Category Archives: Work-in-Progress

Jay Miller, PhD – Anthropologist, Editor, and Problem

Anyone who works with Mourning Dove’s texts will stumble across this name at least once or twice: “Jay Miller, PhD.” He edited Mourning Dove’s autobiography and also supplied the intro for Coyote Stories (note: read the comments at your own risk should you click the link).

Who is Jay Miller? He is an anthropologist who specializes in indigenous cultures. He was accepted by the University of Nebraska Press as a competent editor, so should he be automatically trusted? Tough question, and based on his definition of his work to “make sense of native North America,” and the description by his colleagues as a classic anthropologist in “the Americanist tradition,” his work is……a problem (v).  The problem is that Miller explains “Indians” through empirical observation, a methodology that Vine Deloria describes in cutting detail in “Anthropologists and Other Friends”:

An anthropologist comes out to Indian reservations to make OBSERVATIONS. During the winter these observations will become books by which future anthropologists will be trained, so that they can come out to reservations years from now and verify the observations they have studied. After the books are written, summaries of the books appear in the scholarly journals in the guise of articles. These articles “tell it like it is” and serve as a catalyst to inspire other anthropologists to make the great pilgrimage next summer (79).

Miller is a capital A anthropologist, check out the blurb from a book celebrating his work:

“Jay Miller is an anthropologist in the old-school Americanist tradition, rescuing, researching, sharing, and writing about cultural contexts, archaeology, history, beliefs, kinship, lifeways, and languages of indigenous peoples across North America”

I didn’t know Indigenous cultures needed “rescuing” (the word screams “salvage ethnography“). I was going to write that Miller didn’t mean any harm, but so what? Even if he didn’t know, his empirical approach to Mourning Dove’s work framed her in stereotypical and damaging ways. Here’s how he describes Mourning Dove as an author:

“[Mourning Dove] led two lives – a public one as Mourning Dove and a private one as a woman struggling to make ends meet. Her public life as a writer is all the more astounding because her formal education was scant, her command of Standard English was faulty, and her companions sometimes unsupportive” (xi).

Her public life as an author is not “astounding” and her education was not “scant.” She did struggle with English but still managed to be published in her second language; Nsyilxcən was her first language. She struggled financially, but Mourning Dove had many allies who supported her both financially and professionally. Miller’s description suggests that Indigenous writing in the early 20th century was an anomaly, a claim that is simply untrue. Sure, print forms of Indigenous lit are not plentiful (although published Indigenous authors were not “rare” or “astounding”), but that’s only one kind of story media!!! There are many other ways to share stories and none should be dismissed.

His colleagues write that Miller followed the Boasian model of anthropology (for which salvage ethnography was a central methodology), which I take to mean that he did a great deal of fieldwork and interacted with his subjects of study. While this model is definitely better than a model of anthropology where cultures (other than Euro-settler cultures) are studied from a distance, he still engages in “Indianology” (a real term, unbelievably, and still in use as of 2013). “Indians” are not an “ology” but living peoples who must be respected and consulted.

I guess the upshot is that if you see anything about Native American, First Nations, or Métis peoples by Jay Miller, be highly skeptical.

What I Cited:

Miller, Jay. Introduction. Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography, by Mourning Dove. Reprint. Winnipeg: Bison Books, 1994. xi-xxxix.

Stapp, Darby C. and Kara N. Powers. Rescues, Rants, and Researches: A Re-View of Jay Miller’s Writings on Northwest Indien Cultures. Published by the Journal of Northwest Anthropology: Richmond, WA, 2014.

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Gaming the Edition

Twine is a digital storytelling tool that most people have heard of or maybe even used? I actually think that Twine’s capabilities have yet to be fathomed outside of building compelling games like Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. Twine has the capacity to be a great remediation tool, transforming print books into text-based games. But why in the world would anyone do such a thing?

Lots of reasons, but certainly no reasoning that assumes “print is dead.” In fact, following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lead, discourses of obsolescence and decline have more to do with shoring up cultural hierarchies than any actual “end of days” for a particular medium (2). That is, this project is not about proving that print is dying, but much more to do with supplementing and even correcting some of the limitations of print. This kind of work can be tough when print texts have been romanticized to the point where most readers do not recognize that a book is really nothing more than a portable data container (with a whole lot of cultural baggage). books are heavy, man.

A book is a tool – a form of media technology designed to contain text in a particular way, after all, “texts are linguistic and as such do not have a fixed physical form,” meaning that texts can expressed across many different kinds of media (Kelemen 29). Yep, text is transformable, but when working with digital mediums, things get sticky. Digital mediums fundamentally change how text is managed, stored, read, and even understood, which makes the work of the editor even more important.

As every editor knows, the actual history of the book is vital to understand how to deal with a book in an ethical manner. An editor I greatly admire, Zailig Pollock, makes this point pretty damn clear in his essay “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada” that when we are editing texts (particularly scholarly forms of editing) we are grappling with forces of authority, legitimacy, and power. No one understands these forces better than Indigenous authors and editors who have had to engage (grapple?) with western-style militaristic practices of editorial control and power, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much:

[w]hen Indigenous authors in Canada submit their work to a publisher it is always in the context of a colonial history built on exclusion, segregation, abuses of authority, domination, and official policies of assimilation meant to destroy Aboriginal languages and cultures, remove Aboriginal peoples and their lands, disrupt family relationships, and eliminate the special legal status of any remaining “Indian” peoples (Akiwenzie Damm 30)

This is what I mean when I say BOOKS ARE HEAVY – they carry the weight of their own contents and all the history that came with it. For a great many Indigenous writers, this weight includes the structural racism of academic publishing and editing. My question is this: is the book itself as a technology also a medium designed to oppress? If the paratext, which is meant to complement the contents, operates to neutralize (or neuter) the author’s cultural voice, ethos, and position, then the scholarly edition exerts colonial control.

For this reason, we are building (I use the pronoun “we” because this project has received loads of help) a scholarly social knowledge edition of Mourning Dove’s Cogewea. This  edition incorporates Indigenous editing practice and digital gaming paradigms to create an interactive text that actively engages the reader. We are following groundbreaking work by Sonja Sapach, Jon Saklofske and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Modelling and Prototyping Team who created a “Gaming the Edition” text model to challenge the private practice of scholarly editing. Through this project, they ask questions about how to create a rigorous open access model that is somewhat akin to the Wikipedia model of editing, but once a reader edits the text, they “level up” and continue on their reading and editing journey.  

While the digital Cogewea edition will not engage open access editing in this form, gaming an edition can create spaces of learning, participation, and interconnectivity in previously restricted print text editions where only those with exclusive knowledge could access and understand the form and content. Digital paradigms offer a means to realize active, energized textual engagement between reader and text, overlapping and blending Indigenous orature, community, and kinetic vitality in a digital textual space. In other words, it’s a good idea to at least test out new forms that can offer a more respectful way to share Indigenous stories with a wide audience. Twine is the testing ground, but it’s not like we are the first! There have been interventions into colonial editing and publishing practices ( The People and the Text and Theytus Books comes to mind). 

The director of Diversity and Inclusion for Riot Games, Soha Kareem, describes Twine as a tool for reimagining and redefining modes of storytelling; it can help to give voice to lesser-heard voices. The digital scholarly edition of Cogewea will follow a tradition of interactive fiction to engage the user not simply through reading, but teaching the user how to read in order to proceed (Montfort 3). This aspect of interactive fiction is crucial to our project. As Deanna Reder and Linda Morra make clear, it is not uncommon for postsecondary students, staff, and teachers to lack knowledge of Indigenous histories and knowledge. Interactive fiction, therefore, offers users or “interactors,” to borrow Janet Murray’s term for readers of interactive fiction (or text-based games) new ways to engage with the text. Nick Montford explains that interactive fiction teaches “by offering a new way of seeing” (4). Our goal is to use interactive fiction to create an Indigenized way to read a scholarly edition of an Indigenous text.

Now to finish the game (check out the Beta. The link is a pinned Tweet on my Twitter profile @smhumphreys)

What I cited….

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri. “‘We think differently. We have a different understanding.”: Editing Indigenous Texts as an Indigenous Editor.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 29-40.

Kelemen, Erick. Textual Editing and Criticism. W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005. Print.

Pollock, Zailig. “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 93-104.

Manifest Destiny 2.0

Some of the most popular games ever produced belong to one company: Rockstar. Even though the company is owned and operated by two ex-pat Brits, Dan and Sam Houser, the games they produce slyly celebrate and circulate ideals of American Exceptionalism and neoliberalism. The overarching philosophy of Rockstar’s games is largely informed by durable American literary and filmic genres: the western and detective noir. That’s what I am writing about this summer as I finish my manuscript, which is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.

The other reason I am writing this book is to fill serious gaps in video game, rhetorical, and literary scholarship:

1. Firstly, video game studies is overrun with methodological texts that offer the ways and means to study video games. There are simply not enough sustained analyses of the games themselves. When such studies are published, they tend to supply broad readings of many games but elide the complexities of individual games. One example that comes to mind is De Peuter’s and Dyer- Witheford’s Games of Empire, which uses a postcolonial model to discuss a wide range of games. Can games be lumped together? Yes and no – Games of Empire is a terrific book, but it supplies insight into the function of Empire, and  not very much on individual games and their contexts.

2. This brings me to my second point: video game studies needs genre studies to give us a better idea of how games operate as highly influential forms of cultural expression and performance. Not all games have a clear heritage, but the ones that depend on literary genres do. Any good rhetorician/linguist knows that genres of communication define how we come to know our world, our relationships, and each other.  The type of narrative genre used in a game influences the gamer’s cognition and social understanding. That’s why genres studies and video games studies need each other.

3. I hope my work will inspire English departments to embrace video games as a vital form of storytelling that requires the linguistic, cultural, and aesthetic expertise of  literary analysis to unpack how certain games operate. The debate over whether or not games are narratives has been reconciled: ludology and narratology can get along and play nicely (sort of). Many video games are complex narratives that are a bricolage of literary filmic, game, and computational conventions. The gamification of the world began a long time ago, and our students need to learn how to read these games critically in order to use and even develop game technology in socially responsible ways.

Over the next six months I will be posting at least twice a week as I finish this manuscript – comment, share, read….do your own thing.

Shedding light on how video games inform our understanding of race, class, and gender
Shedding light on how video games inform our understanding of race, class, and gender (har, har)

A New Outlook on Life

Just a hasty post to say that this blog is undergoing major structural changes. My professional e-portfolio can be found at sarahumphreys.wordpress.com and is also under construction.

This blog is my personal (yet widely shared!) research and teaching space, which I will use as a sandbox to play around with ideas, chart the progress of my book and video game, and project in digital pedagogy. I have removed a good deal of what needs to be on the e-portfolio, which is, again, at sarahumphreys.wordpress.com.

Since summer is upon us (at long last!), I will be writing about my manuscript, which means lots of posts about video games!

 

Sober Up, Missus America

Warning: there are spoilers in the post if you have not played the game.

I know, I know, the title to this post seems misleading, but it really isn’t, so keep reading.

Let’s go through the murdered women you must examine on the Homocide Desk (a level in the game). You are after a serial killer who is loosely based on the “Black Dahlia” murder case and, in the end, it’s him: Elizabeth Short’s murderer. These cases also resemble the Red Lipstick murders, which were equally gruesome (fyi, be careful looking up these murders – you can be led to very gruesome photos.) If we group the victims together, a pattern becomes apparent:

Celine Henry – one of the first female aviators who fell on hard times after a glamorous life of partying with stars and dignitaries. She marries Jacob Henry, a working stiff who she physically abuses. She drinks heavily and flirts with other men at the La Bamba Club. Cole and Rusty find her badly beaten body and the coroner tells them she was brutally sodomized but no semen was found. The was stomped on repeatedly. We catch a suspect who has left the murder weapon on the floor in his apartment – clearly, this arrest was simply too easy and Cole notes this fact.

Deidre Moller – She is an exception to the rule of drink and promiscuous behaviour by the rest of the victims. She is in an abusive marriage. After her husband beats her, he buys her jewelry, which is stolen by the murderer.  She was beaten and strangled but not stomped. However, she was not drunk, which is likely why she was not crushed like a bug.

Antonia Maldonado – is the sole Latina of the victims. She was a devout catholic who married young and discovered too late that her husband was brash and abusive. Phelps and Galloway speculate that her husband drove her to drink, and so she was drunk when she was murdered. it’s not entirely clear if she was stomped to death, but she died “like the others” so we can presume so.

Theresa Taraldsen – loved to dance and drink, but she was a mom and a wife so….well, you know the rest. She is taken upon returning home after a night of carousing and brutally murdered.

Evelyn Summers – seems to be the only unmarried woman who had a career as a studio secretary (hence the name of the case, the “Studio Secretary Murder.”  It is interesting that she gets a title whereas the other women are known for the murder weapon or the trophy taken from them. Summers is a die-hard homeless alcoholic who lives in the back of a liquor store. She has a boyfriend, who is (surprise!) abusive and, yes, she is mutilated and stomped before being strangled.

Likely Theresa Maldonado but most of the victims look the same in death, which is odd.

In each case, the women were fighting with a husband or significant other, so their home lives were unhappy. Envisioned as conquests, the murderer takes a trophy from each of the victims, which he then uses to lead Phelps along. The killer leaves his name as Percy Bryce Shelley – the one and only – and uses excerpts from Prometheus Unbound to lead Phelps to his “lair.” The choice of Prometheus Unbound, Shelley’s great poetic/dramatic experiment is very interesting. The poem (if you can call it a poem) is didactic and meant to change the world through idealism. This is Phelps to a tee. He is convinced that by following his ideals, he can win, but the rules are pretty damn strict and he ultimately fails. Everyone fails in the American symbolic order because if they actually succeed no one will work themselves to death trying (see John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for more on this idea)

He really is a failed frontiersman, there can be no doubt, but I touched on this fact in an earlier post. This post is all about the weirdness of this particular desk and boy howdy, is it disturbing, mainly because it articulates longstanding discourses of domesticity, sex, and nationhood.

On the spreadsheet of the nation, women have consistently operated in American literature and culture as metonymic substitutions for the nation, often appearing as part of a signifying chain of meaning that includes the American home and other signifiers of domesticity.This symbolic function is continued in a disturbing fashion as Phelps investigates each victim’s murder, who seem to be killed for transgressing their domestic spheres.  Each victim leaves behind a devastated husband, who is invariably accused of the crime – in other words, the family home is devastated by the loss of its central figure. This sentimental trope of the broken home has its roots in the formula of the American captivity narrative, an integral part of frontier fiction,  in which a white woman is captured by an enemy. In fictional portrayals of this formula, the rescuers often fail or are hindered and the game follows this long-standing tradition. As I said earlier, the majority of the victims were drunk at the time of their murders; therefore, the home was already broken and the petticoats of the middle-class are lifted to reveal debauchery, selfishness, and hedonism underneath.

White women have traditionally been the moral compass of the American home; they are the guarantors of cultural and racial superiority, but each of these women are represented as dissatisfied with their middle-class lifestyle, desiring to have and be more than what they are. Their “selfish” indulgences that left them (and their families) vulnerable to attack by evil reflect a nation that also imbibed on a high of easy credit and loans. These women are metonymic signifiers that stand in for the heady hedonism of the pre-collapse world, and as Phelps, the player must investigate the victims, explore their shortcomings, and then, like any frontiersman worth his salt, discover and eradicate the evil within the nation. True to the tradition of detective noir to uncover corruption rather than simply solve a mystery, the killer turns out to be a relation of one of the most wealthy and powerful families in L.A.; therefore, his identity remains a secret and his family, as members of the wealthy elite, are free to reshape the American home at will. These fallen women were at the mercy of a one percenter: the game not only teaches that there is no fighting back, but if these women had sobered up and lived by the edicts of their domestic duty, they would not have fallen, therefore, these women metonymically signify the fallen American middle class.

I’ll leave the last word to that wonderful, old curmudgeon….

Violence and Women in L.A. Noire

I am on the homocide desk and for those of you new to my blog, I am writing about my game play in L.A. Noire. In a few weeks, I’ll be discussing Red Dead Redemption, a game I have finished but is closely related to L.A Noire. Of course, I am writing about these games, which requires that I replay certain missions (tough life, I know). Red Dead will be in less detail than Noire because I have to replay missions (one of which is the “ethnography missions”…I kid you not).

Harold McDougal is an ethnographer…he’s pretty damn awful

But first, I need to complete L.A. Noire…The first case I encounter on the homocide desk is called “The Red Lipstick Murder” (there really was a red lipstick killer in 1947 and the game riffs off of that case) and what a grisly scene. As always, the opening scene features the crime and the blood is flying. The next scene is Cole’s (my) promotion to homicide and I hook up with my new partner, the alcoholic misogynist, Rusty (Finbarr) Galloway.

At this point in the game, when Cole walks by “bystanders” outside or in the station, people whisper, “Hey!  That’s the cop from the papers” or “That’s the cop who caught all those criminals!” These declarations are reminiscent of playing as John Marston in Red Dead Redemption who eventually becomes famous in his ‘verse.

The victim in this case is Celine Henry, an alcoholic who is beaten with a tire iron, stomped to death and sodomized. The killer writes in lipstick on her body and the brutality of the crime is suggestive of the famous Black Dahlia murder, which was an incredibly brutal case of rape, torture, and murder. The violence in this game is brutal, not only due to the graphic nature of the violence but because you have to investigate (“touch”) the body.

Mid-case, we are introduced to another newspaper flashback (when you find a newspaper, you enter into a flashback that is relevant to the main plot line, which is still a mystery). In this one, we see Fontaine, who is clearly not an ethical doctor, trying to calm a patient down. This patient is on a payphone, with his back toward the camera, freaking out about committing arson and killing an entire family. The patient was clearly led to commit the crime by Fontaine as he screams into the phone, “you said no one would be in the house?!!?” Arson is a property crime and the final desk in the game is arson so….like Red Dead Redemption, a central part of the story line is all about property crimes or fractures in property and ownership, which are both central concepts in the “American Dream.”

back to homocide…In this first case of women being brutally tortured (and tracking what is clearly a serial killer comprises the entire homocide desk), Cole arrests, Alonzo Mendes, who appears guilty but Cole is clearly unconvinced of his guilt. In the next two cases, “The Golden Butterfly” and The Silk Stocking Murder,” each case has the same modus operandi, but in the case of “The Golden Butterfly,” the husband seems to be guilty. I realize how disturbing all of this violence against women is – the crimes are sexual and extremely violent. However, let’s think of this figuratively. In each case, a home is broken, the husband is suspected, the family is fractured and all seems lost. Women are iconic figures in the concept of the United States as an exceptional nation. If we consider John Gast’s famous painting of American Progress (1872), then we can see that white women are the guarantors of progress, purity and driving out the “savage” elements that “plague” the American landscape (check out the Indigenous peoples running away from “progress” in the lower left hand corner).

John Gast American Progress (1872)

It’s important to note that each of the women who are murdered are “flawed” in some way. Celine Henry was a drunk, Antonia Maldonado was also drunk (and raced); Mrs. Moller overspends…each of these women do not seem to perform their femininity “properly.”  The husbands are placed under suspicion and are also revealed to be wife beaters, on average.

So what is Cole’s role? To reveal the corruption at the heart of the American home?  Seems so…

Education and Hard Work Get You Nothin’, So Now What?

As  a person with a boatload of education, you can imagine how disconcerting it was when Stefan Bekowsky replies to Cole’s (that’s me!) assertion that he just wants to fit in:

“Educated, hard-working – hate to break it to you Cole, but you’ll never fit in.”

He’s a blunt guy…

Great. But on a less personal note, the message here is that following the rules set out by a “rags to riches” ideology is not how to get ahead. In fact, according to Bekowsky, don’t get ahead, which means renouncing the type of masculinity that Phelps strives for. In fact, we learn early on that Bekowsky didn’t go to war, so what kind of man is he? A pretty brave one it turns out: he received a citation for bravery. He also helps Phelps out quite a  bit and is a thoroughly likable fellow (particularly compared to Phelps next partner but more on him later).

So what’s the message?  Don’t be ambitious? Keep your nose down and mind your business?  It seems likely, until we meet Kelso, I think but then he isn’t the everyday man. Frontiersmen/noir detectives never are. For the regular guy, much like my argument about Red Dead Redemption in a recent article I published,  the lesson is to be stay apathetic and just do as you are told…but we’ll see.

The cases are progressively involving more violence against women and “The Fallen Idol” is no different. The opening scenes are dramatic – a car goes over a cliff and the female driver and passenger are only saved by a giant billboard (see? Advertising saves lives!). It turns out the driver is a B-Movie actress and her passenger is a corn-fed mid-west 15 year old girl, named Jessica,  looking for fame in Hollywood. June trades her little friend to porn producers for a film role. The girl is drugged and then filmed being molested through a “social camera room.”

The femme fatale

I won’t go into detail about the case; it’s fairly sordid, but we do encounter loads of characters that will pop-up later, such as Roy Earle and “Alienest” Fontaine. The most interesting character, to my mind, is Elsa Lichtman, the singer at the Blue Room Jazz Club.  She is the femme fatale. If you read any Slavoj Zizek, then you know the femme fatale upsets the normative symbolic order so let’s see what she shakes up (I imagine it’s Cole and his dreams of heroism and social mobility!!).

What I am loving about this game are the threads of narrative that seem unfinished in one case only to be picked up and woven into another, such as the references to California Fire and Life, which clearly will appear again. I admit it: I am hooked on this game.

I bet this company is not on the up and up

What is a Man? It’s Kelso.

In the case, “A Marriage Made in Heaven” we meet Phelp’s nemesis, Kelso. Jack Kelso is not a bad guy. Nope, no antagonist he (when I write late at night, my grammar tends to be “yodaesque”). He is a “real” American hero because he resists authority that deserves to be resisted.

Kelso being a war hero. Granted, this is from later in the game, but there are Tumblr pages (where I got this GIF) dedicated to Kelso, so yeah, he is a pretty popular guy.

In this flashback, which looks like it is filmed through a fish-eye lens, we enter a barracks in the midst of inspection by a lieutenant, who tells Kelso that he has done a good job of cleaning his rifle.

Kelso looking incredulously at bad leadership

Then a sargeant enters the barracks with a sycophantic Phelps behind him. He tells Kelso that the gun is not cleaned properly. Wait…what? So now we know that the sarge has it in for Kelso who resists this clear abuse of authority. Phelps, on the other hand, advises another soldier who tries to protest that “forget him [Kelso], Hank, he doesn’t have what it takes.”  As a result of Kelso’s unwillingness to be brow-beaten, he (and the rest of the company) lose furlough privileges. Kelso also decides to drop out of the officer training program and join with the rifle company, where, as he puts it ‘the real heroes are.’ The seeds have been planted for the battle between Phelps and Kelso.

Can’t wait to play as Kelso

But what is this “it” that Phelps is so sure that Kelso ain’t got? Is “it” the mysterious aura of successful white American masculinity? I think so and this form of ideal masculinity is actually bisected into two distinct types: the Jeffersonian man who appreciates building a society through civic duty, justice and fairness (for white folk and the “right” kind of people of course) and the Jacksonian man-on-the-make, who will do what needs to be done to get ahead (fyi, yes, these two types of men are categorized by famous U.S. presidents). Kelso is the former and Phelps is the latter.

The flashback was the most interesting part of this case. The actual murder involved yet another destroyed marriage and home – more destruction of American values by greed and lust. However, Phelps and Bekowsky make it right by apprehending the bad guy – Leroy Sabo. The victim, Lester Pattison, wasn’t such a nice guy either since he was “a fan of the love tap,” according to Bekowsky. And so let the violence against women start – from here on out, it only gets worse. It’s not literal, of course, but represents the destruction of the iconic American woman as the guarantor of cultural and racial superiority. Phelps (and probably Kelso) aren’t about to let that happen without some retribution.

I also went on a number of dispatch calls on this case, which occur when the main character (you) drives from one P.O.I. (person of interest) or crime scene to the next. In one case, there was a gang shoot-out and the gangs were clearly Latino. Great. So here is yet another connection to Red Dead Redemption – more mass and extreme violence against Latinos in a video game. I think it’s only going to get worse.

I wrap up Traffic in the next case and then on to Homocide!

Solid Citizens? L.A. Noire and the Collapse of the American Home

Oh Adrian Black – you poor bastard.

Adrian seems mild-mannered and…well…”normal.” But Cole as our urban frontiersman can detect deviance (although he is not as capable as Kelso: more on Kelso later).

You wanted out of that middle-class suburbia to be with your mistress, but you didn’t want a divorce. No, you wanted all the way out by faking your death. His wife seems nice enough – we don’t get to know her very well, after all, this is a man’s world. She dutifully waits at home for her rat-bastard husband and cooks him dinner. He eats and goes out to Cavanagh’s bar to hang out with his best buddy Frank Morgan. According to Mrs. Black, he does this every night. Whoa – wait a minute, every night? He hangs out with Morgan and they hatch a plan to get him out of his marriage?  That’s might homosocial…and drastic…I think the main point is that he wants out of his life but without obligation and that’s a no-no.

After a chase scene, we find Black at Morgan’s place (and may I say that while I enjoy driving around L.A., the traffic is terrible and it’s a nice feature to be able to stand by the passenger door, hold “y” and be chauffeured by my partner, Bekowski). We don’t actually get an explanation of why he is actually at Morgan’s place and why he didn’t take the first train to his mistress….again, might suspicious. How “deviant” is Black?  We will never know: order is restored. Real death is the only way to get out of this life, buster. Besides, he had it all, according to Phelps and Bekowsky. His desire to get out makes him deviant enough…bastard.

Phelps (sitting) and Bekowsky (standing) question Frank Morgan

As I (as Cole) search Black’s house, I find a newspapers and upon picking it up and pressing “A,” we are treated to a flashback to a vet who visits “Alienist Fontaine” – if you don’t know, an “alienist” is an archaic term. The “memory” reverse fades from black and white to color, which means we move from the low modality of black and white to this high modality of color. The past in the present since Fontaine deals with veterans…Cole is a veteran…..(shrug). What I do know is that the game is utterly dependent on noir film techniques to not only guide the gamer but suture the gamer into the game narrative.

Pick it up, press “X” and enter a flashback.

Fontaine has a southern accent, which automatically marks him as a kind of gothic character, particularly since he seems to be treating his patients mainly with a cocktail of drugs. I love it because I am not quite sure what the heck is going on, so it was VERY difficult to stop playing and write this post…okay, I admit it, I did not stop. I played the next case (“chapter”) in the Traffic section: “A Marriage Made in Heaven.”  What’s that?  Did you say that this case parallels the previous one in that we have the dissolution of the American home through deviance? Oh my yes!  But more on that in the next post.

Patrolling L.A. Noire

All of this game play serves my research for my book-length project. I had to restart L.A. Noire because I was distracted by another research project about digital pedagogy. However, I am putting that project on hiatus until September and getting this manuscript finished.

So, the first “desk” or level you are assigned to as Cole Phelps in the vast sandbox game is Patrol and it is exactly what you would expect: Phelps is a patrolman. There is a voice over narrator who uses that classic 40’s noir cynical style and fills you in on the world you are about to enter. He says such chestnuts as

Dealing with corruption is like chasing shadows. You never know if the guy you are talking to is on the pad or whether its your partner or maybe even the Watch Commander. So who do you trust Cole? I made up my mind a long time ago…”

So who in the heck is this “I?” Certainly this means that we are at a distance from the other characters. This narrator will be our guide…but he doesn’t introduce every case. Best not to overuse a device, I guess. You know, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to speak like a cynical noir narrator for a day….

Phelps on patrol

Phelps is a go-getter; he’s a real Jacksonian man-on-the-make. He says he wants to keep the streets clean, but can he keep himself “clean?”  The narrator hints that he won’t, so is this the fall of the urban frontiersman? Richard Slotkin claims that the frontiersman didn’t die out but was transformed into the noir detective who keeps the forces of chaos at bey in order to protect civilization (and like the frontiersman, the detective is a liminal figure – not fitting in either world). Phelps certainly does not fit, but there is another frontiersman detective that we meet down the line by the name of Jack Kelso.

Kelso is a pretty good guy, I think

The narrator mentions him in the Patrol Desk level of the game but I don’t think we really get to meet him until much later in the game. Will this be a showdown between the Jacksonian-style frontiersman and the Jeffersonian-style frontiersman? The man-on-the-make vs. the civic-minded hero?  I think so….yep.