Opinion: The scare campaign against Detroit: Become Human over domestic violence misses the point entirely

Quantic Dream’s forthcoming narrative-heavy adventure title Detroit: Become Human has rather abruptly found itself at the centre of a controversy regarding its month-old trailer from Paris Games Week.

The trailer, which debuted during Sony’s press briefing at Paris Games Week last month (and embedded below), depicts a young girl named Alice who lives with an aggressive, abusive father. The sequence has you playing as Kara, a newly purchased android designed for helping out around the house.

Children’s protection groups have rather abruptly hit out at the game in a piece that ran in British tabloid The Mail on Sunday, calling the game repulsive for even including scenes in which children are abused. The story was recycled in another UK tabloid, The Sun, and the story has been picked up by 9 News who’ve put their own finger-wagging spin on it.

What none of these pieces explain is that this is merely the scene’s opener. We understand that Alice is in danger and, faced with the possibility of her abuse at the hands of her father, the player is given many avenues in which to intervene. You can attempt to mediate, you can find Alice and attempt to help her escape, you can straight up attack her father when it appears he may begin to hurt the child.

It takes me back to the early 2000’s when people like Jack Thompson were attempting to vilify violence in games because games were a medium they didn’t understand and the media gave them a platform. These pieces, much like the woolly-haired doomsayers of over 15 years ago, conveniently forget that domestic violence is regularly depicted in film and television, often in uncomfortably graphic detail, and are rarely placed under the same scrutiny.

If their point is that Detroit‘s depiction of DV is more damaging due to its interactivity then perhaps they should be reminded that the only way the player can interact with the sequence is in finding ways to protect Alice or remove her from the situation safely. It’s absolutely possible to let Kara stick to her programming and do nothing, but in that instance the sequence becomes less like a game and more like a film. Both involve you watching on. But even then, unlike a film, Detroit will make you wear the consequences of doing nothing.

I am not looking to minimise the impact of domestic violence. The incidence of DV, particularly in Australia and especially against women and children, stands at epidemic proportions. And I take the point of the advocacy groups that the Mail, the Sun and 9 News have spoken to — this is horrible, ugly problem with no easy solution and it must be approached with the care and sensitivity it deserves. But art, good or bad, allows us a lens through which to view confronting topics just like DV. Games can tackle this issue and grant the player a window on that experience in a way that no other medium can. We must encourage empathy and support for DV victims where we can, and Detroit does that right away. You feel compelled to help this child because if not you, then who will come to save her?

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please contact 1800RESPECT or White Ribbon Australia for help. You’re not alone, and there is a safe way out.