Daniel Rutledge: Domestic violence shouldn't be off-limits for videogames

OPINION: An upcoming PlayStation game is understandably causing controversy by including domestic violence, but much of the outrage is misdirected.

Detroit: Become Human is a neo-noir title that some say should be banned over its depiction of a single father abusing his daughter.

I haven't played the game and won't defend it specifically, but some of the comments being made about it are simply wrong.

In short, people are rehashing frustrating, obsolete arguments that games are only made for children and that serious social issues cannot be addressed within entertainment products at all.

People are arguing that domestic violence itself "is not a game" and to have it in a videogame trivialises the issue. This ignores the fact that many modern games are made specifically for adults and the medium is just as capable as others to handle serious social issues appropriately.

Some games crassly exploit controversial topics in a distasteful way, sure - but not all do, and to suggest they all do is to suggest that all films or novels also do.

Does Once Were Warriors trivialise domestic violence, rape or suicide? Does Schindler's List trivialise the Holocaust? Does 12 Years A Slave trivialise slavery? Does The Handmaid's Tale trivialise misogyny?

You may think they do, or that the content they contain shouldn't be used for entertainment purposes, ever - an opinion you're entitled to.

But to try and have these things banned because of how you feel about them is wrong. 

Opinion: Serious social issues shouldn't be off-limits for videogames.
Many games are made strictly for an adult audience, including the Grand Theft Auto franchise Photo credit: Rockstar Games

In countries like New Zealand we have a Government-appointed agency that decides if an entertainment product is too harmful to be released to the public. If it isn't, they decide what age groups should be allowed access to it.

Almost all of the time, they get it right.

If parents decide to ignore the ratings, that's on them - and they really shouldn't. R18 games like Grand Theft Auto V are some of the most adult products one can legally buy.

Letting a child play that is basically the same as letting a child watch pornography.

Detroit: Become Human appears to be a drama with themes similar to Blade Runner as the player takes control of three androids. It's being developed by Quantic Dream, a French studio renowned for making mature games that are narrative-driven and almost like interactive movies.

It doesn't appear as though Detroit: Become Human will put players in the role of the perpetrator or victim of child abuse - but they may be a witness to it and have the ability to stop it.

Following a tabloid report in the UK over the game, there are calls for it to be banned.

"It is completely wrong for domestic violence to be part of a videogame regardless of what the motivation is," said UK Conservative Party MP Damian Collins.

"Domestic violence is not a game and this simply trivialises it. I worry that people who play this who themselves have suffered abuse will use this game to shape the way in which they deal with abusers."

"Violence against children is not entertainment. It's not a game," said Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen.

"It's a real nightmare for thousands of children who have to live through these kinds of scenarios. The makers of this game should be thoroughly ashamed. I think it's perverse. Who thinks beating a child is entertainment?"

New Zealand's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) won't comment on the game until it's been submitted for classification - which won't be for some time as it's not set for release until 2018.

Given Quantic Dream's pedigree, I'm open to the idea of them handling something as gravely serious as domestic violence appropriately.

I also trust the OFLC to apply their expertise in examining the game and ruling whether or not it's fit for New Zealanders to play.

Ultimately, though, I firmly believe that the medium of videogames can handle serious social issues, that many games are for an adult audience only, and the sooner more of society realises this, the better.

Daniel Rutledge is the entertainment editor of Newshub.