Transhumanism, androids, electric sheep… I’ve always had a fascination with life beyond (Two Sou… Ok, I’ll see myself out!) our limited existence in meatspace. Last night, a regular evening playing a game turned into a collision course with androids, consoles and fourth-wall breaking shenanigans.
My PS4 tried to pull a fast one on me together with Detroit: Become Human – or rather its main menu UI, and it was quite baffling. I’ll paint you a picture: there I was, sitting on the couch playing Detroit, nearing the end (a good one I might add, because I’m a do-gooder), when all of a sudden (Look away now if you don’t want to be spoiled, for this blog is dark and full of spoilers)
after watching Connor getting pulled back to Zen Garden by Cyberlife in order for them to assassinate Markus, I was walking through the blizzard when suddenly, my PS4 – well, Detroit – crashed. I was thrown in to the PS4 mainframe, angry as hell as I’d just been denied gratification for a huge payoff, fully anticipating a big final showdown (which, to be honest, turned out to be a bit like a cold slap to the face). Then I booted the game back up and I felt that yet-to-occur cold slap in my face.
First, upon loading the main menu, the android Chloe, which acts as a humanoid UI/guide in the game’s menu, asked me whether we were friends. At this point, alarms started to go off in my head – is this a trap? Like the X-men reset sequence wayback when or Nier’s memory sacrifice ending, is this just the game’s way of testing me? If I answer no, do I lose my save and need to start over? I felt creeped out by the multiple Chloes I encountered in an earlier scene, more so than by any other character in the game, so I may not have chosen to answer ‘yes’ of my own accord but I felt obliged to, as I felt my progress was being held hostage at that point.
She seemed satisfied with the answer, and I was relieved.
That relief soon faded away as I pressed ‘continue’ in the main menu. Chloe seemed unnerved, frightened even, and asked do i really want to continue, whether it’d be better to leave it at that or start over (I’m not entirely sure, as I was quite shell shocked at this point [Editor’s note: the line was “Maybe we should leave things as they are“]), and I was given the choice to go on ahead or stop in my tracks. At this point as the proverbial ball had started to roll, I hesitated again – is this some final twist the game has in store, to see whether I’m actually, truly committed to the androids’ cause? Should I leave this revolution to play its natural course without my input, leave Connor stranded in his own code, just so I can lull myself into a false sense of security, thinking I’ve at least ensured his continued – albeit suspended – existence?
I still chose to continue, at which point I could see Chloe’s heart sink and exclaim me to have the right to do as I wished. I noticed a cold shiver go down my spine. Did I condemn myself – and by extension, the characters – to fail? Did I struggle all this way in misguided faith, nay, entitlement, thinking that choosing the righteous path will ultimately be rewarded, only for the game to gloriously undermine my good deeds and underscore a point, that despite my efforts to strive for a hypothetical common good, life can still pull the rug from underneath my, and by extension, everyone else’s feet?
Be as it may, the game was already resuming my save from the demonstration scene before Connor is pulled back to Zen Garden. I played the game through to the end – the worst I had imagined didn’t come to pass and I did actually manage a good ending. And yet, I felt a chill to my very bones. Was the game making a point about free will, humans and artificial intelligence by making me second guess my own choices so poignantly, right before the end? If so, the game had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
Alas, it wasn’t so. As the credits rolled, I looked things up and it turned out to have been merely a happy combination of accidents. Usually when the game crashes, Chloe the UI apologises for the crash. That didn’t happen to me – instead I was treated to self-actualised, hitherto unimaginably deep levels of storytelling, conjured by yours truly. I was demoralised by the discovery that this was just all in my head. And a bit disappointed that I wasn’t as glamorously made to question the very nature of the game or the characters I was controlling as I’d have raced to conclude by that point. The fact that the system or game malfunctioned ended up undermining a decently fair ending. Despite Detroit’s storied faults, I had become immersed with the game, all the while recognising how on-the-nose it was at many points. But I liked playing it, and challenging myself to ‘do good’.
But then it hit me – what if it was my darling PS4 making a point about me and my playing? After all, not so long ago, I was bidding auf wiedersehens to Nazi danglers by the truck load (thank you, Playstation Plus), and for the past week, I had been immersed in trying to save everyone, machine or not-machine.
Maybe my Playstation 4 has become sentient? If not, then what does this episode say about me?