About a week ago, I was in my local games store and having a chat (see: flirting shamelessly) with one of the employees when LA Noire came up. He hadn’t played it yet, but he was very keen to, and asked me how it was. My response?
“Heavy. Really heavy. But incredible. Love it.”
LA Noire is, for all intents and purposes, a very heavy game. Those of you who’ve reached or surpassed the Homicide chapter of the game should be all too familiar with the gore and shock presented on the surface, almost as if to rub itself all over you so you feel sort of dirty and suspicious. Murder crimes are accompanied by the bodies of women, some of them stripped naked, some of them horribly defaced and abused after their death. And LA Noire makes sure you see all of it. From the carved ring fingers to the cracking sound of a broken neck as the victim’s head is gently tilted, very little in this game is hidden, it doesn’t shelter you, just like the real world. And I personally feel it’s for a pretty good reason.
Let me provide you with a little bit of background here. My father is in the Police force, located in a small town, the one I grew up in. Growing up in a ‘police family,’ I was one of the people in the world who got to see the other side of violent crime and death. We too often see people die in movies or beat people to death with baseball bats in games without even considering the consequences. The prostitute you killed in GTA had friends. A lot of those Storm Troopers had families. Every time someone dies in the real world, they have a family and friends who have to be notified. They have a body that needs to be identified. They’ve left an often bloody and most likely unpleasant scene that needs to be both investigated and cleaned up.
One death affects a lot more than just one or two people and it doesn’t just stop at the police involved either. I remember a while ago there was a particularly bad week in our little town in which there were two suicides by local people and a young boy drowned in the town lake. My father was working that week. While, yes, part of your job as a cop is to see and deal with these things, it still affects you as a human being. I still remember my father’s state in the coming weeks after that; he didn’t just magically get over it like they seem to do in NCIS. Seeing these deaths not only affected him, but my mother, myself and my siblings, and this happens in some way or another to every person involved in a crime scene.
This is why I think LA Noire is such an important game. We play so many games where we just mindlessly kill people with no consequences other than maybe a few cop cars chasing us that we can lose by pulling into an auto shop – I’m going to use GTA as an example here for obvious reasons. It’s fairly rare in games that we get to see the effects of the murders that happen in them, who they affect, the aftermath. LA Noire is all about that aftermath. I think having to break the news of a mother’s murder to her husband is a good example of this; Not only do you have to inform them that their spouse has been killed, but then you also have to balance treating them as a suspect while still trying to give them the respect and patience they need during their grief – even if you choose to run things by ‘Rusty’s Razor’ and blame the guy who’s banging her.
Then there’s the case where you learn a 15 year old girl has been drugged, raped, and recorded. The fact that LA Noire was ballsy enough to not only include a rape case, but one involving an under-age girl and the production of child pornography, is something that really hit home for me. And I’m not using a turn of phrase here. I personally had to pause and take a break after that. Sex crime isn’t something we expect to see in games a lot, let alone have to handle ourselves as part of that game. It’s almost like a forgotten horror. It’s shocking, and when handled well is like slapping the player in the face while the game screams ‘Hey! Are you paying attention to how terrible this actually is if you’re not the one doing the crime?’ That ping of anger or sorrow or even nausea you feel when you learn of the more disturbing components of the crimes? That’s your humanity, and a game has just reminded you that you’re a human being.
So here’s LA Noire, not holding back any punches, fully showcasing not only the other side of crime that most of us aren’t used to being involved with, but also showing us the harsh reality of an otherwise glamorised era: cultural misogyny and abuse of women, racism, the harsh aftershocks of war that society had to face such as drug abuse and post traumatic disorders, no internet. The harsh reality of an otherwise glamorised and even sometimes trivialised career: watching families and loved ones crumble, learning of child abuse, coming across things no one should see such as child pornography, corruption that can completely destroy all your hard work, doing it all without the internet. This isn’t just a game where you switch off and play meaninglessly. This is almost like the anti GTA, a game where instead of committing the crime, you’ve swapped places and you’re the one dealing with the mess of GTA guy.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that violence in video games creates violence in real life, because it doesn’t. But I will say that highlighting the effects and consequences of violent crimes and murder in LA Noire could possibly give people something to think about while they go on a merciless killing spree in Liberty City to try and see if they can get the army to come after them. More importantly, though, LA Noire shows us and the world that video games can have something other than meaningless, senseless violence.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll think twice before I kill that old guy in Vice City… or at least say sorry afterwards anyway.