David Cage Games Keep Treating Women Like Shit

David Cage's Detroit: Become Human wants to talk about difficult questions. The game from Cage's studio Quantic Dream, is a story of android prejudice and rebellion touches upon questions of the soul and the nature of being. But Detroit is also a bloated action movie romp. One sequence, a series in a pattern for Cage, denigrates the female protagonist. It's pointless voyeurism, and I'm sick of it.

Androids are commonplace in Detroit: Become Human. They perform construction work, provide home and hospice care, fight in the military, and perform domestic cleaning. One of these androids is Kara, a housecleaning android purchased by an alcoholic named Todd.

In one of the game's most controversial scenes, Kara achieves sentience when Todd beats and abuses his young daughter Alice. While player decisions impact Todd's fate, the story usually ends with Kara and Alice fleeing. Alone and with nowhere to go, they arrive on the doorstep of a man named Zlatko who they believe can help them. The scene that follows is exploitative, presenting a tired scenario wherein Kara is bound and menaced.

It is a scene we've encountered in Cage's works before from Heavy Rain to Beyond: Two Souls. Each of these games takes their female protagonist and places them in uncontrollable situations of physical or sexual violence.

Zlakto informs Kara that in order to smuggle her to safety, he needs to disable a tracking device implanted in her body. The device to remove it, as luck would have it, is in his basement.

All Kara needs to do is head down there and step into the machine. Of course, Zlatko is playing her. The device actually wipes androids memories and turns them into his servants. The player encounters one of these servant at the start of the scene, a large black android called Luther. As Kara steps into the machine, she is bound by two metallic grips and left in the basement while Zlatko and Luther take Alice away.

The player must find a way to free Kara. If this sounds familiar to anyone, that's because this is a scenario Cage is fond of.

In Heavy Rain, journalist Madison Page is one of four protagonists looking to uncover the identity of the Origami Killer, a murderer who targets children. In her search, she comes to the home of someone who owned an apartment that the killer used.

While it is possible to leave without incident, many players will find themselves drugged and bound in the man's basement. Either they break free and escape or the man uses crude powertools to mangle and kill Madison.

In Beyond: Two Souls, protagonist Jodie Holmes sneaks out of the military base where she is staying and goes to a local bar. The bar inhabitants eventually slam her on top of a pool table and attempt to rape her. She is sixteen.

These instances of "controllable helplessness" invariably exist to disempower and imperil Cage's female protagonists in a fetishtishtic display of violence. Cage pulls them off with a troubling consistency.

If the player does not act or fails too many prompts, these women are killed, traumatically assaulted or functionally lobotomized. In other cases, they are sexually humiliated and assaulted.

Often, these scenes do little to progress their stories should they live. If Madison survives, she pursues another lead. Jodie always survives before any sexual contact can occur and the only repercussion to the player is that she will have a panic attack in a later scene if she attempts intimacy with one of the male characters.

Heavy Rain's Madison Page

Detroit repeats this pattern, imperiling Kara for little purpose than creating an action set piece for the player to complete. She is an object, a doll dangled before the player for them to save.

Male protagonists are occasionally bound in these games as well, but Cage consistently drags his female characters into compromising positions where loathsome men enact their power over them, for the sheer sake of drama.

In isolation, these scenes are not necessarily a problem. Art can address many different scenarios with frankness, even things we find uncomfortable. But when a pattern of behaviour emerges, attention must be paid. Detroit repeats tropes and scenarios from previous games in a gesture that's not just exploitative but unimaginative. Can we go a game without compromising a woman's agency for the sake of a cheap thrill.

Detroit's Kara captivity scene continues to be infuriating when she tries to escape. As the game embraces a horror movie tone, Kara must sneak around Zlatko's mansion to find Alice and escape.

When he and Luther discover that she is missing, they hunt through rooms to find her. The player must sneak from location to location and avoid detection. It recalls another of Cage's works The Taxidermist, a Heavy Rain demo wherein Madison sneaks around the house of a killer who kills women and preserves their corpse.

The sense of danger, as crafted by Cage, comes from a small white woman hiding from a towering black man. The camera frames him like a slasher villain and the gameplay indirectly conflates him with The Taxidermist's serial killer. Kara's helplessness, a trait thrust upon her because she is a woman, reflects back upon the world itself. Luther becomes a monster not unlike Clock Tower's Scissorman or Resident Evil 3's Nemesis. He only breaks free from Zlatko's control when he sees how much Kara loves Alice. The black man cannot save himself; he can only be awakened into purity by the motherly plight of a white woman.

Women are not people in David Cage games. They are rhetorical devices meant to highlight the value of player choice. This is no more clear than how Detroit handles the more dire outcome of the much discussed domestic abuse scene. If the player fails to intervene or complete enough button prompts, Todd kills Kara and Alice.

In one version of the scene, Kara's discarded corpse is left in the backyard as rain pours down on it. Failing here requires the player to almost intentionally leave the pair to their fate. This is true for the scenario with Zlatko as well. If Kara's memory is wiped, you have a limited time to regain your memory or leave her to her fate.

The male characters in the game have more tools to succeed. When I succeed as Connor, it is because he's a highly trained combat android. When I succeed as Markus, it is because he's a tough dude. When I succeed as Kara I succeed in spite of her supposed fragility.

Detroit's main menu screen features an android assistant who comments on your gameplay. If you fail to save Kara and Alice in the aforementioned scenarios, she scolds you.

After all, you were the player and you could have saved them. It is meant to be a damning moment, an indictment of the player for not rising up to save the poor women. It comes off as emotional manipulation. The player might have been able to save them, but Cage did not need to so grossly imperil them.

This pattern of abusing women characters for easy emotional content has repeated in game after game after game. Time after time, I have watched as women in Quantic Dream games have been beaten and bound, murdered and discarded. Enough.

If Detroit wants to scold the player about why they did not save Kara and Alice, it needs to turn around and ask question if it was necessary to damsel and abuse them to begin with.


Comments

    Talk about reading into something waaaay too much.

      But how dare he put one of his protagonists through hardship in a thriller/action game? He should have made Kara an empowered feminist. Who cares if it doesn't fit with the plot of his game. /S

        The hilarious thing is that Kara gets herself into the situation with Zlatko, and then gets herself out of the same situation without needing to be rescued. The whole thing with Luther occurs after Kara has escaped anyway. In any case, she can rescue him at multiple points in the game.

        Kara is not 'fragile' as Heather has claimed. She can beat up frigging special forces soldiers during the attack on Jericho. The particular model of android she is, is programmed to be domestic help. It's not like she's going to have the mindset where she will wade into fist-fights.

      There's no reason at all why any of us should have to put up with critical thinking or rational debate. Seriously, blog posts like this are just silly.

      Please Kotaku, just focus on lightly rewording publisher press releases and posting cosplay photos instead of this rubbish challenging us to think outside of our own pre-existing opinions and worldview.

        Whilst I was a touche blase, it was more a comment on how Heather reached her conclusions, rather than a statement on the content itself.

        Not sure how critical the thinking is. Or more so that it’s so skewed to the authors interpretation from their gender standpoint.
        The mild mention of violence/abuse etc against men’s is brushed off with no real considerations.

      This is an all too common reaction to two separate things in videogames, critical anlysis and women, that becomes multiplicative in presence when the two are combined. Reading into a text and pulling out a strand for investigation is standard for a critical analysis - Heather's series within the 'a critical look' tag covers simple, understandable and approachable critical analysis about games. There's nothing particularly controversial about writings which expound upon general observations within videogames.

      Look harder at the current piece. Cage's oeuvre contains a series of thematic and narrative motifs that form a familiar modus operandi that, if we were discussing cinema, would reflect auterism. Think about it: grand conspiracies, descents into mystical or sci-fi absurdity, awkward forays into sexuality, female protagonists who are placed in physically endangered positions and often in a sexualised manner. You can experience an hour of a Cage videogame and know not only that he wrote it but where in broad strokes it will go. The current piece takes that observation, zeroes in on a single element and presents a plain argument: Cage is unceasingly shitty towards his female protagonists.

      This observation is no different to pointing out Austen's prodigious use of semicolons, Townsend's overly-compressed compositions, or the apparent prevalence of games featuring fatherhood as designers have aged, except in how the audience perceives and relates their experience to it. The latter discussion ties in well with the subject of the current piece; in a space where men have the loudest voices and think of it as their dominion, why should we be surprised that issues of sexuality or femininity are viewed unfavourably? We're not surprised.

      Diminution, insult and misdirection are the response de rigueur when topics of women are broached, and especially so when done by a woman. Tellingly, the irony of a culture that reveres the importance of videogames about fatherhood, such as The Last of Us and God of War, yet excels when attempting to exclude or quell women's voices is apparently lost on us. The apt question isn't whether Heather read too much into something, it's "why do we fear women reading into anything?"

      Before considering your acceptance of that question, or whatever your answer may be, take into account the preponderance of negative responses focusing on the gender or ideological pursuasion of the author and the gender-based analysis of the piece. Whenever videogame websites host articles about women's issues, they always attract this severity and volume of commentary; we're constantly chasing this ideal of diegetic and exegetic maturation in videogames but we're wholly unwilling to match pace.

        Well-written comment. I agree with a lot of what you say, particularly about people having a go at the author. Cage has a reputation, based largely on Heavy Rain and Beyond, but some of what Heather says about Detroit is either warped or flat-out wrong. I think most people commenting here would feel that she has tried to fit the material to her argument, not the other way around, which is harsh and unfair to the work and to Cage.

    The use of violence in Detroit was both interesting and uncomfortable throughout the whole game. The overall story of the game was very much about how experiencing violence and cruelty at the hands of humans was what caused many androids to become "deviant" - breaking their programming, fighting back, showing emotions, etc. Almost like being a victim of violence leads to some kind of enlightenment - which is an extremely weird concept. You could probably write a bunch of essays on the themes in Detroit - there is a lot of food for thought there.

      Look at the use of violence in the terms of adversity. Adversity promotes change, you need to adapt to survive. Some go the wrong way and turn to maladaptive ways of behaviour and actions while others use it for growth.

      Growth is the ideal trajectory when faced with a challenge, especially so if that challenge is violent otherwise you open yourself to a range of disorders.

    How about a spoiler warning?

      I absolutely love that @AngoraFish actually downvoted this... Shows the sort of character I suppose

        Odd the kinds of things that people love. Takes all sorts I guess.

        But on the topic of spoilers, anyone who read the title of the article and still clicked through not expecting to read examples of the author's contentions is missing something fundamental about how argumentative essays work.

        Actually, now that I think about it, not understanding how argumentative essays work does go a long way towards explaining the usual hysteria in the comments section here...

          I read the title and figured it was 50-50, they could easily just be talking at a base level about why they think he's sexist without giving specific scenes/character details out. Saw there was no spoiler warning so I assumed that was the case... Luckily it only spoiled the next Kara chapter on me anyway but it's still rubbish, not exactly difficult to say "spoilers here".

    This is the quintessential Kotaku article that ppl hate, David Cage's legal woes in France equal Kotaku article, The gaming community dismiss Kotaku as a reasonable or valid source for information because it's forever pushing gender politics, Stop it please.

      I think Kotaku-US' extreme-left niche makes a lot more sense in a market as big as the US.

      In Australia though, Kotaku-AU is the only "big-name" gaming site with a local domain, so that's why we're all here.

      KotakuAU is at its best when it's being more moderate with its views. Even allowing for some interesting debate in the comments section.

    Wow. I mean, I get that rape is confronting, but it’s a real, glaringly legitimate risk for women. I have so much to say in response to this article that I won’t touch, but basically it reads like somebody adopted an attitude based on their own cloudy logic and understanding of the world.
    Sorry, Heather. As a woman I’m sure you understand the concept of women being placed in victim roles more innertly than I, but as a man I recognise that my gender takes advantage of situations involving the opportunity to exploit women. These games (and series like Game of Thrones) depict that notion. It’s not a nice thing, but it’s part of humanity’s crapulence and we all need to take it more seriously. I feel these games achieve exactly that.

      Totally agree. The risks to men and women in this life are not the same and art should certainly highlight explore this as a fact of the human condition. This seems to be lost on Heather unfortunately.

      And FYI, Heather is a male.

        Wut? Heather is totes a woman. I’ve seen vids of her talking about shit with Tim Rogers about Sea of Thieves and the like.

          Definitely - look it up.
          Not trying to be nasty in pointing this out, but I thought it worth mentioning given you gave Heather an 'inherent' understanding of victim roles that isn't earned.

            Oh! I did know that, just forgot (her a twitter tag is “Trans Gamer” or something after all.
            I seethe point you’re making- and you are entitled to that thought/opinion, but had this article been written by another, male author, it’s opinions would still be that if the author. Men can still have a disdain for the portrayal of women in media, they just get accused of lording under fedoras because of it. In this instance, I find that my original statement holds (for me) and Heather’s trans status in many ways further articulates her enthusiastic opinion on this game and it’s themes. She’s not going “I’m a woman now and this has to stop in the name of how much of a woman I am!”— though you could choose to see it that way. She’s airing her opinion on the trope of women as victims and call David Cage (in some broader strokes) a mysoginist. A male could make the same call, but again, fedoras.

            longwittyunsername - this is over a month old I know but she's female. :)

      Yeah am with you on that one.

      In general I dislike the anti-women toxicity in gaming that we find and comment to that effect, but sometimes I think some women see what they want to see.

      In history, women have typically had a harder time of it, because of the simple fact that in ages where brutality rules, men were physically dominant. That's just plain fact. So, sometimes, to outline that fact is not being sexist.

      The irony is that I am currently playing Beyond Two Souls after it was released on PsPlus and I think the game has done a great job of showing me things from the girl's point of view and 'Jodie' comes across as a rounded personality one can empathise and connect with, rather than a 2D toon to be used for male fetishistic aims.

      The scene in the bar mentioned is fairly realistic I think, and it makes the player take a somewhat parental standpoint, feeling sympathetic that 'Jodie' just wants to be grown up and go out, yet not be worldly wise enough to understand that there are dangers.

      Also, Heather fails to mention (of course) how later in the game, Jodie gets CIA training and becomes pretty kick-arse rescuing a homeless guy who is getting beaten senseless by some young male jerks.

      But hey, let's cherry-pick scenes to fit our preset agenda.

    If you’re sick of how his games make you feel, probably best you don’t play any new ones he produces in future.
    This article suggests he should change his art to cater to you; that doesn’t seem right.

      Exactly. I certainly won’t be touching this QTE bonanza.

        I'm assuming QTE is some current buzzword?

          Serious?

            Very serious.
            Hey I forgot what QTE stood for because I don't normally converse in TLA's.
            If you forgive me, I'll forgive your fridging rant bellow, where you got the story, premise and ideology of the game wrong.

    Insert Jim Fucking Sterling Son! impression of David Cage here

      More polygons, more emotions.

      Emotions emotions emotions emotions...

        you forgot to mention that you know Ellen Page

      I love Jim but I thought he was completely off-base about the 'menial drudgery' that the game makes you do.

    It is tough, but it's also a drama. You have to put the characters into these situations and then get them out to have a story that people will want to follow.

    But definitely some artists do this in a really disturbing way that's not a lot of fun to watch/participate in.

    I don't get it. David Cage games treat everyone like shit, that's sort of how his games work. Should woman not be put through bad situations because they're woman? Isn't that inane logic , in and of itself, sexist?

      The article explains how men are treated differently, men and women are not treated like shit equally. Men are allowed some agency over their situation, women are denied agency and disempowered.

      The whole setup is closely related to the trope of fridging, where killing/raping/torturing someone (almost always a women or girl) is a cheap shot used by the author to provoke an emotional reaction and give the (male) protagonist something to get angsty about.

      Ultimately it's just lazy writing, playing off social assumptions about men as 'protectors' and women as needing 'protection' , but it occurs in a context where putting women and girls (but not men) in situations of cheap disempowerment is an already over used trope.

        Yeah, most of what you said is fucking nonsense, given that;

        1 - There is no male protagonist being angsty in this situation, you're playing as Kara.
        2 - There is no male protector, Kara breaks herself free.

        It's all about her empowering herself, and freeing herself of a shitty situation, so it's a pretty big leap of "logic" to go with the female being "disempowered".

        But wait... Did the "girl" free herself, and then save her human counterpart?? I mean.. I haven't played the game, so I'm only going by the spoilers in this piece.

        Unfortunately, Heather is completely wrong about Kara being fridged. Yes she falls into a situation and is at the mercy of a man. She then gets herself out of the situation by herself. She then inspires another, larger and more powerful, android (nominally a male but non-sexual) to rise up and free himself. She is then the leader of her small band, with the larger, more powerful 'male' android deferring to her as a matter of course. Plus, neither of the other 'male' protagonists are at any time aware of Kara's predicament. I really think Heather shot from the hip and didn't take the time to consider this game thoroughly.

        men and women are not treated like shit equally. Men are allowed some agency over their situation, women are denied agency and disempowered.
        What?
        Markus gets shot in the fucking face for no reason, where is the agency in that?
        I'm not even finished the game yet and I think I can safely say, bad shit happens to all three characters, it has a lot more to do with the fact they're androids than what sex they are.

    He's just showing they're vulnerable on their journey to empowerment, just like Lara in the Tomb Raider reboot. Only they aren't killing hundreds of men to show it.

      It's funny you should mention Tomb Raider, because I found the violence against Lara extremely offputting and it made me very uncomfortable, to the point where I stopped playing and have no intention of going back to the game.

        Didn't have a problem with putting a pickaxe thru someone's head though?

          Don't actually remember that bit of the game, so I can't answer your question.

            At the least, it was one the pickaxe instakill takedowns allowed when you crept up behind an NPC.

        Same happens to Isaac Clark in Dead Space. A wonderfully wide range of gristly ways to die, most while seeing the sheer pain and terror in his eyes. Games do this to make dying more than just reloading or respawning. Showing these visceral death scenes makes it more real for the character and is designed to give the feeling that the character's death has some kind of finality to it.

        Yeah, it started to feel like torture porn after a while when the game would punish you with OTT grisly death sequences when you fucked up your timing, or a critical jump or something.

    I think the main point of the article is that putting women characters in situations where they're extremely vulnerable to violence and rape with no way to fight back is not a new or original storytelling concept. It happens in games and movies all the time and is an easy way to create tension and make audiences uncomfortable.

    Detroit has some very interesting ideas in it, but Kara's storyline is not really one of them.

      I take your point, but I think Kara's story is pretty interesting. It's about many things, primarily emancipation of a 'female' slave character and having that 'female' character take control of her situation and work towards her own goals (motherhood, protecting Alice, getting over the border). It doesn't have the same global influence that Marcus's story has, but then neither does Connor's story, necessarily. I think Kara's story was the least interesting of the three, but it didn't disappoint me by any means.

    This really comes across as a feminist creating a strawman then attacking it on a public platform.
    if those women were portrayed as men you wouldnt have even THOUGHT about making this article.
    and maybe instead of thinking of the creator as a disturbed misogynist, maybe (given that your view on this are ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE) they are a display of how society views each class and hes trying to break those views.
    also its a fucking game, if you cant stand seeing hardship during a game stick to G rated, stay inside your white PC box, and stop being offended on behalf of a 3d model.
    its sad the authors never get to read our replies, VPN time

    So what are we meant to take away from this article, David Cage is a misogynist rape fantasist.

    This shit happens to women all around the world everyday, maybe instead of taking the view of the women being Victims you could see them a overcoming a harrowing ordeal and being more empowered after.

    The only problem I have ever had with theses kinds of scenes in games is that it reduces the severity of a perilous situation to a QTE.

    Bad shit happens all the time, covering your ears, closing your eyes and screaming I'm not listening lalalala won't make it go away.

    If you don't like david cage games, don't play them.

    Wow this comments section is a real trash fire. How dare her for writing about the game in a negative light in the context of gender representation. Would you guys prefer if we went back to 90s style video game journalism? 9 for graphics, 8 for gameplay, and an 8 for story!

      It's not so much that she's writing about the things she is writing about, but that she's either misrepresenting events in the game or drawing conclusions from those events that are clearly unwarranted.

        And yet the vast majority of comments don't engage on that level, do they? They're just gut reaction, throw-away criticism.

          To play the proverbial pot kettle, you haven't conducted any reasonable engagement either.

            I'm not disagreeing with the original essay. In fact, I have no strong opinion on it. My opinions are limited to commenting on the hysterical over-reaction that inevitably eventuates in the comments section whenever any article at all has the temerity to criticise any aspect at all of the portrayal of women in video games.

              This is why people are disagreeing with you, the essay is flawed.
              Instead of looking at the piece as a whole, the author has cheery picked items here and there out of context of the story being told.
              Cutting and pasting quotes, you can make anyone say anything.
              That seems to be one of the gripes I am seeing on the essay, you can't pick and choose facts that you won't to support an argument, you have to take the whole work in to account.

              In the game she is abused and yes with tropes, but that abuse strengthens her resolve to fight back, which she does. Not through some male figure doing it for herself, or anything like that. In the end it's a pretty dark story about empowerment.
              Though that has thoroughly been explained to you already, but for some reason that's good enough.

                The fact that you can, after the horse has already bolted, formulate some kind of vague counter-argument to justify the hysterical over-reaction every single article like this generates doesn't make it any less of a hysterical over-reaction.

                  The only hysterical over reactions I see are yours, or the ones you have managed to bait from people.
                  I have seen no rational argument, or discussion from you what so ever. In fact I don't even see why I am bothering to answer as you are blinded by your own ignorance of your actions.
                  You have been given several good points of discussion, all of which you have ignored and continued on with you own rant about agendas, and sexism and what ever else seems to randomly pop into your imagination.
                  I myself have even asked you reasonable questions on the subject matter, all of which have been ignored as you go off on some other tangent, ignoring the question.
                  If I was to try label your actions, I guess I would have to say trolling.
                  You are nothing but a troll.

                  @guestwhowould Were you to read or respond to any point I had actually made instead of carrying your on own argument with yourself about topics of interest only to you based on assumptions that say more about your own blind spots than anyone else's you might have been more likely to generate some kind of dialogue.

                  Pretty evident you are not into dialogue and just seeking to use other people's talking to launch into your own monologue.
                  You realise that the like/dislike button is not an agree/disagree one, yeh?

                  You are being bigoted, intolerant and seem to only want to impose yourself over other people rather than actually have anything resembling a 'dialogue'.
                  It is evident from the like/dislike spread on your posts though, people don't like bullies.

    The whole strong female character in games is the new mid 2000s bro shooter character. So forced and boring. People are people. Don't read too much into it.

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