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    dkirschner's Detroit: Become Human (PS4)

    [June 14, 2024 09:24:44 AM]
    Detroit: Become Human was a really interesting game. I’m not sure how I overlooked it when it came out, since I’ve played every other Quantic Dream game and even worked on a research project with someone using Beyond: Two Souls. Anyway, thanks to this summer’s Playstation Plus subscription, I have access to it and other PS4 games I never bought! It’s set in near-future Detroit, where the city has repurposed its manufacturing infrastructure to produce androids. The androids are designed to look identical to humans, minus some clothing markers and the only external physical thing that differentiates them, a little processor indicator on their temple, which was a brilliant touch. As the player, the processor conveyed information about an android’s cognition and emotional state: blue (normal), yellow (moderate stress), and red (extreme stress), as well as “spinning” animations to indicate thinking about something (their eye movements aligned with this to indicate thinking; incredible animation work all around!). So, by making androids basically indistinguishable from humans (and they pass the Turing Test), Detroit doesn’t dip into the uncanny valley. This makes sense in terms of the story, where the androids (and the game beats you over the head with this) become human and fight for their rights. It touches on all sorts of philosophical questions: What is consciousness, and can non-humans attain it? What does it mean to be human (in terms of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, morality, agency, etc.; i.e., where’s the line between human and machine)? Are struggles necessary for self-determination?

    The most ridiculously impressive thing about Detroit is that you get to shape the lives of three androids, determine their fates, the fate of all androids (and therefore of humanity too), and in doing so, offer your perspective on the game’s philosophical questions. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with such an intricately branching storyline…or three storylines that intersect, one for each android. To say it’s complex is an understatement. I read that there are technically 85 endings. I got…one; replayability is a feature! Another cool thing about Detroit is that it’s transparent about the branching storyline. After each scene, you can see the narrative flowchart, as well as the percentage of players who made the decisions you made. This is something like what Telltale games did, where you’d see what % of players aligned with you, except here you see how different choices lead to subsequent events. For most of the game, after any given scene, I saw I’d unlocked most of the storyline. Towards the end of the game though, as major events happen (and your characters can die!), I was unlocking single-digit percentages of scenes. And who knows how many scenes I never saw at all. It felt exponential how complex the story became. The more decisions you make that have different outcomes, the more considerations the writers had to make for how following scenes could begin and progress. Often, I would see that there were like 10 potential beginning states for a scene.

    The three androids are Kara, Markus, and Connor. Each has numerous paths they can follow, but general character arcs where they “become human.” Kara is a domestic android, meant to cook, clean, and take care of children. She has a sad life with an abusive man, and after a really scary interactive domestic violence scene, runs away with his daughter. She (is programed to have? develops?) a maternal bond with the child (I have some seriously unresolved questions about their relationship though). Markus, on the other hand, has a happy life, android and son-figure to an old, ill, wheelchair-bound artist. The artist encourages Markus to express himself through art, and in another violent scene with the artist’s actual son, Markus realizes he isn’t actually free. These two become what the game calls “deviant” (they deviate from their programming). In the game world, more and more androids are becoming deviant, inflicting violence on humans (often in self-defense, but the Detroit news agencies are biased!), and it becomes quite the problem for law and order and the general functioning of a society that has incorporated androids into its basic functions. The third android, Connor, is an advanced police android created for the purpose of hunting deviants. It was thrilling the first time I realized that the androids’ storylines intersect. The other two are deviants, and Connor is meant to hunt deviants, so of course they would, right?

    As I learned about the characters, I started trying to shape their trajectories. For Kara, I wanted her to protect the little girl—I liked their bond—, and by the end of the game, regardless and perhaps in spite of what happened, I was fully invested in having Kara stop and nothing to get her and the girl to safety, even if this meant doing unethical things. Markus’s storyline was my least favorite because it was so over-the-top. Detroit attempts to fit a full-scale android revolution into the game, with Markus at the helm. It seemed really implausible. Markus also goes from servant android to revolutionary leader in the span of like five minutes, and leads all these complex “operations” with a handful of random other deviants. I would buy it if they were military androids or something, but a servant to an old man and a sex robot creating an elaborate scheme to hack the city’s news network from the top floor of a corporate tower, including rappelling up a skyscraper, delivering a televised “we have a dream” speech (the game loves to draw parallels between the androids’ fight for self-determination and the Civil Rights Movement), dramatically escaping with parachutes, etc., was eye-rolling. Anyway, my Markus was shot while peacefully protesting, and I didn’t really mind.

    I was more upset the first time my Connor died (he comes back), destroyed by some sort of industrial rototiller while chasing a deviant. Connor is tasked to partner up with a grizzled, alcoholic cop named Hank who hates androids. I tried and tried to build a relationship with Hank. It was easy to say something to make Hank fly off the handle. Eventually, though, I decided that I wanted Connor to counter the other two characters and stay true to his programming, never becoming deviant, insisting to the end that androids are just machines. This was partly because I found Markus and his revolutionary android story annoying, and also because Hank does a 180 on his feelings toward androids. He said he changed his mind because Connor took a bullet for him, which proved that Connor had empathy. That’s not why I jumped in front of him though; I did it because (a) I knew that Connor would come back if he died and (b) I figure, given that, a police android would be programmed to save its human partner, not out of empathy but out of directive. So to me, Hank’s premise was wrong. Why didn’t he consider this? Why would someone who hated androids with such passion make the leap to “he saved me because he has empathy; ergo, he is human” instead of “he saved me because he is a machine and programmed to do so; ergo, I resent him even more.” The latter is what racists do, reducing behavior to biology and then framing the characteristic negatively. So, I ended up playing a cold, machine Connor who (like how I did with Kara) stopped at nothing to achieve his objective. According to the flowcharts, a tiny minority of players did this!

    Admittedly, I enjoyed the earlier game and the final segments more than the mid- and late-game. The longer it goes on, the more holes there are. Some holes were relatively nonsensical storylines (a lot of what Markus’s ended up becoming), questionable plot twists (e.g., Kara and the little girl), and disconnected events. I am sure that some disconnected events can be chalked up to making this or that decision and therefore missing this or that piece of information. But there were a handful of times where a scene would start and it would be like, “We have arrived at this place to see this person!”, and I’m like, “Who?!”, as if I should have known who this person was already. These disconnects were filled in easily enough though, but it was weird.

    Anyway, the overall experience of playing the game was excellent. I found it thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking, even if its weaker plot lines could have been better written. It doesn’t ask all the questions you might think about and it hits you over the head with Civil Rights comparisons. But there’s plenty here to prompt you to think, like 85 endings’ worth of impressive, interconnected, branching storylines. And I didn’t even touch on the utility of the game for developing moral reasoning or social-emotional learning. As you play, you’ll unlock extras. The videos are totally worth watching. There are teasers, features of the characters (including Chloe, the “menu screen android,” who brings novel elements to the game), and mini-documentaries about the “making of,” the soundtrack, and more. Probably 30-45 minutes of video content all told that provide great insight. Definitely recommend this.
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    dkirschner's Detroit: Become Human (PS4)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 9 June, 2024

    GameLog closed on: Thursday 13 June, 2024

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Great story so far. Loving the controls for interacting. ------- Thrilling game overall. Thought-provoking, and extremely impressive branching, interconnected storylines.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

    Related Links

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    See info on Detroit: Become Human

    More GameLogs
    other GameLogs for this Game
    1 : Detroit: Become Human (PC) by Chuanqi Liu (rating: 5)
    2 : Detroit: Become Human (PS4) by jp (rating: 5)


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