Detention (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Detention (2017)

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Detention defines itself through absence and horrific spectacle.  The former weighs on the latter after Wei Chung Ting disappears searching for a phone to call for help.  The latter makes its presence felt as soon as Wei goes missing with Fang Ray Shin waking up in a nightmare version of her auditorium with Wei's corpse hanging upside-down above her.  There is no way this story can end well, at least in the way we're accustomed to with survival and acceptance.  The only way Detention can end is through repetition or resignation, repeating the horrific spectacle or wearily letting go of the time lost.

Playing Detention is a sometimes exhausting experience but - save for one break I needed to get some outside air - it's one I willingly took on myself from start-to-finish.  The only other game I felt compelled to do this with in recent memory is Night in the Woods.  The parallels aren't immediately apparent, yet they're pressing.  Both have to do with the ways struggling communities under the weight of some oppressive regime expect their young (women, in particular) to sacrifice themselves for temporary relief.  There are even matching scenes where the depressed protagonists stare at themselves in the mirror and are saddened or disgusted by the person peering back.From a storytelling and gameplay perspective, the protagonist bait-and-switch of Detention helps make it the more immediately compelling experience.  As far as aesthetics go, Detention's art style almost hurts to look at.  Ray and the other characters stand out in aggressively white outlines compared to their surroundings.  I'm tempted to call their design ghostly but ghosts don't often insist on their presence being felt as strongly as this.  The back and foregrounds follow in kind as different sources of vision seek to pierce Ray in her journey through the school.

What's curious about Detention's affect is how the many different sets of eyes peering at Ray didn't give it a voyeuristic feel, like I was intruding on her life.  Watching the watchers, so it goes, carries with it a sense of awful anticipation as the many sets of vision wait with anticipation at some horrific fate for Ray which I wanted to avoid.  I felt protective of Ray.  This wasn't out of pride as a gamer wanting to get out of a difficult level intact or as a paternal figure.  What I felt was this odd kind of anti-voyeuristic protection, wanting her to be free of the digital eyes in-universe that were replicating her pain in music or experimental film.Detention presents an in-universe loop of repeating and playing back Ray's pain in increasingly abstracted ways until the loop becomes frighteningly real.  I liked the idea of finding ways to repeat the loop just enough to discover its breaking point.  Playing Detention is akin to therapy in this way, gently guiding Ray through her past and depression while exposing her to the pain just long enough to reach a revelation then move on to the next section.

Most of the puzzles fit the thematic loop while mechanically play out like most point-and-click adventure games.  I find the right item, use the right item, or fiddle with the doohickey until Detention relents and allows me access to the next part.  Detention stays thematically and aesthetically interesting in this way even if the mechanics are routine.  This goes double for the opposition, only present in the first two levels, and raise interesting thematic concerns as opposed to gameplay obstacles.  They are the lingered, childlike and overly large adult demons that Ray must hold her breath to move past.The lingered are a perfect encapsulation of Detention.  They're not hard to best as a generous breath timer allows Ray to keep her lungs in check far longer than most folks I know.  But in terms of representation, what they mean to Ray and Detention overall, they're tops.  Ray's caught in that awkward period between childhood and adult life, feeling the pressures of both from her peers and teachers, unable to escape either.  Mechanically, I hold a button down.  Thematically and aesthetically, I'm trying to guide Ray through a transitional period where it feels everything is out to get her.

Which lets me leave Detention on its third ending tragedy.  Ray is correct in thinking everyone is out to get her, and as the reasons coalesce bit by bit it becomes easy to understand why those out to get her see her as the real antagonist.  The third tragedy, beyond the crowd's need for a cycle in Ray's suffering and their own pain from time lost forever, is how those above Ray, her teachers, and peers created a system so vile that the only perspective on others is one of suspicion.  Everyone's right and everyone's wrong, but it's Ray in her natural fears in an unnatural situation who's made into the criminal everyone wants to pin the blame on.

Detention's tragedy doesn't settle into easy slots of "good" and "bad", no matter what YouTube videos and guides may tell you.  There is no cause for celebration no matter how Detention ends, be it through the crowd's pain repeating endlessly through Ray or the years lost to the lingered shells shambling onscreen.

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Posted by Andrew

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