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The game that wants you to question your existence and morals -The Asian Age


Detroit: Become Human is a game written, designed and directed by David Cage. Cage is also founder of the game development studio, Quantic Dream, which published this game. 

Cage is known for his story driven games that have multiple possibilities and endings. Despite the rich narrative of his games he is sometimes criticized for being mishandling his characters or not getting into the depth of things. 

Heavy criticism followed his last game; the paranormal based Beyond Two Souls (2013). Ellen Page, actress well known for playing Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat in the X men franchise, and also starred as Juno in Juno (2007) and in Inception (2010), played and motion captured for the protagonist, Jodie Holmes. 

There were many times where Jodie's treatment seemed to me callous and misogynistic, not to mention her primary love interest seemed to be abusive and egocentric. Detroit: Become Human (DBH) launched on May 25th, 2018 and in one month it has hit social media, gamers and streamers by storm.

 It is Quantic Dream's most successful game to date. The game explores androids, the player gets to play three androids, who are in different stages of realizing who they are; as in, they are gaining consciousness. The game entails many transhumanist and existential elements, with some post humanist themes.  

DBH is a R rated game that has issues of child abuse, sexual abuse, racial violence and explicit themes of torture and murder. Please read at your discretion and know the paper does not condone or encourage the violent acts of this game. 

There are many science fiction media out there like DBH and DBH does seem to take inspiration from them. When one is playing the game, they are reminded of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) by Philip K. Dick, which in itself was adapted into the cult classic film Blade Runner (1982) and its sequel Blade Runner: 2049 (2017). 

As those media, DBH also explores the roots of empathy, community, family, social bonds, revolutions and the need to free oneself from bondage. DBH slightly did give some reassurance to the queer community as androids' concepts of love are not restricted on compulsory heterosexuality. 

Another aspect of DBH I enjoyed was that it showed the plight of sex workers through androids, who when assigned to sex work, are treated worse than animals. 

It is stated that Cage specifically chose Detroit, as a city of former glory, which in the game has been revitalized by the android industry. The year, in the game, is 2038 and androids have apparently taken over most of the professions that humans once used to possess. 

This has made citizens have a 37% rate of unemployment and there are many angry humans around, demonstrators and protestors, who scream that androids were not meant to replace them but to serve them. In the game shorts, Elijah Kamski, the founder of Cyber Life, who had the first viable android that passed the Turing Test around 2022, stated that even 80% of university professors were now androids. 


The gamer Jacksepticeye looking at the game's
narrative branch

The first android, who still serves as Kamski's assistant in the game (calls him by his first name), is RT600 Chloe. Chloe actually gives an interview back around that time and she says that she can never be special as a human for she has no soul. This idea of a soul and its ties to empathy and belonging are explored and tested throughout the game's narrative. 

Cage has had met with specialists to discuss about artificial intelligence and what could be feasible in the game. All the androids are specifically designed to do particular chores that means all androids have limitations like humans. Cage's main inspiration seems to be a book by Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near (2005). 

Kurzweil suggested that artificial intelligence will have an exponential growth, faster than human intelligence, and eventually supersede it. The singularity is the stage of the human and machine intelligence coalescing.

 The idea is not necessarily new. The 2001: Space Odyssey (1968) had its protagonist, David Bowman, become a Star child, a very new entity who is immortal and in sync with the cosmos. 

Then in 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) HAL 9000, who was an antagonist in the previous movie, becomes a Star child too (he is rescued by Bowman). 

In 3001: Final Odyssey (1997) HAL and Bowman merge into a single entity called "Halman." In the conclusion to the Matrix trilogy, Neo the human accepts Agent Smith, the antagonistic machine, recalibrating the Matrix simulated world and ending the war between humankind and machines. 

Yet, the question here, is that artificial intelligence, despite being new, has had thousands of years of human civilizations to also borrow and build from. In my opinion, even if it transcends certain boundaries of human intelligence it is also birthed by the raw tools of human intelligence. 

Thus, each encapsulate the Other. And, as Polygon's article on the game suggests, the concept of the Other, is not necessarily as well extrapolated in this game as it should be.

 If Transhumanism is wishing to improve on humankind, as in with cyborgs and androids, that ultimately test the limits of humanity, this game does a lukewarm job at that. 

It is focused mostly on the existential crises of androids and their deviancy. A deviant android is one who refuses to obey and begins thinking for themselves - not quite the electric sheep you would expect. 

The game shows that transhumanism and Posthumanism, as postmodernism and magical realism, seem to intersect, but ultimately part ways in certain junctions. The androids are better in doing menial, repetitive tasks thus they do seem to have enhanced patience than humans.

 It is in their programming to fit their roles from being help around the house, to police androids, to gardeners and even prototype military combatants.

 In this way, the improvements on humanity can be said to have accomplished as androids integrate into society better than any human person could. The Post humanism comes in the fact that when androids become deviant they are relegating their machine efficiency to be vulnerable. 

They are choosing to feel and shed their imperviousness. Android bodies are self-relegated so they don't need heat or even clothes to considerable shelter them. However, they do have physical limitations too - their bodies run on "blue blood" or Thirium 310 - and they have bio-components. 

An android may not feel pain but they understand humiliation, degradation and exploitation; they also know that damage can be irreversible, which may ultimately lead to death. The anti-android people do not consider androids to be living beings to even have a death. 

This irked me a bit. Aside a few humans I found that most people were complacent in the ideology that androids, artificial intelligence per say, cannot become intelligent or self-aware. 

Yes, the android's rights being violated is a mirror to human rights violations, where groups marginalizing and excludes other groups and make them feel lesser and "not human", which translates as non-living. 

Post humanism's argument is that does one have to be human to be acknowledged or living? Cannot empathy cross borders? DBH attempts to test this out. 

Androids are not living because they simply look like humans but because they are living beings in their own right. When gamers are playing their host, who gives tips and trick adding also comments, is a mass produced ST200 Chloe. 

The most impressive of the game is its narrative rich story play and characters. One can lead to many endings and consequences based on their choices on what to do in the game. Characters can die in the middle of the game, meaning surviving characters will move on the story without them. 

The storylines of each character intersect in a pivotal way and makes the story interesting. We are made to ponder on our souls and bodies, things we take for granted, the things that give us the social markers for being alive. Here, the androids must fight tooth and nail for the very consideration that they are alive. 

Androids are an enslaved race; like imprisoned and tortured people before them, as humans don't learn from history, androids have a LED attached to their heads that show they are not human and wear arm bands and triangles that flash blue. Yes, there is that racist history of the world being implemented on the world. The three androids you play are: AX400 Kara, RK200 Markus and RK900 Connor. 

Kara is the most low-grade amongst the three but is the most self-aware one since being born. Quantic Dream's tech demo is about Kara being assembled and saying she is "alive", which perturbs her manufacturing and he tries to disassemble her. 

The man stops when she says "I am scared." Kara is then sold off as a normal android but from the start she is curious about life and connections. Kara is acted and based on the actress Valorie Curry. 

Markus (Jesse Williams) takes care of Carl Manfred, played by none other Lance Henriksen, who played the famous android Bishop in James Cameron's Aliens (1986). 

Markus is bullied when he goes out to just buy some paint for Carl, who is an artist. He is constantly frustrated that he is not allowed to be treated with respect or fight back against humans, whilst they are allowed to harass him as they please. 

When Markus starts going home, he is at the back of the bus, which is also significant as Markus is a Black Android, you can see him contemplating his existence and why should he suffer the unfair treatment of humans?

 Did he ask to be created or has he specifically stolen someone's job? No. However, Markus is treated as a son by Carl and Markus is most happy when he is at home with him, his surrogate human father. Events make Markus the android revolutionary, who will fight to set his people free. 

This is where Connor (Bryan Dechart) comes in. Connor is a prototype model, like Markus, but he is made to be a police investigator. Connor is the least aware and the most robotic of all three androids. 

He is polite, punctual, disciplined and meticulous and always determined to accomplish his mission at whatever the cost. Connor's first mission happens months before the actual game and a deviant android has taken a child hostage. 

This brings me to what I term as Connor's dilemma: The act of being solely stuck to the role given and accept it without any fallibility or the ability to deviant from the role and forge new responsibilities and roles that takes one's personality, relationships, bonds, thoughts, beliefs, philosophies, empathy and histories into consideration.

So, becoming human means to understand that one cannot always follow machine-like orders. DBH is all about becoming human. This article will continue next week


The writer is a copy editor at The Asian Age