Week 3 Questions


I’ve already commented on another post and in answers for last week’s questions about the representation of gender in L.A. Noire so I’ll try to develop and not just repeat my points. Having played it through twice now I can see that there are disparities between the representation of male and female gender in the game: quite simply, men dominate the plot of L.A. Noire – both playable characters are male, all the prominent NPCs are male and men are the main perpetrators of the crimes that the player is required to solve. That isn’t to say that L.A. Noire is a sexist game: they have tried to remain faithful to the essence of film noir, a genre littered with stereotypes of the time. To criticise L.A. Noire for employing these same stereotypes would be reductive and would completely discount the importance of the historical context of the game that is so intrinsic to the story.


Having said this there is certainly, as I have said previously, an argument for the Los Angeles of L.A. Noire being completely obsessed with the male condition. There are no truly good characters in L.A. Noire: Phelps is revealed to the player as an adulterer, Courtney Sheldon is inadvertently responsible for death and crime all over the city, Rusty Galloway is a raging alcoholic and the list goes on. Behind all these flawed men however is a past filled with pain and hardship, not exactly justifying their actions but certainly leading to a greater empathy for these maverick law enforcers and veterans.


The same cannot be said however for the female characters of the game. I fully submit to the authenticity of the game that is set during a time when women had no rights and no real social standing and to expect the game developers to fully address and resolve this issue within the game would possibly be indulging political sensitivity a little too far. Nevertheless, I would like to address the very two-dimensional nature of female characters within the game in comparison to the male characters. On the whole, the female characters presented to the player appear manipulative and divisive, with no solid method or reason behind their actions but instead shallow motivations: Jean Ballard sells out the innocence of a young girl for one last shot at the big time and Lorna Pattison convinces her lover Leroy Sabo to kill her husband for the insurance money. Even minor characters, witnesses like Shannon Perry, obstruct Phelps’ progress by lying so she can try and sell her story to the papers. Moving away from the issue of gender, I would say that ethnicity and race don’t come off much better in terms of its representation in the game, particularly during Phelps’ stint at the Vice Desk where he discovers a military morphine racket. The majority of those involved in the distribution are Black or Hispanic, whilst those in control of the drug are Italian-Americans. Courtney Sheldon is at the head of the operation but he co-ordinated it for the benefit of American veterans, whereas everyone else involved – those non-white Americans – are purely in it for profit or drug-induced gratification. One of the members of Elsa Lichtmann’s band at the Blue Room is heard to say: “White man supplies. Black man buys.” which essentially sums up the prejudices of the time. However a statement like that doesn’t seem quite right coming from a Black character – I think this is an area of the game that the developers haven’t got quite right and cannot necessarily be attributed entirely to the authenticity of the game’s time and setting (but this may just be my own opinion).


I think comparing how people and places are represented in L.A. Noire needs to be separate to the comparison between other video games and films and novels because of its strict linear narrative. In video games in general, take Assassin’s Creed for example, although it is possible to perceive two narratives and a pseudo-history behind the game, the action carried out by the player takes precedent. Following this, my own personal view on the representation of people and places in other video games seems to be more diluted and less impactive on the player: it serves to provide context for the gamer to enhance the gaming experience rather than adding to the authenticity of the narrative and therefore emphasising the message like in L.A. Noire. I would say that playing a game like Assassin’s Creed is a completely different experience to reading a novel or watching a film because even though it presents a rich environment, fairly well developed characters and objectives, there is still a great deal of scope for the player’s own decision-making i.e. the order in which objectives are completed, whether you take a stealth or all-guns-blazing approach etc. In L.A. Noire, like in a novel or a film, the outcomes of game-play are predetermined and must be played out in a certain order. The only real difference are the GTA-style street crimes that crop up whilst Phelps drives around Los Angeles that can be ignored or picked up as and when the player wishes. From my point of view, L.A. Noire is distinct from other video games and would probably be better termed along the lines of an ‘interactive story game’ because in reality, the narrative takes precedent over the action of game play.

In terms of the narration of L.A. Noire, from my experience of the game I would say that there is an argument for there being narrated non-verbally. In the game’s intro sequence, there is an audible narrator (not a voice I recognise from anywhere else in the game) that sets the tone of the game. Throughout the rest of the game however there is no voiceover, apart from that of Phelps during the investigation of crime scenes where he speaks to himself when examining evidence. The narration in L.A. Noire is much more than voiceovers however: I would argue that much of the narration can be seen in the sound effects, music and ‘camera angles’ in the game as well as self-narration by Phelps and the other NPCs that accompany him. During interrogations, the sound effects vary to indicate whether the player has chosen the right option and the soundtrack for the game, including the frenzied jazz that plays when Phelps is involved in a car chase all immediately narrate. The ‘camera angles’ are probably the most obvious form of non-verbal narration, giving the player details of facial expressions of characters, showing the player sequences in which crimes are committed away from the protagonist and lingering over NPCs whose actions are key to the narrative, Elsa Lichtmann for example. In the case of L.A. Noire it is clearly a third-person narrative, where the narration is mostly objective but where we do get glimpses into the emotions and thoughts of the characters like that of Cole Phelps, through his facial expressions and conversations with NPCs and mostly omniscient – the player sees the execution of crimes and is also privy to the actions of Sheldon and Fontaine through the newspaper sub-plot – but is mostly limited to the views of Phelps.



  1. AndrewKingsley / Apr 11th, 2012 10:26 Quote

    I totally agree, that there aren’t any major good characters in the game, even our protagonist is a baddy, and most of the police aren’t perfect really, I personally would prefer more good characters as it then creates a contrast between hero and villian, but sometimes it feels like we are also playing a villian as well.


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