Tag Archives: L.A. Noire

Fallen Women and the Intemperate Nation: L.A. Noire as 21st Century Temperance Narrative?

Note: if you have not played this game and plan to – do NOT read this post. There are many spoilers.

Rape culture is a way to think of the systemic means by which women are rendered powerless and subjected in particular contexts. Anne Kingston, senior writer at Maclean’s magazine (a Canadian weekly news periodical) accurately described rape culture as an ecosystem that enables rape to be normalized (e.g. women “deserve” to be raped if they act in certain ways). An ecosystem is such that the those who live in it are largely unaware of its processes, much like most of us take little notice of the bacteria that allow us to live, many are unaware of the cultural processes that shape and channel the way they think, fantasize, behave, and interact. Literary genres participate in creating a national ecosystem (or symbolic order) by narrativizing the paradigmatic myths that tell us who we are as national, racial, cultural, and political subjects. Genres map out how we should deal with certain social and rhetorical situations, so it should not be surprising  that noir fiction and film has participated in the seamless functioning of rape culture by perpetuating ideologies of American gender and sexuality.

Like Foucault said (okay, he didn’t SAY the following, but he strongly implied it!), we need to trace the origins of the discourses in order to denaturalize them. As Herbert Marcuse explains, in a repressive and oppressive social order, technological and mass forms/artifacts serve the practical and ideological needs of that order (John Sanbonmatsu “Video Games and Machine Dreams of Domination“)  In video game studies, there has consistently been a strong push to find new and improved ways to study video games, and this trajectory tends to foreclose on linking game narratives to the historical processes and contexts that engendered them. This is not to say that we shouldn’t follow what Alexander Galloway and Ian Bogost tells us in regard to privileging the computational processes from which games are fueled, but that we need to expose the ideologies, which are distinctly linked to game procedures. With all due respect to Surface Reading (a new and improved formalism), there are immersive technologies that require theoretical practice to expose the “wizard” behind the curtain, so to speak. This is not about hunting for meaning in a print text but gazing a critical eye at an instrumentalist form of reading that can be blinding.

The Red Lipstick Murders case starts in classic noir style with “unusual camera angles” and “chiaroscuro,” creating a decentred and unstable composition (Andrew Spicer Film Noir 313). We expect to see graphic violence in film noir, and this opening delivers with a woman being dragged from a car and then bludgeoned to death with a tire iron. We only see the killer’s feet and then the shadowy outline of him beating a woman to death: as spectators, we are certainly decentred (perhaps by our voyeuristic role and the expectation that we will be able to see the victim – a disturbing thought).

This is a cut scene so we are not positioned as player but as viewer, a position for which we have been trained via the culture industry. That is, we know how to watch a film and so we put these “reading” skills to use as we play. I realize there is some disagreement as to whether players actually watch cut scenes or not, but since complex video games like L.A. Noire use cut scenes as rewards for finding certain objects (pick up a newspaper, wear certain clothing, etc..), I think the point is that we are meant to do so. They certainly cost enough money to produce (meaning if they were not popular, why include them?), so I think the argument is moot and unhelpful. We need to see this cut scene to know what comes next, which is in the debriefing room at the station where Captain Donnelly fills us in on the case.

The modality of the scene changes from classic noir B&W to colour; from odd camera angles to a straight shot of the room, and we are positioned in with the other detectives as we transition from gazing as audience member to focalizing the narrative through Phelps. As Phelps, we enter and, to some extent, are controlled by a primarily male gaze. We have the power to investigate and demand answers to questions. We have access to knowledge and control. My biological features as a real person are not at stake; my ability to navigate this world is dependent on Phelps, who we follow and appear to make choices as this character, but these choices are largely decided by complex algorithms. No matter what choice I make as Phelps, he will not live up to his social designation as hard-boiled detective. He is a failed version of masculinity (more in this post). Phelps does not define ME but does influence my perception (if I allow him to). Through Phelp’s, I learn how a male-centred world operates and the price to be paid if one does not correctly perform masculinity. Video games are often called “masculinist,” but this is an overly simplified way to think about video games. Many (not all) games are really forms of social control for all genders and sexualities and most link to a decidedly American form of rugged masculinity and domesticity influenced via frontier narratives.

Through Phelp’s gaze we are introduced to a lengthy set of cases that reveal a serious threat to the American home and, therefore, nation. On this urban frontier, the threats are internal and not the external threats the frontiersman of the 18th and 19th century faced. However, one of the hallmarks of the classic frontiersman is to recognize evil in all its disguises. Hawkeye knows the difference between “good” and “bad” Indians and, similarly,  our urban frontiersman/detective, Phelps, must also be able to gauge, through interrogation, who is “good” and who is “bad.”  One of the twists of the noir genre is to diagnose an infection, but to be unable to excise that infection. The hard-boiled detective makes the urban frontier relatively safe, but the uncivilized element is never fully banished.

The infection in this particular section of the game exhumes a nineteenth and early twentieth century debate over temperance and sobriety that informed “the construction of whiteness and masculinity as definitional of both the public sphere in which they took place and the embodied subjects who embodied that space” (Hendler, Sentimental Men 128). This temperance discourse is remapped onto a post-collapse United States to make sense of why the collapse happened and how the U.S. can maintain its exceptionalism. The blame is cast  on the  the 1% (as inevitable, all-powerful, exceptional, and unbeatable – inviting political apathy as all Rockstar games do), but also on the intemperance of the nation, metonymically represented by murdered, fallen American women.

It is crucial to understand that the Red Lipstick Murders are loosely based on the Lipstick Murders in Chicago and the gruesome Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles. In both cases, women and one small girl, were brutally attacked, mutilated, and murdered (not necessarily in that order). This link between actual murders and the fictitious world of the game is not only a convention of genres with frontier heritage but also of American literature. The link between fact and fiction (or “fact-tion”) is often blurred in American literature. Of course, these blurred lines (pardon the wordplay here) are part and parcel of nation building in the U.S. Therefore, it is not surprising that the game writers/developers drew from these famous cases, with the Black Dahlia case figuring most predominantly.

Of particular interest is the mention of the Black Dahlia by Phelp’s crusty new partner, Rusty Galloway in the cut scene where they travel to the crime scene. The killer is dubbed the “werewolf” in the game, likely due to the brutality of the killings. Galloway surmises that this case has nothing to do with the Dahlia murders, explaining that “90% of murders are domestic.”  Phelps asks why so many women are being murdered at this particular point in time, to which Galloway responds, “‘Cause of the war. You should know that. Guy gets to kill people every day in combat, comes home, and he’s expected to take lip from his wife? What do you think is going to happen?”  Phelps is skeptical. What Galloway’s comments reveal is an incredibly important part of the domestic and rape culture  ecosystem: men can’t help it. If a woman “gives lip” to a traumatized male, then she can expect to be murdered. Chilling.

Of course, linking these cases to the Dahlia murder is more than simply sensationalizing: Elizabeth Short, nicknamed the Black Dahlia by the press,  was characterized as a loose woman, who drank and caroused (James Ellroy, My Dark Places). The name “Black Dahlia” gave her an air of mystery and eroticism (not to mention the metaphorical connotations between the vagina and flowers).  Often described as an “struggling” and “aspiring” actress, Short is implicitly linked to the perversity and intemperance that has defined the underbelly of Hollywood. The Red Lipstick Murder is only the first in the series of cases involving murdered intemperate women that Phelps investigates: in each case, the victims, like Short, are characterized as “loose women” – they either drink or spend too much money. They are promiscuous or drifters; therefore,  the game makes the case that they were destined to end badly.

The Victim: Celine Henry

When we approach the crime scene, we are given a brief aerial shot of the victim (Celine Henry, but we do not learn her name until later). She is naked and mutilated. As part of the game mechanics, we have to straddle her, which is disturbing to say the least. Positioned just below the vagina, we look at the body over Phelp’s shoulder. The killer has written on the body the initials “BD,” which might mean, according to the coroner, “Black Dahlia.”  We check the victims hands and discover that a ring on the right hand is missing.

Celine Henry and we control Phelps actions as he straddles her. We can turn her head; gaze at her nudity and mutilations; and check her hands.

We discover a lighter from a local club, The Bamba, at the crime scene, and soon we are on our way to discover the identity of the victim and unpack her narrative. Phelps has the power to speak for Henry, who could have easily been portrayed and even played in flashbacks, but that’s not part of the genre convention, and so it is not part of the game procedure. When we question the bartender, we learn that the victim is likely Celine Henry, and she frequents the club most nights. Her intemperance has been established.

As Phelps, we interrogate the club owner McColl, who paints a picture of Celine as a “lovely woman” but also as a heavy drinker who had “quite a head start” before she met up with a man at the bar. He mentions Celine’s husband, who then becomes a “POI” (Person of Interest), which pops up at the bottom of the screen. This little notation (in typewriter style font to add to the high modality of the game) about clues, locations, and possible suspects operates as a kind of computational internal narrator, directing us to think in certain ways, such as defining characters as innocent or guilty. As a member of what Louis Althusser called the Repressive State Apparatus, Phelps is invested with a state sanctioned mastery of official language and can demand answers from suspects. We learn that Celine does not have mastery of language, and she is a linguistic deviant because she “tells stories” to attract male attention.Celine is postioned as unreliable and unable to control language, the opposite of Phelps, even though she is educated and is also a “flier.”  We later learn that Celine was a pioneering female pilot, all of which is overshadowed by her alcoholism and infidelity. In other words, her accomplishments in the public sphere are meaningless in the face of her domestic transgressions.

Phelps asks McColl about Celine’s missing ring, which is not her wedding ring, and is described as “on the large side, larger than life, like Celine herself.” Through pressing the correct assessment of McColl’s truthfulness (doubt is the right answer), the game procedures here position Phelps as the subject-supposed-to-know and McColl as the subordinated male subject, we learn that McColl bought Celine the ring, indicating infidelity  on Celine’s part. Another nail in her coffin.

McColl tells Phelps that he tried to call Celine’s husband Jacob to pick her up, as he had done many times before. Jacob refuses and Celine leaves with her killer.

When we investigate the house, we learn that the house has been “creeped,” (already searched) according to Galloway (love that slang!). As we investigate, we find a note on the fridge left by Jacob for Celine stating that if she “sobers up” she can find him at a particular address. Here is our next destination, which is kept in a note book that we consult to choose clues, intuition, and also a location to travel to. The notebook is a symbol of official language – a virtual space that collects transgressions of gender and national performance, which we, as Phelps, then use to interrogate and arrest suspects.

After talking with a neighbour, Jennifer Horoan, we learn that Celine was very drunk by 10:00 pm, and Jacob may have given her a black eye (Galloway says in the house that if his wife drank that much, he’d give her a smack, so domestic violence is shown a common way to deal with wild wives in this historical representation of 1940’s America). Jennifer calls Jacob “long suffering” and tells Phelps that Celine drove very drunk, a cardinal sin, lowering Celine’s ethos even more.

When we find Jacob, he claims to know nothing of Celine’s death but Phelps finds a notebook and as Phelps, we rub the notebook with a pencil and find a secret note.  This particular interaction, renders us (so to speak) as a demysitifiers – this little immersive scene is a meta-narrative for the detective’s function: only he can reveal hidden meaning and make structure out of chaos. As Catherine Belsey so saliently notes in “Constructing the Subject; Deconstructing the Text,” the detective makes all mysteries accountable to reason (which is not the hard-boiled detective way, so Phelps will pay for this misrecognition of his national role). That comes later, in this particular case, Phelps makes the world easily readable through the binary lens of gender performance. This particular clue makes Galloway accuse Jacob of murdering his wife, but Jacob insists he only wanted to commit her to a sanitorium for treatment of alcoholism. At this point, a fight ensues, Galloway is slugged, and we subdue Jacob. By clicking the right buttons, we violently regain control of the situation.

When we call in for a squad car to pick up Jacobs and take him to the station, we learn that Celine was not killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Her death was sexually violent and gruesome; over the phone, Carruthers, the coroner, tells us the horrific details:

Death was from hemmorage; the shock from the fractured ribs; and multiple injuries caused by stomping…He’s [the killer] some kind of sex fiend. The tissues of the anus were bruised about an 1/8th, but no trace of semen in the anus, vagina, or stomach.

Jacob is taken to the police station, and we get a call from dispatch that the license plate number matches a car belonging to one Alonzo Mendez, which means that Jacob is likely innocent. The Captain does not care; as far as he is concerned, Jacob was a browbeaten husband, which means that he was pushed to murder his wife.

In the interrogation session, Jacob denies everything, and we know he is likely innocent but the marriage pact as a microcosm of the nation will not bear Jacob being anything other than a “sob sister,” who was “pushed around by his wife.” Captain Donnelly’s authority and control are clear: he will dictate the narrative of this marriage, which is driven by national ideal of rugged masculinity and domesticity. There can be no queerness or changing of roles. Jacob’s failure  as a husband must rest in his inability to control his wife’s alcoholism and promiscuity through violence and not his apparently passive attempt to send her for treatment. Of course, he should support her and help her to be sober, but this is a violation of genre protocol. He is not the civilizer but the protector or civilization, even if that protection is violent. “Civilizers” are American women who control the homefront.

The interrogation session is also part of the game procedure and its rhetoric is designed to support these ideologies of sex and gender. When Phelps (us) accuses Jacobs of lying, we do it in the most vociferous and insulting way imaginable, we call Celine a “drunken whore” who treated Jacob “like shit.”  We call Jacob a “weak sister” for stomping on Celine and mutilating her, but we know that this is not the case. Paradoxically, the Captain’s fiction that Phelps perpetuates is exactly what makes Jacob more of a man for punishing Celine, whose sexual and alcoholic intemperance renders her the bad wife and mother: the worst crime an American middle class white woman can commit.

Phelps plays into the system despite knowing the truth – and if we agree with Jacob, we will fail to win more points and gain what are called “intution points.”  These points are invaluable to gain access to answers and finding important clues, sometimes within a time limit. Again, a game’s procedures are set up to encourage the player to win but in the case of game narrative what do we win? We win by ideologically positioning ourselves correctly. We know the truth but we will not jeopardize our careers or our success to save another from injustice. When we consider the powerful combination of genre and video game mechanics, then this is a powerful lesson, isn’t it? Stay quiet and endure – don’t fight back. Much like we see in other Rockstar Games, such as Red Dead Redemption, don’t fight the power, endure the power, and do what you are told. Those who break those boundaries pay a terrible price.

Jacob admits to “killing her [Celine’s] dreams” by only  being able to offer “security” for Celine, who wanted to pursue her goal of being a pilot. In 2011, the idea of security has multiple meanings for U.S. citizens, playing on ideas of financial security (which was and is still an impossibility for a large swath of the American population) and also national security.  Jacob describes his social and class mobility from his life as a tenant farmer to his current middle class status, rendering Celine’s aviation dreams as wasteful, extravagant, and intemperate.

The person who is finally arrested is the Mexican American, Mendez whose ethnicity renders him available to frame in this racist gamescape. They find the murder weapon in plain site and surrounded by blood in a cardboard box in the middle of his bedroom. Again, Phelps knows better and questions the placement of the murder weapon, but when Mendez arrives, we follow the game code and arrest him.

You can read more in my forthcoming book Manifest Destiny 2.0: Genre Trouble in Video Games.


Domesticity and Deviance: Rape Culture in L.A. Noire

Trigger warning: this post briefly discusses rape and molestation.

I spent my last post (a long time ago) talking about how Phelps is positioned as the privileged white male through the opposition and negation of the ethnic/racialized Other. I am now going to write a series of posts about a disturbing section of the game where Phelps chases a serial killer, who slaughters and mutilates trangressive women. This is a prequel to those posts. We solve a case in which the worst parts of the social order are exposed. The hardboiled detective (us) exposes what is wrong with the social order and quells transgressive behaviour (Phelps isn’t quite a full-fledged hardboiled detective but more on that in another post).

I know Slavoj Zizek has taken a drubbing lately. Some have said he is a one trick pony, or that he is just another out of touch, overprivileged academic who makes outrageous comments with little thought the constituencies he might effect (such as his recent comments on suicide – yep, he is an idiot in some ways, but should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?). However, when it comes to his work on noir film, few can match the way in which Zizek maps out the power structures at work in this genre. While he does not make the connection to frontier literature that Richard Slotkin does, when we put these two theorists together, we gain real insight into how noir film regulates gender paradigms, locates deviance, and quashes it (or is the detective really able to do this?)

The case that allows Phelps to be promoted to homicide, which is the level where we encounter serial killer cases, provides insight into the centrality of the female body to the game (as property and commodity). We start with ca car crash over a cliff that is stopped by the “Cola King” billboard (so what you will with that symbolism). The two women are not seriously injured, but the driver June Ballard, who is a B movie actress (and married to mobster Guy McAfee), says that she and her companion, a  minor named Jessica Hamilton, were drugged and then a movie producer pushed the car over the cliff.

One of the clues Phelps finds in his investigation of the crash scene is a letter to Jessica, the 13 year old girl from her mother, begging her to come home: “You’re not made for Hollywood” pleads her mother, who admits to wanting to go to Hollywood (like Jessica) to be the next “Clara Bow” – but what does it mean to be “made for” something? The mother claims that she got married and realized that she “would have never been happy in that life” and that Jessica too will “realize it one day too.”  Here the discourses of domesticity run deep. Beside the letter are a pair of torn panties that may or may not have semen on them, according to the coroner, which suggests that living outside the bounds of the domestic sphere will lead to rape.

Quick digression: let’s just stop here for a second and consider what it means to stop and read a letter in a video game. Actually, we do quite a bit of this in L.A. Noire, because we are investigating clues. In other words, we must read every scene we enter visually and textually. Zizek compares hardboiled detectives to analysts: they must look at the most fragmented and distal of clues to piece together a coherent narrative. That is the task of the detective: the create coherency and civilization out of chaos. This is exactly what we do when we take on Phelp’s perception in the game. The multi-modality of noir fiction and film exploits the universe of the video game. More to be said on this in the book but end of digression.

I’d like to invoke some Shirley Samuels here because I see a similar “logic” going on to the one she parsed out in her tour de force chapter “Generation through Violence: The Making of Americans” (in Romances of the Republic) on the ways in which the female body operates on the frontiers of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (1826) (LOM). I realize a novel written in the early national period would seem to have little to do with a video game released in 2011 but why not? After all, as Slotkin states, the hardboiled detective is nothing more than an urban frontiersman, and Cooper’s series of books (the most popular and durable of which is LOM) on the exploits of the Deerslayer or Natty Bumppo.

It’s that guy.

Samuels writes that the generative possibility of the female body is dangerous on the frontier – her body threatens the Republic because it is out of the control of the heteropatriarchy. Women are the biological carriers of a certain type of American identity. I am taking some liberties with Samuels’s argument here, but on this urban frontier, the female body is under threat by “savage” Others. The promise of domestic bliss that Jessica’s mother desires and Jessica embodies by virtue of her virgin whiteness is threatened by men like Marlon Hopgood (the owner of a prop store and a “casting couch,” if you catch my drift) and a corrupt movie producer Mark Bishop who “likes em’ young,” according to Mrs. Bishop. In this circumstance, the female body operates as a kind of X factor. A body that lures and causes cis men to commit crimes. While Jessica is the victim, when Phelps reads the letter and subsequently discovers that she does not want to go home, we learn that, like women in frontier narrative, Jessica is a wild thing who must be tamed (and the men who raped her are savages,  which, btw, conforms to Cooper’s original fictionalization of captivity and frontier histories).

Here is where I am going to play around with the Phallus (sorry). Theory jockeys know quite well that men can identify with the Phallus (the Phallus cannot be possessed; it’s name references the penis, and, hence, heteropatriarchy, but is not to be confused with the actual male organ) but women must BE the Phallus or desire. To think this paradigm through by way of (a possibly tired) analogy, when Jabba the Hut chains Leia to him as a dancing girl, he possesses power and she must BE or perform as desire for him. What we need to do is take back agency and power (I know, do we strangle the “Phallus,” as Leia does? I wish).

Note that he cannot gaze at her – she has control. Albeit, half-naked control.

Now, let’s connect this idea back to L.A. Noire. What we find is that Jessica, much like Leia, is expected to perform in one way for the men who promise her movie roles and another for Phelps and Bukowsky – in either case, she must genuflect to the Phallus. Guess what? she wants to, because that is part of rape culture. Jessica will put herself in harm’s way. That is the narrative myth. The Phallus is the signification of the desire, and this game writes that desire into existence, if you see what I mean. The Phallus is the fantasy of power, after all. Jessica becomes the representative of all white girls and their burgeoning sexuality. June Ballard is the representative of women who are losing their sexual appeal, and Jessica’s mother is the woman who has fulfilled her manifest domesticity. Her voice is all but silent save for a letter than can only be brought to life by the detective figure: the possessor/definer (?) of the Phallus. This scenario in different forms is played out continuously in popular console and online video games. We need to queer up these stories.

When Phelps questions Jessica about her “abuse” (the word “rape” is not used in the game, but Jessica was drugged and her underwear ripped off, so, yeah, she was raped), she is evasive.

The word “rape” is not mentioned in the game, but yes, Jessica was raped.

Phelps suggests she should go back home, but Jessica insists that she might get a part, to which Bekowsky comments, “It’s the tale of this town, Cole, Lambs go willingly to slaughter.”  This metaphorical reasoning positions Jessica is the proverbial lamb and links this urban frontier even more fully to the representation of womanhood on Cooper’s frontiers. You know what is extra-depressing about all of this? That in 2014, white women are still being positioned as sexual victims and perpetrators of their own victimhood (if they do not agree to to the Phallic pact of domesticity and perform as the guarantors of racial and cultural purity).

As the case continues, we meet with Mark Bishop’s wife. Remember that he is the movie producer who jammed a prop under the accelerator and tried to murder Ballard and Hamilton. As mentioned earlier in the post, his wife confesses that her husband “likes them young” and she was one of his conquests early on. She also makes an interesting comment that Ballard “sacrificed” Hamilton to Bishop. Hamilton’s youth becomes cultural capital to compensate for Ballard’s age and, therefore, diminishing sex appeal on the Hollywood marketplace. We gain points for pushing Mrs. Bishop into admitting that young female bodies are objects of exchange for male studio executives. Phelps controls the questioning and, we control Phelps, therefore, we need to get Mrs. Bishop to perform the right speech act. In other words, the game rewards us rewarded for dominating  female speech.

Phelps and Bekowsky are sent to Silver Screen Props to investigate  what appears to be a pedophile ring. We step into an elevator to get to Silver Screen props and I think it is vital to note that the controller vibrates when we ride in the elevator. Is it fooling me that I am in the elevator – no. I mean, come on. However, this is an important CONNECTION between my body and the body I am controlling – right? I am Phelps in this space, in other words.

In any case, we go to Silver Screen Props and what do we find? The aforementioned Hapgood and his classic casting couch set up with secret camera rooms and two way mirrors that both film young girls in compromising positions and also peep into the bathroom. We discover that the rape film of Jessica and Mark Bishop is missing but may be at a set where Bishop is filming a B Movie “Jungle Drums.”  The interesting part about this set is the reference to savagery and barbarism. Set in a mythologized African setting, the film set sends our ostensible frontier hero, Phelps, into the wild to protect civilization as represented by the white female captive, Jessica. This is a longstanding paradigmatic myth in American culture that is played out in an urban setting in L.A. Noire. Phelps, with Bekowsky as his sidekick must protect civilization from the encroachment of savage males, who cannot control their sexual impulses and violate white girls who should grow up to manifest domesticity. Bishop is paralleled with savage racialized others who represent that which must be civilized. Phelps is the great white “civilizer” who will save the white female from sexual transgression (despite Jessica’s wish not to fulfill her mother’s domestic role).

Of course, this section of the game is linked to the award winning 1948 thriller The Fallen IdolI am still sorting through ideas….as you can tell.

Defining White Male Privilege in L.A. Noire: Race, Gender, and National Identity.

The driving in L.A. Noire can be tedious, but I actually enjoy getting to know the city, so the complexity and realism of the game environment tends to outweigh having to obey traffic laws. Yes, you read that right: I have to stop at stoplights (I admit to running a few) or face penalties, such as really cutting remarks from my partner.

You don’t HAVE to drive recklessly

Why would the developers create such a detailed environment if we weren’t meant to tour around? I realize this is a convention of Rockstar games, in general, introduced in Grand Theft Auto and perhaps perfected in Red Dead Redemption, but let’s think about this for a second. Most of Rockstar’s games work from durable American genres that are what I like to call “landscape dependent.” That is, in the gangster/crime genre, western and noir fiction, land is plenty important. These genres are Rockstar’s bread and butter and in each, the lay of the land and the ability to CONTROL the land is crucial.

This is where knowing about frontier literature and its ideologies comes in handy.  Annette Kolodny’s The Land Before Her or even H.N. Smith’s The Virgin Land, lays down the importance of land/property in American literature and, by extension, culture.  In American literature, and by extension, culture, land is often equated with the female body and described as being penetrated or taken (among other sexual metaphors).  Spread the seed of God and be plentiful, to paraphrase Puritan leaders (like Cotton Mather and John Winthrop).  Sacvan Bercovitch argues that Puritan biblical rhetoric turned the geography of the Americas into a “Christianography” where “metaphor becomes fact, and fact, metaphor.”  I think it is hard to deny that American most certainly is a Christianography when President Barack Obama recently declared that “No just God would stand for what (ISIS) did yesterday [murder journalist James Foley] and what they do every single day.” The implication is that a just God is on the side of America, but I digress. The point is that the United States, as a land mass is mythologized/fantasized as a female:

Miss Columbia represented the virgin land of America. It is much easier to imagine conquest through gender lines, unfortunately.

While some historians claim that the metaphorical representation of America through the female body has declined, there are ongoing examples of this paradigmatic myth,  which is diffusely spread across the cultural field.

Video games like L.A. Noire make for excellent examples of how a certain type of national masculinity operates.  The metaphorical positioning of the land as a female, and, in turn, the American male as the rightful one who will possess her, take her, develop her and so forth has already been mapped out by Kolodny,  Nancy Cott, and Karen Sanchez-Eppler.  While we may have seen the “decline” of such representations of femininity in other forms of mass culture (although this is debatable), the use of literary genres that DEPEND on this kind of representation by game developers reconstitutes and spreads this gendered national metaphor/discourse/mythology.   Know why this matters? Because on a macro scale this is how the U.S., in part, maintains its illusory ranking as a superpower; on a “less macro” level, this representation of femininity positions women as passive bodies that require penetrating. This has to stop.

Over the next few posts, I will get into the ways in which the land-property-gender paradigm at work in American culture has informed and is informed by L.A. Noire; for the rest of this post, I am going to look at how “penetrative,” brutish masculinity operates in L.A. Noire (which, in turn, works as a case study – in other words, these types of male characters are widespread in video games).

Let’s turn to one of the authors that instituted this form of brutish masculinity: Raymond Chandler.  He famously says,

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this story must be such a man. He’s the hero. He’s everything. He must be a complete man and a common man, yet an unusual man…he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr. I think he might seduce a duchess, and I’m quite sure he would not spoil a virgin…”

Our frontier pundit, Richard Slotkin uses this quote to create a link between the frontiersman of the 18th and 19th centuries and the 20th century noir detective (as an aside, did you know Slotkin was Joss Whedon’s thesis advisor – everything Whedon does is informed by frontier mythologies).  Slotkin is not the only one to make such a link but he certainly is, in my opinion, one of the few to write such an extensive and compelling history of the transformation of the frontiersman into the hardboiled detective.

Cole Phelps is ALMOST a hardboiled detective

But is Phelps this kind of detective? Yes and no. He does live in a civilized zone that requires protection – Hal Himmelstein defines the popular myth of suburbia as a utopic space set between the frontier wilderness and urban squalor. When we are first introduced to Phelps, we see home leaving his suburban home and waving goodbye to his wife and kids as he sets out on the mean streets.  Phelps’ “frontier wilderness” is the crime and criminals he encounters that disrupts the “virgin land” of suburban promise.

Quick aside – it is vital to note that we are not dealing with a print text here. Video games, as I said in my previous post on methodology, are a bricolage of narrative forms and performativity. Video games are so powerful that they are used to enhance cognitive control in Alzheimer patients, among other medical uses.  Video games change minds, full stop, so when I say that certain video games are reviving longstanding national metaphors that oppress certain cultural groups, genders, and sexualities, we need to think about how to change the way video games are perceived and used. It’s not about censorship, my God, NO!  But we do need to think about how games are developed and for what purpose. Can we, for example, convince companies like Rockstar and EA to be much more ethical in their representations and remediation of durable literary genres? Aside finished.

Phelps certainly fulfills  Chandler’s idea of a hard-boiled detective. Chandler says that the hardboiled detective is an honourable man who is honourable in all things; he is a common man, he is a lonely man (despite his seduction skills) – I mean, this is quite a list and the “neither-nor” phrases place this detective as a liminal character, which is what Slotkin builds on, using a copia of evidence to show that the hard-boiled detective is both “policeman and outlaw” – a frontiersman, in other words,a man who recognizes the drawbacks of civilization and authority, but will still “fight the good fight.” In this light, Phelps is a good little hard-boiled detective, except that Phelps is also ambitious and intellectual, two traits that do not fit with of the kind of rugged individualism and de-evolutionary masculinity that defines the hardboiled detective. John Pettegrew explains in Brutes in Suits that U.S. culture privileges a fantastical form of atavistic masculinity that devalues intellectualism and overvalues brute force, conquest, and aggressiveness. Of course, I have to add that this form of masculinity is all too often tied to white privilege, particularly in terms of frontier ideology. While Phelps does ultimately fail as the hardboiled detective (partly because he uses his thinker just a little too much), he is our main protagonist for almost a third of the game, so his male prowess on the urban frontier must be established. His positioning as the possessor of white male power and privilege is achieved through control of the raced male body (control of the female body occurs in force later in the game -privileged white masculinity has a body count in this game, and that’s just fine, apparently).

Edward Kalou is our first bad guy, whose olive skin and shifty demeanor identify him as Other.

Ed Kalou highlights Phelps white privilege

He is identified as Jewish, and his faith and race are foregrounded at every opportunity.  It is interesting that he is the first character we interrogate or “read,”  since interrogation in L.A. Noire is all about learning to read identities – this is a crucial skill. When we are performing as interrogator, we have expected to read facial expressions and choose whether we doubt the suspect, believe him, or accuse him of lying. In other words, through our positioning as a member of the Repressive State Apparatus, we have the power to judge the speech acts of others as felicitous or not. Of course, we, in turn, are under the power of the script and code. If we choose to believe Kalou, we lose points, if we accuse him properly, we win. The rewards of the game are directly tied to our ability to position Kalou as the untrustworthy, irrational Other.

Once we apprehend Kalou, we hear the voice-over explain that there is “the case that makes yah and the case that breaks yah.”  This is the one that makes Phelps’ career, because he is given the opportunity to  conduct the interrogation. The (Irish stereotype) Chief praises Phelps for being a war hero, who sent “the heathens back to where they came from.”  The tone is set: Phelps is on the side of God and now he will go and interview a suspected murderer: a person of Jewish faith no less. Kalou’s purpose is to do more than teach us about interrogation, he is there to be a foil for Phelps. Where Kalou is a coward, who runs away and surrenders with no resistance at all; Phelps chases his man and apprehends him at great personal risk (we encounter this fact when we complete the requisite side missions before encountering Kalou). Where Kalou smokes nervously and swears; Phelps is cool, calm, and clean.

During the interrogation, Phelps implies that Kalou killed Everett Gage because for religious reasons. Kalou asserts that his faith and ethnicity are his business in an apparently free country: “this isn’t Germany,” he yells.  This is not an irrational response in the least; after all, the U.S. Constitution guarantees Kalou’s right to expression and religious freedom, but it is Kalou’s performance of masculinity that pegs him as “un-American.”  For example, when Phelps implies he is Communist, Kalou loses it, calling Phelps a “goy pud-snatcher.” In fact, 99% of the Yiddish Kalou uses is expletives, indicating to the player that not only is he irrational and hyperbolic, his “ethnic” language is vulgar. He is, therefore, not a “good” man.  The game makes clear that he is outside the American symbolic that values Phelps’ performance over Kalou’s (the worm turns later in the game).

Kalou makes it clear that he was harassed by Gage who called him “kike” and tried to run him out of business, which gives us insight into the hierarchical order of race in the game. Phelps is somewhat sympathetic, but makes it clear that Kalou must pay. Phelps’ sympathy plays into white liberal sentimentalism that acknowledges  racism is wrong, but also makes it clear that white power structures will solve the problem of racial strife. That is, Phelps – in this section of the game – is the paragon of white masculinity: rational, stoic, loyal, and strong, which is all verified through Kalou as the oppositional Other. This binary positioning of Phelps (white = right)  and Kalou (ethnicity = wrong) works to negate Kalou’s complaints. Clearly,  he cannot handle bad white people, he needs to leave that up to the best white people, which is Phelps (actually, it’s Kelso but we aren’t to that part of the game yet).

Jack Kelso is our real hardboiled detective – he has a strong fan following, including a Tumblr site called “JackMotherFuckingKelso.”

The Methodology Hangover in Video Game Studies or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Write

After a summer of designing a new degree program for Trent University (with the help of input from colleagues), I am finally back to finishing up chapter five of Manifest Destiny 2.0. Do you know what that means? I have to start playing L.A. Noire pretty much from the beginning again to get the feel for it. I guess I am a “method” gamer – like method acting, I need to occupy the gaming space and perform within it – that’s really pretentious, my apologies.

I have to start over mainly because the games I write about are incredibly complex. While reading a print text or a film presents its challenges, a video game is a multimodal narrative that incorporates the conventions of print, genre, film, image, and game play. As well, despite the overwhelming number of “how -to” texts on studying games, none really pegs the act of “reading” a game beyond saying something like “gosh, this is really an interdisciplinary act.” If that sounds snotty, I am only fatigued by the sheer number of methodologies on gaming. I mean, seriously, go to Google Books right now and type in “video game criticism.”  You will shit yourself not believe the sheer volume of monographs. Hey, and that’s not even counting the articles and online journals (the latter seem to pop up very other day).  So why the obsession with methodology in video game studies? I think it has everything to do with the complexity of studying video games. There is so much to unpack, sort through, pick apart and map out that you can go mad. I am very glad for a good number of these books, particularly work by Bogost, Murray, and Galloway.

So now I am back at the helm of my own book, which is not about methodology at all, but an intervention into the world of Rockstar. No, I am not writing about GTA anything and when I can get to into the CSS of this blog, I will make my own banner that only features the other franchises, which have had just as much impact on identity politics and cultural understanding as the GTA series. Basically, there is a hell of a lot written about GTA already and while that’s fantastic, Rockstar is a fascinating case study of how the marriage of games and durable genres reinstates and circulates racist, exceptionalist, heteronormative, and neo-colonial worlds.

And now to jump back into 1940s Los Angeles and chase a serial killer….

That’s me, Cole Phelps.

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)

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.