This past weekend two members of Quantic Dream’s leadership, David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumière, were accused of fostering an unhealthy studio culture by various reports in the French media, according to Eurogamer.
The accusations outlined a pattern of behaviour that both Cage and Fondaumière outright deny, Cage calling the accusations “ridiculous, absurd and grotesque.” Cage presented his work with Ellen Page and Jesse Williams, both high-profile figures who have led their own fights for equality, as representations of his character asking people to “Judge me by my work.”
In that spirit, let’s do just that.
Quantic Dream's first game was The Nomad Soul, an adventure game that first released for the Dreamcast in 2000. The game received favourable reviews, but Quantic Dream's next title, Farenheit, would be their first game to utilise its now-famous style of interactive cinematics.
For all its problems, of which there are many, I love Farenheit. However, that love is accompanied by the fact that I’ve grown far beyond the age when I first played the game in my early teens. It features an African American character that's just as offensive as it is odd (which will become a recurring theme in Cage’s work), but it doesn’t as much apply to David Cage specifically as does his hidden video, “Da Hidden Dancefloor” — a bonus scene in which Cage dances with the game’s barely-clothed female lead.
Of course, the scene is meant to be humorous, whether it makes you laugh or not. But, it’s hard to ignore the fact that for David Cage, someone who is currently being accused of contributing to and circulating images with homophobic, sexist, and racial slurs, it’s not a good look. If Farenheit’s dancefloor scene was the only documented instance of this sort of thing in Quantic Dream's games, that would be that. Just a one-off in an otherwise average history of games.
Obviously, that’s not the case.
Cage’s next game, Heavy Rain, is a murder mystery that revolves around a rain-themed serial killer. Through the eyes of multiple characters, you play the game by hitting certain button prompts on the screen, much like Farenheit. One of those scenes, one that was specifically chosen to be shown off at E3 for marketing purposes, showed one of the main characters performing a strip dance to solicit information. When the scene first premiered back in 2009, it faced backlash for objectifying its lead female character in some of the game’s most forward-facing marketing. Cage responded to the criticism saying the point of the scene was to make players feel “uncomfortable”. No matter how uncomfortable I was playing through that scene — and to be clear, I was very uncomfortable — it’s another instance of Cage’s inappropriate representation of treatment of women in games.
In the context of the game, however, I get it. I’m not one to begrudge a developer for putting something in a game if they feel it’s justified. Where I grow uneasy with this situation is in Cage’s response to the criticism, hiding behind the game to avoid any blame or responsibility. There’s no problem with putting questionable material in a game. Yet, so cavalierly disregarding any criticism of it is where you begin to see Cage’s pattern of behaviour, which lines up with what one of his former employees had to say about him.
From the Eurogamer article outlining the recent allegations, a former employee reportedly said of Cage that he “has a very particular viewpoint on how he runs his studio, which in his own words he sees as a private, or semi-private space… He feels he has the right to say whatever he wants, it’s his place.”
It’s important to note, however, that the strip scene in Heavy Rain isn’t the only instance Quantic Dream has been criticised for its treatment of main character Madison. Throughout most of the game, she is the victim of not just violence, but sexual violence, along with being objectified in ways that her male counterparts simply aren’t subject to. In an article from Kotaku, writer Heather Alexandra re-examines the game after she streamed it on Twitch and used the opportunity to outline the game as a representation of Cage’s disregard for female characters. Oh, also the only Black character in the game is a grossly insensitive caricature of an African American that somehow outdoes Farenheit’s own attempt at offensive stereotypes.
The whole game is the perfect example as to why the recent accusations against him are so easily believed. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain is only the third game in Quantic Dream’s history. Its fourth, Beyond Two Souls, is perhaps the most troublesome.
Beyond Two Souls
Famously starring Hollywood heavyweights Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, Beyond Two Souls revolves around Ellen Page’s character and her psychic abilities. The two lead actors, along with many more, worked for over a year on the game by both offering on-set voice acting and motion-capture work. According to emails in a WikiLeaks Sony email leak from 2015, Ellen Page had contemplated taking legal action over the game’s use of an unapproved nude character model of her, despite never being completely shown in the game. The model, which was pulled from a debug PlayStation 3, began circulating on the internet within a day of the game’s launch. Originally seeking to resolve the situation with Quantic Dream itself, Page’s lawyer eventually was told that Quantic Dream “would not engage in mediation, and objected to arbitration.”
It’s impossible know whether David Cage had a hand in the creation of the nude model that ended up in the retail release of Beyond Two Souls or not. What we do know is that the accusations made against Cage and Fondaumière point towards Quantic Dream as a company. With that in mind, it becomes easy to see how such a situation could have taken place, with leadership’s knowledge of it or not. Dirty jokes and smutty remarks are, at face value, mostly harmless. However, when coming from the leaders of the studio, they can help shape a culture that is dismissive of more serious problems, turning a blind eye to preserve an atmosphere of “freedom”.
Detroit: Become Human
Quantic Dream’s next game, Detroit: Become Human is set to release this spring. It too, has received its own criticism in the past when Sony showcased a scene from the game depicting domestic and child abuse. David Cage responded to the criticism, again, with the type of defensive reactionary tactics that have now become routine for him, saying “Would I be doing my job as a creator if I was making the game you want me to make? I don't think so - I'm creating something that I find moving and meaningful.” The scene in question, mind you, has you shaking the controller to prevent the abuse.
I don’t think David Cage is hellbent on turning women into sexualised objects in his games, or depicting minorities as racist caricatures, or disrespecting the actresses he works with. In terms of the accusations levied against Guillaume de Fondaumière, it’s hard to judge because he isn’t as public as Cage. Yet if David Cage wishes people would judge him based on his body of work instead of the out-of-context things he’s done in the past, maybe he should reconsider. Because that same body of work points me towards the same conclusion as the accusations do: that David Cage has a history of problematic behaviour.
There’s a quote from Maya Angelou that springs to mind: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." For David Cage, he’s done so countless times. Maybe it’s time we believe him.