or hate him, David Cage has been the one red thread throughout all of Quantic Dream’s games. He has been a source of controversy due to his desire to expand the scope of games, both mechanically and thematically.
This nicely brings us to today’s question.
Is it okay to portray domestic violence in video games?
First, a little context.
A trailer for David Cage’s newest game, Detroit: Become Human, was shown at the kick-off of Paris Games week. The trailer features a frankly brutal portrayal of domestic violence and child abuse as part of the mechanics of choice that define the game.
Honestly, watching it made me feel uncomfortable, and I doubt I’m alone on that. But my discomfort isn’t enough to discount the game.
Video games are an art-form and labelling any topic as taboo or beyond the ability of the medium to portray is ultimately harmful to that medium. So, while I might be apprehensive about it, I don’t have any problems with the portrayal as long as it is handled in a deep and meaningful way.
Unfortunately, this is David Cage we’re talking about.
“Would you ask this question to a film director, or to a writer? Would you?”
The response to this trailer was the main focus of an interview with David Cage on Eurogamer.
I encourage everybody to have a look at the full transcript, but there were a few responses that made me think that maybe this isn’t the best guy to be handling this issue.
Firstly, he seems a bit prickly about being asked any questions about the trailer in the first place.
David Cage isn’t a stranger to controversy and outright disdain. His infamous claim that game overs were a failure of the game designer probably being the most noteworthy.
It may just be he’s understandably more defensive when it comes to controversy, or maybe it’s me wanting to find drama where none exists. Hell, it could even be a combination of the two. But, in the interview, he comes off sounding like an arrogant artist whose decisions shouldn’t be questioned because he’s better than the average game designer.
The second thing that concerns me is that David Cage is tackling a lot of heavy themes in Detroit: Become Human.
You’ve got the obvious racial allegories between robot and human, a smattering of rebellion and civil unrest, and the big one, what does it mean to be human in the first place?
Given that you have all these themes swirling together, it’s easy to imagine that a short sequence involving domestic abuse will be used for the visceral reaction it promotes, instead of playing a larger part. In a sense, it will be a gimmick or window dressing for the large story. And I’m alright if people want to call him out on it.
There aren’t any easy answers to this problem. Just more questions.