Detroit Become Human

DBH as Literature: On love, imperfection, and what it means to be alive

Note: This essay is the first in a series I intend to update irregularly analyzing Detroit: Become Human as a piece of literature. I just have SO many thoughts about this wonderful game, and not nearly enough people to share them with. So I’m making this subreddit my outlet.

Major spoilers ahead. Finish the game first and read at your own risk.


One issue I’ve seen people take issue with about Detroit: Become Human, especially on their first play-throughs, is the reveal of Alice as an android in Crossroads—namely, how believable it is that Alice hides who she is for so long, and why. On my first watch of the game, I definitely thought it was a twist for the sake of a twist. But while I still definitely think the execution of the reveal could have better, after playing the game several times and thinking about it a lot more, I actually think Alice’s choice to hide her android status until the end makes a lot of sense. Because while as an outsider it seems that Kara loves Alice unconditionally (assuming you don’t choose the “Distant” option after the reveal), Alice is not an outsider in her story. She is actively living it, and given all of her experiences leading up to the twist, from her perspective, she has every reason to believe that Kara would reject her for being an android.

And we know, for a fact, that this is exactly what Alice thinks. In Midnight Train, if Kara talks to Alice during her time to explore the downstairs and asks her what’s wrong, Alice will say:

If I told you, you wouldn’t love me anymore.

But why?

Consider that Alice was raised in a broken home where every day of her existence, her “father” verbally and physically abused her because of what she was. And I’m not just talking about Todd being a bigot. Todd hurt Alice because, despite her being 'the perfect child,' she still wasn’t good enough, could never be good enough, because nothing could replace the child he lost when his wife walked out on him (as Kara summarizes if her group encounters Todd in Battle for Detroit). Todd taught Alice that she should expect or at least be prepared for parental figures to reject her for her android inadequacies. She then internalized the idea that, as an android, she was inherently unworthy of love, despite needing it as much as any human person.

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Enter Kara, who, despite caring for Alice, unintentionally confirms Alice’s distorted worldview. From the moment she returns from the repair shop, Kara makes clear to Alice that she believes her to be human through her various questions and actions in A New Home and Stormy Night. Then, throughout their journey, she repeatedly states to everyone they meet:

She’s human.

This in itself tips Alice off that she should play along with Kara’s game. If Kara, her new parental figure, wants her to be human or at least pretend to be human, that’s what she needs to do, lest she disappoint her. As 'the perfect child,' Alice doesn’t want to disappoint her parent… and as Alice, she doesn’t want to risk being rejected by the only person who has ever loved her, even if that love is based on a lie.

Luther then comes in and seals the deal. As soon as he joins the group, he starts probing Kara about her mistaken belief that Alice is human. But here’s the thing: it’s not like Alice is out of earshot. Every time Luther asks Kara about Alice, Alice is literally right there. Even if she’s just been put to bed when he asks, like in The Pirate’s Cove, it’s reasonable to assume she hasn’t immediately fallen asleep (and that’s assuming she even can sleep as an android, and isn’t just pretending). So Alice is taking in every word of these clipped conversations, and from them she learns two things. First, Luther’s vagueness confirms to Alice that her android-ness is something she should be careful to reveal to Kara. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he just mention it offhand, instead of cryptically questioning Kara about it? Second, Kara always curtly shuts down any attempt by Luther to talk about Alice for no obvious reason. I don’t think it’s a stretch for Alice to conclude from that, or at least fear, that Kara is completely unwilling to consider Alice as an android. Worse, Kara might even be hostile to the idea, based on her tone in at least one of their scenes. So what choice does Alice have? She needs Kara’s love, which means she needs to keep quiet.

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Once Alice’s identity is finally revealed, however, Luther (or Lucy, depending on whether Luther makes it to Jericho) says, IMO, one of the most interesting things in the game:

You knew from the beginning. You just didn’t want to see it. She wanted a mom, and you wanted someone to care for. You needed each other. What difference does it make? Do you love her any less now that you know she’s one of us? Alice loves you, Kara. She loves you more than anything in the world. She became the little girl you wanted! And you became the mother she needed. Forgetting who you are, to become what someone needs you to be… maybe that’s what it means to be alive.

When I first heard this, I thought it was bizarre and totally out of place. After all, this story is about androids breaking free from bondage—about abandoning what others expect them to be in favor of becoming free individuals with wants and needs of their own. So, on the surface, basically the exact opposite of what Luther says here. And while you could interpret his statements to mean that loving someone so much that you’re willing to sacrifice something important for them—in other words, selfless love—is what it means to be alive, I think Luther's words speak more to the idea of the duality of love as selfless and selfish.

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In the real world, like everything else, love isn’t simple. It’s messy, reciprocal, conditional. It’s not freely given; it has costs, and risks, and it’s a choice, represented by Kara’s decision to hug or distance herself from Alice at the end. So Luther isn’t (only) saying here that love what it means to be alive. He’s saying that loving imperfectly is.

Kara doesn’t go on her journey with Alice only out of selfless concern. She also does it because she herself wants, needs a little girl to love, as she explicitly states to Markus:

She needs me, and I need her. It’s as simple as that.

On the flip side, Alice doesn’t hide her identity only because she selflessly wants to make Kara happy. She also hides it because she needs Kara’s love for herself, and believes, based on her abusive upbringing, that being human is the only way she can be loved. She “forgets who she is,” but that’s not a good thing. It’s a practical one borne of fear and self-interest just as much as affection.

So, from limited options, Alice does the best she can with what she thinks she has—and that, her choice, is what it means to be alive.


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