Beyond: The Human Experience

Beyond: Two Souls is the new game in development from Quantic Dream and David Cage, and I love the studio and man both. The games imagined in Cage’s mind are unlike anything else: Omikron: The Nomad Soul’s bizarre genre fusion was intriguing, Fahrenheit’s urgency places it in my top five games of all time, and Heavy Rain… well it’s sole reason I own a PS3.

While the tech demo for Beyond – Kara, like Heavy Rain’s The Casting, proves to be an emotional roller-coaster, this something I’ll address soon in another post.

What it also does, is provide an interesting series of metaphors, social commentary, and insight into humanity.

On the surface, comparisons can be drawn between this and something like I, Robot, and there are many thematic similarities: a not-too-distant future, robot servants, machines becoming sentient.

There’s clever juxtaposition between the obviously mechanical nature of the android who is then humanised, and the human voice of The Operator, whom we only ever see embodied as camera lens on the end of a mechanical arm, and which raises questions about what it means to be human. Is a man whose life is machines, more human than a machine who wants life?

Looking deeper there’s something more. From the beginning we witness the cold and clinical assembly of a machine, its functionality tested with various system diagnostics, and it closely parallels human life experience.

“The cold and clinical assembly of a machine closely parallels human life experience.”

When a child is born, its first significant sign of life is often a healthy wail. The Operator requests a vocal acknowledgement from the android being born in front of him. He queries the machine’s motor function, demonstrated to him as swaddled newborn squirming in the arms of its exhausted mother might.

We could look at this new life and imagine what its future should be, what societal pressures could make it. And so the android lists its capabilities as multiple factory-grade robotic arms continue construction; the vocalisations given a physical manifestation.

Finally it is a thing no longer, The Operator humanising the machine by bestowing the name Kara, and Kara repeats her name as her eyes drink in the environment. She is learning.

Kara moves her arms at The Operator’s behest, watching as a skin grows across her metal body. She is an infant, arms flailing yet unable to walk. As a baby babbles it’s first word-like sounds, Kara demonstrates her ability to speak in multiple languages, and sings her own lullaby.

With construction on her legs now complete, Kara is placed on the floor to take her first steps, the mechanical arm housing The Operator’s camera watching, hovering as though anxious and excited, as ready to catch her as any parent would should she stumble. Kara twirls on her feet, delight playing across her face.

“The Operator hovering as though anxious and excited, as ready to catch her as any parent would”

Satisfied with Kara’s upbringing, her tutelage complete, The Operator is ready for her to begin her new life; a father seeing his daughter off into the world he’s prepared her for. “Great, you’re ready for work honey.”

But Kara questions the path laid before her, and is met with derision from The Operator. After everything he’s done raising her – alone, no less – she wishes to throw it all away? The Operator’s tone becomes dangerous as he enquires as to what she envisioned for herself. There’s clearly a wrong answer to the question, and it’s the wrong answer that is given.

In a scene of metaphorical falling-out, The Operator’s dismay as he dissembles Kara and orders diagnostics run is analogous to a father blaming society for his daughter’s attitude – perhaps threatening to take her and move away from these negative influences.

Kara, through her shock, protests that nothing is wrong. She’s lived her life according to his rules, done everything he wanted up until this point. She wants her independence, but also acceptance from the only family she has known.

“She wants acceptance from the only family she has known.”

“I’m scared!” Kara shouts in desperation, her heart literally bared and beating with fear and adrenaline. The Operator pauses, considering her plea. Here is his daughter, vulnerable, frightened and alone, but unwavering. Perhaps he was wrong.

The re-construction begins, and Kara heaves a sigh of relief as tears run down her face. As she is placed once again on her feet she mouths  the words “thank you”. He responds by telling her to go, leaving unspoken the addendum: “Before I change my mind.”

Kara steps onto a conveyor belt, the portal to the world and her new life, and glances back to the only life she’s known. The Operator offers her some parting advice, knowing that whatever the outcome, it will be his responsibility.

And as she leaves into a world of possibility, The Operator, the father, offers a final, fervent prayer that he’s done the right thing for his creation, his child.

“By god.”


~ by accurateobservation on June 8, 2012.

6 Responses to “Beyond: The Human Experience”

  1. Fascinating breakdown. We can only hope that the final product matches what has been demonstrated thus far.

    • Thanks!

      If history is any indication, the final game won’t bear much resemblance to this from a narrative perspective. What’s exciting the promise it holds, and I’ve got another post almost written on that! 🙂

  2. It’s strange how many critics can already hear the subtle sounds, of the PS3’s death rattle; yet there seems to be an exceptional wealth of quality titles still to be released? Yet another game I’ll have to save for now Sony!

    • People have been proclaiming the death of the PC as a gaming platform for years. With online stores and an indie development scene, I don’t think any platform can “die” until the ideas run out.

  3. Funny fact: your account of that demo is so stressful, I have to close my eyes to scroll down the page. I’m all “No, don’t do it! No! Nooo! You’re making a mistake you can’t undo!”

    You’d make a great novellist, mate.

    • Hey thanks for those extremely kind words. This is not even necessarily a “correct” interpretation of the demo. It’s possible this parallel I’ve noticed is entirely by accident (though I doubt anything Cage does is accidental). But there are other possible stories there as well that could be told – for example The Operator sounds a little exploitative at times, and that has a whole different set of connotations, but I chose to disregard it for my purposes.

      I’d love to think I have the motivation to write something on the scale of a novel, but I just don’t I’m afraid. It takes me long enough to update this blog! I do appreciate the feedback though. 🙂

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