The founder of Childline, a counseling service in the U.K. provided by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and some members of Parliament have called the upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive Detroit: Become Human a “repulsive” game for its depiction of child abuse. This is in relation to the most recent trailer for the game, which dropped during Paris Games Week in October.
“Criminals who attack children often create similar fantasies in their imaginations before they act them out,” said Childline founder Esther Rantzen. “Such a criminal would regard this game as a validation.”
She brought her concerns to Sony Interactive Entertainment, the publisher of the game, and has asked it to either remove the violent scene or halt the game’s release entirely. Member of Parliament Damian Collins, who is also the Chairman of the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee, added his concerns over Detroit: Become Human.
“It is completely wrong for domestic violence to be part of a video game regardless of what the motivation is,” Collins said. “Domestic violence is not a game and this simply trivialises it. I worry that people who play this who themselves have suffered abuse will use this game to shape the way in which they deal with abusers.”
The trailer in question follows Kara, an android that players can control. She works for a man named Todd, who has abusive tendencies toward his daughter Alice. While at his home, Kara finds him trying to beat Alice, all while she attempts to escape him and his leather belt. The scene first plays out assuming Kara does nothing, leading to the daughter’s death; Todd, as expected of his character, shifts the blame to the android and subsequently lashes out at Kara.
The scene, however, then loops back, showing all the branching outcomes based on a player’s actions. In some cases, Alice is saved, and in others, Todd is the one who dies instead. Giving players such a wide breadth of choices is practically a staple of games written and directed by David Cage, and Detroit: Become Human is proving to be no exception.
“I’ve never heard of little girls being beaten with a belt as part of a game. That, in my view, is not just savage, it’s seriously damaging,” Rantzen said. “Who would play such a game for fun? People who are impervious to the suffering of children.”
Cage has defended his vision, claiming that the game is not entirely about that abuse. He has called the scene “very strong and moving,” and it’s meant to serve a higher purpose in Kara’s story.
“What’s important to me, and what’s important in Detroit is to say that a game is as legitimate as a film or a book or a play to explore any topic such as domestic abuse,” Cage said.
According to The Daily Mail, the Video Standards Council (the U.K. equivalent of the ESRB) has denied to comment on whether it would classify the game upon release. Not receiving a PEGI rating would likely hurt the sales of Detroit: Become Human in the U.K.
Quantic Dream’s story-driven game about androids is set for a 2018 release exclusively on the PlayStation 4.
The fundamental point of Detroit: Become Human is that the player makes decisions that shape the characters and world around them as the story unfolds. Sure, there’s a scene that involves child abuse, but the game doesn’t ask the player to be complicit in the horror. Rather, it asks players to make a choice, and practically every option is an attempt to protect Alice. The average person likely wouldn’t root for Todd, and being able to stop him from harming Alice makes the dark moment have a satisfying, meaningful resolution that elevates it beyond gratuitous violence.