Detroit: Become Human is as problematic as you want it to be
June 16, 20171 min read
In the Detroit: Become Human hands-off theater demo we were shown at E3 2017, we got to see some of the iconography that will define the android/human conflict at the heart of the game's story. The androids' much-lauded digital graffiti featured a single fist, raised to the sky in defiance. Some old-fashioned paint-based graffiti from the anti-android group depicted three raised fists, also raised to the sky in defiance.
Using a symbol traditionally associated with marginalized groups for both sides of a conflict is a curious design decision, which is why I was both relieved and concerned to hear that it was not actually a design decision. According to Detroit director David Cage, the iconography of the resistance can be defined by the player, so you could pick something different for your digital graffiti flag but not the human graffiti.
That's where the concern comes in – so much of Detroit: Become Human is racially coded that it becomes uncomfortable when two different groups are fighting over a visual language that the story implies should belong to the androids. The androids keep referring to themselves as "slaves," and all androids must wear blue armbands to designate themselves as machines. When I asked Cage why the raised fists were an option for both sides, he declined to explain in the hopes of letting players form their own thoughts about the game. "I don't want to explain things, I just want people to play the game," Cage said. "We're not going to tell you what to think."