Binary Bomain
Monday, January 8, 2018 at 7:51AM
Isaiah T. Taylor in Binary Domain, Gaming, Reviews, Toshihiro Nagoshi

This scene is trash. Japanese devs showing us they can portray Chinese women as cunniving sex workers, while showing black men as horny animals. Incredible.



Hey, all. Yeah, in 2018 I’m still playing Playstation 3 games. Just working through my questionable back catalog. I can’t remember why I purchased Binary Domain. The game parts aren’t very good. The story portions have so much racist and misogynistic trappings, that it's a bit difficult to find the good in this experience. However, allow me to sell you on the buddy management system. Or, as I like to call it, “The Big Bo Management System.” It’s truly brilliant. Most importantly, there’s this whole Phillip K. Dick-esque macro-aspect to the story of Binary Domain. This game is so bad and is so good. Toshihiro Nagoshi you are sick for this one!

There I am in 2017, playing a game that came out in 2012, set in future Tokyo 2080. Yes, I AM wondering what I’m doing with my life. I’m playing as, some white dude, barely memorable. But he’s a white dude associated with a RUST Crew. These crews are needed because we’re in the not-too-distant future. A believable future in which most of the Earth’s human population has died from global warming. The climate change leaves most of the world uninhabitable and robots make up most of the work force. So yeah, I was sold from just that perspective.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already played Binary Domain. So that means there’s no need for me to go into great depth ‘on a review’ level. But if you haven’t played the game and are on the fence about it, I’d say give it a go if you can find it discounted. I said the game is bad, as a game. But the biggest compliment I could give Binary in a review-sense. The game is barely 8 hours long if you’re not a completionist.

As an experience, Binary Domain is -- incredible. You’re traipsing through Future Tokyo, France, Hong Kong, and eventually Detroit. I made semi-diverse friends along the way, but the more interesting characters I came across where the result of an interesting plot point. Remember when I said I was sold on this future version of Earth being fairly believable?


The journey in Binary Domain has a lot of ups and downs, but this scene alone made it worth it for me. Great conversation starter.

Two companies had been at odds with one another for the better part of 40 years. Bergen, a Detroit-based robotics company, developed the robotic workforce that exists in Binary Domain. The Amada Corporation in Japan tried to sue Bergen and failed because Bergen was too powerful. One could draw a lot of present-day allusions to just this scenario. Binary Domain tries to, honestly I appreciate the attempt. I wish it wasn’t wrapped up in painting a black character like Big Bo as a horndog and othering lower-class Asian characters as thieves. We’ll get to that.

Let’s focus on the fallout of Bergen and The Amada Corporation. I’ll be honest, because of where I am in my adult life, it’s hard for me to NOT see Binary Domain as a commentary on the failings of capitalism. What I appreciate most about what they’re saying [or what I’m projecting] is depicting the current human-appearing robot workforce as unknowing of their robotic existence. When you encounter your first “Hollow Child.” The experience ‘almost’ tricked me into thinking this game is going to make me reconsider going through the game as a third-person shooter. “Maybe, they’ll give me options to not kill every robot? It’s not their fault they’ve been activated to work these jobs.”

These thoughts immediately leave when you’re pushed down corridors while the game belches robot after robot in front of your crosshairs. It conflicts me as a player in the way Spec Ops: The Line did in the past. You want to convey a nuanced message to the player about the complexities of the world you’ve built for them -- but you still force them to pull triggers. Get to the next checkpoint. Rinse. Repeat.


You meet a fairly diverse cast, though most of them are men. Cain, is actually cool. I can now say I've played a game with a French speaking robot.

Checkpoints are usually accompanied by cutscenes. If Big Bo is in your party he’ll no doubt say something was “SWEET!” And if you try directing him into a bad situation, he’ll respond “Nuh-uh dawg!”

Let’s talk about that. If it wasn’t cut scenes of Big Bo being a rude, sexist, sassy black man. There were scenes with Faye Lee where she’s kicking butt, but also being hit on by … whomever the white dude you’re playing as -- but also Big Bo. Because of the consequence system, I almost wanted to go through the game shooting my teammates just to see if they’d all turn on me. Eventually, they will, I just didn’t experience this.

I grew up playing a great deal of Japanese-made games that involved non-Japanese characters. Very few of these games had black characters, but it’s not necessary for the media I enjoy to have someone represent me. Few do when attempted. But still, I want to see the attempt. These games have given me a window into how Japanese game development teams see black people and their roles in media [and society]. A game like Binary Domain gives me a window into how some Japanese folks see European whites, the working class Chinese, and white capitalist Americans.

The proximity to whiteness is real y’all. The Japanese Amada Corporation having their tech and ideas stolen by Americans. Only for Americans to ruin the world by building advancement after advancement of robots. The robots becoming more real than the previous version. The robots begin questioning their existence. Only for a military option to be exerted to save us all. Poverty-stricken Chinese folks helping this RUST Crew navigate through streets and tunnels to get to our big bad guy.

Binary Domain is something else. It’s not a good game. It’s not a bad experience. I can’t recommend it. But I always want to talk about it with people who’ve played it. Lowkey, I’m wondering what will happen to games like this. Not quite triple-A game. Not quite indie. A game with a ‘big enough’ budget trying to capture a large audience with it’s charm. Charm that can be incredibly outdated and enveloped in a gaze very similar to the many predecessors before it.

I don’t know. Binary Domain. It's a mess, but something is happening in this game.


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