If a game feels inherently problematic, is it best to move on from it to another game, or finish it and call out its flaws? We’re voting the former this time.
L.A. Noire is not quite the game that I remembered it being. We’ve streamed Rockstar Games’ detective game from 2007 for over a month now, experiencing the seedy world of 1940s Los Angeles as police officer Cole Phelps. At least once a stream, something happens that makes me think, “Should I really keep streaming this?” Last stream’s moment was a side quest called “Death Plunge:” it offered nearly nothing aside from disregarding people with suicidal thoughts. The game hammers home the “people weren’t great in the past” narrative, but some of these issues stretch past “storytelling accuracy” into poor design.
What to do with the problematic
Practically every side quest up to this one required killing our suspects. The game incentivizes “collecting cars” by taking them from citizens. Grand Theft Auto’s design aesthetics power L.A. Noire, rewarding actions cops shouldn’t regularly take. Narratively, we’re continually surrounded by racism, sexism, police corruption, and more. Minorities are commonly criminals, and the first queer character we encountered was also a pedophile. Though the game eventually drives to a point that makes a moral of Cole’s story, it hasn’t even started to hit in nearly 12 hours of play.
It reminds me of a panel called “Forgiving History” about problematic literature at Westercon 2016. Author Frog Jones led the discussion by remarking that stories are products of their time, that there are aspects to appreciate while remembering their context. Sarah Gulde, organizer for Nerd Camp, countered by saying she’s simply turned off by infringing works; she’d rather just read non-problematic stories. L.A. Noire begs a similar question: is it better to suss out the positives from seemingly antiquated works, or move on and highlight better ones?
The question becomes more relevant when streaming is added to the mix. Now it’s not a question of whether or not to consume media, but to then share it with an audience. Intelligame currently streams once a week from 5-9p, and has streamed L.A. Noire for over a month. The Intelligame community’s shared some great laughs and discussions around these follies, I’ll admit. Still, Let’s Intelliplay should be a space not just to call out errors in games, but also highlight successes. I think we’ve done far too little of the latter over the past few weeks.
Let’s Intelli-play the positive
I want Let’s Intelliplay to expose viewers to games to add to their collection, ones that showcase what games really can be. Valiant Hearts: The Great War wasn’t flawless, but it spent its time building empathy instead of a power fantasy. By the end of our playthrough, we’d discussed game mechanics, historical accuracy, visual design, and more. Valiant Hearts inspires me to write about games, to feel they make a positive difference. Those are the experiences I want to share.
It’s important to discuss problematic works and call out opportunities for improvement, but I’d rather offer the majority of our time to positive works. Sure, talking about the “classics” provides us with context, but context shouldn’t override main content. In this case, I’m happy to have learned from L.A. Noire, and use that to inform criticism of other works.
So, for those interested, tonight will be our last night streaming L.A. Noire for Let’s Intelliplay. We’ll be on from 5p-9p Pacific on Twitch. Should we end up doing some sort of bonus stream we may come back. For now, we’ll get ready to say goodbye to Officer Phelps and the LAPD tonight. Next Thursday we’ll head forward to a new venture.