I get annoyed by a lot of things: when I’m listening to music and one of my earphones falls out; when I get stuck behind a slow-walking, zigzagging pedestrian, to name a few. On that list happens to be when narratives follow conventions, specifically ones that exclude minorities or give them first class tickets on the stereotype train.
Here’s some context. You’re minding your business, doing whatever it is you do when you’re bored at home with nothing to do, and your friends tell you to look up a game. You’re into games, so you do. Detroit: Become Human; you’ve heard that string of words before. You get some recommendations for YouTubers actively playing it; they’re Black gamers, a species on YouTube that deserves more attention than they receive. You start watching and find out Jesse Williams is in the game. You watch and find out the story is horribly written and continues to go down a path of stereotypes, of forced allegory, of an attempt at a seamless blending of racial and robotic politics. You stop watching it because it’s becoming a chore. Later, you decide that David Cage was truly the only writer in the room.
That’s how the story goes. In the epilogue, a friend and I were chatting about it again–by this point it had been a month and a half since I last watched a play-through of it–and I was reminded of my frustrations with the game. I’ve decided to finally write about those frustrations–well specifically, one frustration I have with Detroit: Become Human and conventional narratives.
My issue is that more often than not, they’re WWW–written while white.
I’m over narratives written by white content creators who are slow to realize their tone deafness. In the hopes of creating an inclusive game, perhaps a rare gem amongst the millions of other games out in the market, it becomes obvious that said inclusivity is far-fetched. It was born from the imagination of white guilt, raised by a know-it-all mentality. I have no doubt in my mind that Cage believed Markus’s (Jesse William’s character) story was unique, exciting, and, for Black gamers, refreshing to see our struggles so thoughtfully executed. That’s not the case.
Markus’s narrative had a poor allegory for the Civil Rights Movement forced upon it. In summary, and spoiler alert, he was a domestic android for a rich painter who was questioning his programming as a domestic android. Said painter’s son was an addict, came running back to Dad for money, and during an altercation he framed Markus for the painter’s death (even though he died suddenly). Markus was then thrown away and on the verge of his robotic death, literally put himself together and set forth on a path of metal redemption. Perhaps Cage thought we would be convinced of the story because Markus was a Black android, because his plot mirrors actual life. What could have been well done, what could have been significant, however, was squandered.
As far as I’m concerned, Cage shouldn’t have created Markus. If the game is going to center itself around the question of the android’s humanity, if they can develop morality and such, then stick to that theme. This is something society is currently grappling with as AIs become increasingly advanced. By forcing Markus along a strange journey containing robotic and racial politics, he’s forced into the obligatory “we need a brown one” seat. It’s bad enough that we still have to fight for our humanity in real life. The last thing I need is a white understanding of racial tensions via humanoids.
My frustration is that, after experiencing what I did of Markus’s story, I have a feeling that no one of color was there to put Cage in his place. My frustration is that no one is hiring, or not hiring enough, Black creatives. If there had been even just one writer, maybe Markus’s story wouldn’t have been so typical, so white-written.
By not hiring Black creatives, we are robbing audiences of authenticity. There is real, ever present danger with typecasting. It’s one thing to have someone write about something that’s completely out of their depth and was written based off of Yahoo answers. It’s another thing to have a team of people who have these experiences, the knowledge, and can provide insight to make the product much more well-rounded. Think of it this way: when your car breaks down, you’re not going to call your doctor. I’ve seen way too many narratives that have been written while white that fall into the category of tone deaf and live on tropes. Meanwhile white characters are still by far more developed and more diverse in personality and background (throwback to my favorite mess of a narrative White Girl).
It’s reductive. When we continue to rely on stereotypes to create characters, we limit the imagination. I get that a lot of our experiences as Black people in this country will be based off of the color of our skin, but it is not the end all be all. White writers have yet to realize that Black characters do not and should not be created for the purposes of releasing their white guilt.
I wouldn’t spend my money on Detroit: Become Human, and eventually I stopped spending my time watching play-throughs of the series. I just can’t convince myself that it’s worth the trouble when Cage didn’t spend enough of his effort making Markus a redeemable character. I don’t know whether or not to give Jesse Williams kudos for sticking through to the end, but I hope they ran you some fat coins.
I’ll end with a word of advice to you, David Cage. The next time you create a story involving Black characters, make sure that writers’ room is bursting with color.