• Jim Sterling

Detroit’s Domestic Abuse Trailer Is A Hackneyed Farce

A new trailer for Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human landed recently as part of Paris Games Week and it’s caused quite a kerfuffle.

The video portrays domestic abuse and details how you can make choices in the game (while waggling a controller) to stop a violent father beating the shit out of his daughter.

So yes, quite the kerfuffle indeed as I’m sure you can imagine.

Let me preface the rest of what I’m about to say by emphatically stating that I believe videogames have the potential – and deserve the freedom – to explore dark themes outside of simply gunning down soldiers and fighting off monsters. Tackling grounded, potentially traumatic, real-life scenarios in games is possible, and the pursuit can even be admirable.

I fully support an art medium that wants to put on its adult pants and examine horrors closer to home, horrors that may very well brush up against experiences the players themselves have had.

David Cage, self-styled autere, is not the man for the job.

By his own styling, Cage is the sole creative force behind his projects, and as such takes defacto credit for Quantic Dream’s content. Unfortunately for David Cage, his most famous contribution to the literary side of gaming has been a single name – Jason.

Relentlessly parodied, the repeated yelling of “Jason” in Heavy Rain is the most famous piece of dialog David Cage has ever written. To quote anything else would be difficult, as Cage hasn’t written anything else particularly memorable… except maybe another name – Shaun.

When the word “Jason” is your biggest contribution to videogame writing, perhaps you’re not quite the Kubrick you think you are.

Cage has fantastic ideas. He is a passionate creator, fiercely committed to doing things outside the realm of traditional “AAA” games, and I applaud him for that. As with any other Quantic Dream game, I’m looking forward to Detroit. Seriously, I’m eager to see it in the flesh.

Despite Quantic impressing me less with each new and increasingly garbled release, I’m still forever intrigued by the work they do.

The game industry is better for having David Cage in it, but his games are worse for having nobody around telling David Cage what not to do.

Case in point – David Cage’s cringeworthy idea of what domestic abuse looks like.

In an interview with Eurogamer, a defensive “autere” stood by his decision to portray domestic abuse the way he did, going so far as to claim he didn’t even choose the subject – the subject chose him.

“You don’t choose to talk about domestic abuse,” he claimed. “It’s not like I was like ‘oh, let’s write a scene about domestic abuse’. It’s not how it works.”

Cage said he was “working on something important, something meaningful and something moving,” with this particular sequence from Detroit.

The problem with that statement it’s horseshit.

First of all, obviously Cage chose to talk about it. Nobody forced his hand, we wasn’t possessed by the spirit of Polyhymnia. When you write a story, you are making conscious decisions about the story you’re writing, the characters you’re using, and the events that WHY THE FUCK AM I HAVING TO EXPLAIN HOW CHOICES AND ACTIONS ARE RELATED!?

But more to the point of why Cage’s claims of meaning and importance are rubbish…

Detroit‘s portrayal of domestic abuse is clumsy, cringeworthy, and – in typical Cage fashion – poorly written.

My history of living with domestic abuse is well known. Growing up, I saw and heard things a child shouldn’t have to see and hear. Things David Cage, apparently, cannot hope to effectively show an audience.

This shit is not like those melodramatic made-for-TV movies with cartoonish abusers and overtly choreographed violence that borders on action sequences. Such woefully outdated farce, however, is what Detroit gladly indulges in.

At best, the footage we’ve seen of the game just barely matches those aforementioned TV dramas in terms of writing, direction, and acting.

David Cage’s “important, meaningful, moving” work is, in actuality, a caricature of domestic abuse, and far from an original one. It is not powerful in the sense that I found it relatable, distressing, or even provocative. It’s powerful in the sense that it showcases just how ill-equipped Cage is to handle mature subjects.

This is certainly a subject too mature for his creative ability.

Had I been the one interviewing David for Eurogamer, the first question I’d have asked is if he drew from personal experience when writing that scene, or if he simply copied films again.

I cannot claim to know of David Cage’s personal life, but his predilection for copying things he’s seen in movies and mangling them in the process is pretty evident. Perhaps in this case, he is correct when he says he doesn’t choose his subjects – not when he can let Lionsgate make the choices for him.

I’m sure some of you will believe I’m writing this due to being offended, but I’m writing this because I felt little at all while I was in the process of watching that trailer. In any other medium, this is the same typical hokey bullshit I’ve seen a dozen times, but because it’s videogames, Quantic Dream yet again gets away with looking edgy and innovative.

To someone who’s seen abuse up close and personal, a cartoon version of an angry dad yelling exposition and throwing a table while increasingly taking on the voice of a drunken clown is almost funny. Almost.

Compared to the reality, this farcical bumbling is nothing. I felt no menace from Bunkem the Clown shouting mangled garbage. I felt no fear for the lifeless characters he was threatening. All I felt was the aura of a cynically produced trailer just provocative enough to spark conversation in the gaming community while remaining hackneyed trite nonsense outside of it.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus also features scenes of domestic violence, ones that hit even closer to home. While still heavy handed, there was just enough subtlety going on that a real sense of menace became palpable. There were things happening that authentically distressed me, because I’d been there.

Scenes in Wolfenstein II really did get to me – hell, it bordered on genuinely offending me. Yet I’m not here criticizing those scenes. They weren’t used in trailers to hype up the release and get people talking. They weren’t so poorly scripted as to almost provide a comical portrayal.

“Would you ask this question to a film director, or to a writer? Would you?”

That was David Cage’s response when asked about his decisions to put domestic violence in Detroit.

Leaving aside the humor in him failing to class himself as a writer, I think this question of his exposes the problem David has had his entire career – he knows what movies and literature have accomplished, he knows games could accomplish the same, but he simply is not gifted enough to do it. Not on his own. Not as the “autere” his claims to be.

If you want to handle subject matter of this nature, you need subtlety, tact, and an ability to build tension. The man whose best work is about the Internet coming to life and trying to enslave humans just ain’t the man to do it justice. The man whose character arcs are so poorly developed, he uses time skips to avoid writing any development isn’t adequate enough for the task.

He should stick to jealous ghosts and rogue AI conspiracies. Reality is just too real for David Cage to handle.

© 2019 Jimquisition. I don't really know what else to write down here. Why are you even reading down here? Are you bored? I'm bored, so I don't really know how I'm going to help you with that. I'm listening to a podcast. You could do that too if you want! It's something to have on at least. Am I hungry? I dunno, it's kinda late. Maybe just a snack...