Earlier this week, I purchased and last night, defeated Binary Domain, a console shooter later ported to the PC. The controls and porting are a minor issue, as about three hours into the game you will likely find a method of playing that works for you, and after the first chapter I didn’t have any real problems with the game’s controls, so I’m not going to really address the mechanical aspects, but moreso my philosophical take on the title.
Binary Domain tells the story of a Rust Crew sent to Japan. A Rust Crew is a multinational assault team focused on combating robots that break the clauses of the Geneva convention, normally cases with rogue AI’s or dangerous robots. A human-like robot, unaware that he was a robot was revealed, and was thought to have been created by the Amada Corporation. These creatures were quickly called Hollow Children by the media. Thus, Chris Redfield lookalike Dan “The Survivor” and Cole Train expy Big Bo get sent in by the Americans to arrest Amada and locate the “Hollow Children” data. It does not help that the Hollow Children continually tear their faces off when revealed, reminding me more of They Live than The Terminator.
One thing you may notice about this story so far is that the Americans and the world in general have a very harsh attitude towards robots. Main protagonist Dan has a deep rooted issue with them, and the president himself (clearly a republican), goes so far as to play the god card and condemn them. A quarter way through the game, a Japanese clerk is seen dragged by Yakuza through the slums, and people marvel and jest at the idea of him being a Hollow Child and not even realizing he was one. After seeing his robotics in his own reflection, he shoots himself, rather than live on as a robot. This is one of the major themes of the game, being part of the overall mission and being prominent throughout.
Thus, I contend that the game actually has a very philosophical tone; the world in general is convinced and maintains harsh laws against AI research, later revealed to be due to government’s fear of playing god and doing too well. Most of the people use the derogatory term “Scrap-Head” to refer to robots, and hold them in very low esteem. Even later in the game when a Robot actually joins the team, the characters continue to use the term. However, the characters are actually fairly respectful of this team member, which is likely the only time the main character is ever really nice to a robot.
The game gives many arguments against the validity of Hollow Children. The “well researched” arguments the government use include (but are not limited to): “They are not born of humans”, “Only god can create”, and other overtly racist comments towards living, thinking beings. We’re talking about artificial life forms capable of perfectly passing for humans for over 30 years without detection. The very second the claim of humanity is eroded (normally when the character is revealed to possibly be robotic) the tone of voice used by their peers immediately changes and the humans act very hostile towards them, never mind the fact that in most cases the Hollow Children are shown to be mostly harmless. I say “most” because as robots they are ultimately able to be controlled by Amada, which alone is a fascinating thing because for half of the game this is not even given any thought! Even when it is brought up, this never actually is used in one of the many arguments against Hollow Children, instead only hiding behind western religion in their attitudes against them.
Shoehorn love interest Faye is one of the members of your team, and if Dan brings her along for the later half of the campaign, they will hatch a very romantic subplot. In a twist, it turns out that female Hollow Children can indeed give birth, and have with 108 such hybrids being identified. Faye of course, is one of these hybrids, and has no mechanical traces but superior breeding. This brings us back to the core American hatred of robots; the very moment the team figures this out, they all immediately are ready to kill Faye and regard her as an enemy, only because of her parents. Even Big Bo, the buddy character, constantly tells Dan to just forget about her.
Binary Domain is a ten hour long game, with most of this philosophy kind of hidden in the back and reserved as the major plot twist. What interests me most however, is how everybody treats Faye and the Hybrids. Surprisingly, Bergen, who stole Amadas technology in the first place (Primarily causing this entire situation), defends the hybrids, but the president shoots this down with some good old racism, “The world’s got enough racial tension.” are the words he uses to justify sending tactical wetwork teams to murder 108 people because of their parents. I mean seriously, who voted for this guy? Never mind the fact that there are likely hundreds more undocumented Hollow Children and potentially many undocumented Hybrid births. Would Amada really be so stupid as to let the true numbers get out? Mankind is constantly making very rash decisions given very sketchy intel.
In being a hybrid, Bergen is very specific in mentioning that the resulting creature is fully organic. While Amada is also very specific in revealing his intention is just to change the world and erase robot-racism by introducing hybrids. By the end of the game, I’m wondering who exactly the good guy really is. Really, the entire “evil scheme” in total is just a crazy man’s revenge against the government for fucking him over, as all he truly wants is to change the world for arguably the better. Even what we see in Japan is terrible living conditions under the city (Mentioned to be replicated throughout the world), while the city proper is a sort of metropolis, presenting thousands upon thousands of mass produced combat robots for you to fight. In fact, you don’t actually shoot a Japanese person in the entire game, only their robots.
For a robot to perfectly survive as a human, and in some cases, being shown to achieve very high rankings in the military, I seriously don’t see the real problem in identifying them as people. They have personalities, dreams, lives, thoughts, conflicts. So much so, that they have very real existential issues when discovered, not only to the people around them, but to themselves. There is some miracle that was possible that gave these robots a true mind and life, and then there are the Hybrids that are very much organic living beings themselves, and noted to be just human but slightly better. Faye does not show any truly superhuman abilities and its not suggested that they have any, yet all America is shown to do is make some excuses and send out the assassins.
I guess the bottom line is that it can be hard to take the game seriously, especially towards the end. As the game is very preachy in its belief that America sucks, its operatives are loud and flashy. They kill robotic personal the instant they are discovered as robots, and pretty much every American in the game is shown to be very devout in their unfounded opinions on the beings. They show a lot of hate, but never show a concrete reason. Part of it is religious thought, specifically focusing on the fact that we call them robots. We’re shown a lot of evidence that these creatures are real people, some would argue that they’re more real than actual people, and by the end of the day Amada is not actually doing anything morally “wrong”. His drive is simply to eradicate racism by binding mechanical traits to humans, and ultimately symbiotically improve them, thus possibly saving humanity from its current issues.
Therefore, I have to question what would happen in reality should this occur. In our current age it’s only inevitable that we will eventually create life en mass and we will one day have artificial life in our society, how should we react to this? What if Hollow Children truly were out there? Are they people? In the game, they had been in society for at least thirty years without being found out. But in general, would an artificial being fully capable of life and personality truly be a person?
Something also important to note is that the game is Japanese, yet does not tell the tale from Japan’s perspective. The squad mechanics also exemplify helping your team out and using teamwork with your group which is a core value. Which is why I find it interesting that while the main characters are good and fighting for what’s right we can see that their means and superiors are decidedly evil luddites. Japan’s city is shown to be large, spacious, and well maintained, and the police do their jobs very well, to the extent of pinging everybody’s cellphones to evacuate and everybody moving posthaste, thus you can assume the police are evacuating everybody in your path. In game, Japan erected a huge wall around their island as a second act of isolation, which was damaged by the end.
By the end of the game’s events, the 108 Hybrids are being hunted by the UN, yet oddly they mention Faye is MIA, as if the other 107 are that easy to find. No, I’m serious; I really doubt the validity of any document I would find in a building ran by an AI that intelligent. So, you can be sure that the Hollow Children and the Hybrids being insanely hard to detect will continue to reproduce. Any fan of Nietzsche will love them too, since being a Hybrid entitles immunity to disease, improved intelligence and superior physical capacity. I didn’t even mention that Amada hacked the planet and thus gave all computers the logic to deny illogical requests like launching a nuke for no tactical reason. The moral of this story; Japan’s existence is a credit to scientific team, and using science, they saved the world by isolating themselves away so they could work in peace. A thing to note is that without the Rust Team’s involvement, the world would’ve been destroyed, so their part was not pointless either. Ultimately, the results of the situation have opened up several ways for the world to further evolve (As if just having robot women to make uber-children was not enough for a golden age).
If you like the sound of Binary Domain, the game is currently 75% off on Steam!