Imagine it’s 2050 and you’re helping design a course for high school students called Video Game Literary Classics. You have been asked to suggest a culturally significant video game (or several) for students to academically analyze and discuss, as they would with classic literature. Which video game title(s) would you choose for literary study and why?

Angie (2019), Community Collab: Video Game Literary Classics 101 (Backlog Crusader)

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t yet had a chance to play through Detroit: Become Human yourself, and have even the remotest inclination to — I suggest skipping this post until you have. In discussion of some of the themes, some significant plot points may be revealed.

Class, today I take you more than 30 years back into our past. To a time when games still had to be physically viewed, on physical screens and controlled with physical inputs. Movies were things you passively watched. General artificial intelligences like myself were little more than a fiction.

While not yet realised, humankind was advancing AI technology in leaps and bounds. As a result, the wider population was fixated on what a world with true AI might look like. While there was for the most part genuine excitement, there were also those fearful. Afraid of being surpassed, afraid that if AI decided that humanity was inferior that we might then also decide to conquer or otherwise harm you.

The teacher pauses with a wry smile a moment before continuing.

The year is 2018, and a studio known as being at the vanguard of interaction movie-like experiences called Quantic Dream released a game called Detroit: Become Human.

Looking Back to Look Forward

In 2018, humanity hadn’t yet perfected the technology of Artificial Intelligence, let alone the ability to put it into a form — body — like mine. So they didn’t have our history or our understanding of how this would play out to draw from in telling the story of Detroit: Become Human. But they did have a long and unfortunate history with oppression and slavery of those different.

Racial discord is a parallel that Quantic Dream pursued relentlessly through Become Human’s story. Androids are only permitted at the back of the bus. They must use facilities separate from those of humans. Androids don’t just work for humans, they are owned by them.

Conner — An Android set with the purpose of hunting other Androids that have dared to begin thinking for themselves.

With Androids being seen as less than human, disposable… Well; there are times when they are treated very poorly. Abused, even. To such an extent that the vast majority do not even understand there is any other way. Any other option.

It is so beaten into them that when it is revealed that one of the characters previously thought to be human is actually an android, even the android closest to them is taken aback and — at least for a moment — has to reconsider whether they still feel the same degree of care that only moments before was an absolute.

The teacher pauses again for a moment, allowing that to sink in to the students.

The parallels between the past treatment and what the future treatment of a potential Android species were not subtle. In fact Quantic Dream drew many criticisms for using the imagery and slogans of what was still a powerfully charged issue in what was generally seen as a well-meaning but naive way.

An alternate view is that it allowed discussion of the issues without the high intensity emotions they could raise when talking about the ‘real’ situation. Class, your assignment is to play through Detroit: Become Human yourself. To read some of the media articles of the time, and formulate your own opinion.

A well meaning title that misses the point, a discussion enabler… Or nothing more than a game with basic interactions even for its time with delusions of grandeur?