Video games, cognitive capital, the cognitariat, the and dream factory's seedy streets:
patrolling the citizenry of LA Noire

by Dennis Broe and Ken Cohen in conversation

Part one: LA Noire photo essay: "The fallen idol"
a case from the traffic desk

The story begins with the case title screen, with lurid, LA Confidential-style font. The title, too, is lurid, evoking 1940s screen idols as well as idol-worship in a religious sense. Images in photoessay by Yasui Cohen. The desk’s lead officer explains the current case, and that the crime scene is directly across the street from the police station. It involves a crashed car and no deaths, which assigns it to Traffic. Officers in the desk room make some jokes, yet Phelps is very serious about the case. The case assignment goes to him and his partner, Stefan Bekowsky. Bekowsky is sympathetic to Phelps’ seriousness but has internalized the difficulty in cleaning up Los Angeles.
Phelps exits the station and gets a look at the crime scene from the station. It’s one of many visual evocations of 1940s LA, long on detail but short on the depth that detail should provide. Moments later, Phelps has run up the steps adjoining the hill and now has a birds-eye view of the crime scene. This typical cinematic shot indicates Phelps has some superiority over the proceedings below. In a standard police film shot of several officers hovering over a crime scene, Bekowsky joins Phelps as a superior force, also a God-like protector of the city.
Phelps examines the inside of the vehicle and finds blood … … and a letter written to a woman who is not on the scene. The medical examiner says the woman that the letter is addressed to is in the local hospital, recovering from her wounds. Meanwhile, there's a witness Phelps should question.
Phelps refers to his casebook for information on the investigation – clues, people and locations – and uses all the information at his disposal during interrogations. Evidence in LA Noire tends to be factual, indicating what something is. When Phelps uses it, a more subjective meaning gets attached to that information. Evidence is also used to force a suspect to explain the subjective meaning of that information. For example, June Ballard was in the car with the young woman. Phelps interrogates her (truth, doubt or lie using the game controller and reading her expressions). He believes she is hiding some information from him. Phelps and Bekowsky visit the victim, Jessica Hamilton, in the nearby hospital. She’s suffered injuries from the car wreck. Using the information he collected at the crime scene and the brief interrogation of Mrs. Ballard, Phelps interrogates Jessica – who proves to be very tough under questioning.
He gets little information from Jessica and decides that it may be better to tail Mrs. Ballard to see if she slips up. Phelps demonstrates a lack of empathy throughout the game, interrogating suspects as if violence was the only way to get to the bottom of the crime. Having tailed Mrs. Ballard to Mallory’s Café, Phelps hides outside until he can slip in and eavesdrop on the phone call. Phelps’ behavior shows the panopticon within the city, that Mrs. Ballard cannot find privacy as the police are intruding on her wherever she goes. Phelps hears Mrs. Ballard talk about Mark Bishop, a movie producer, and decides to go see if he is at home.
In Bishop’s residence, there are a number of clues, some without value like this red herring. Clues throughout LA Noire can be important or not. Here a comic book seems to be the game creators’ way of joking with the audience. After speaking to Bishop’s wife, useful clues are uncovered: checks, movie item nostalgia and an award from a local prop house. The prop house is the next location in the investigation. As it’s a movie-related case, the idea of falseness in film (or games) is compounded by the game's using a prop house for the location where the final evidence is discovered.
Inside the prop house, there are props for all kinds of movies, particularly Asian-set films. At this point in LA Noire, there have been no Asian characters. (According to the manual, only two of 400 characters are Asian in a game set in 1947 Los Angeles.) During a brief interrogation with the prop house owner, Marlon Hopgood, Phelps spots a suspicious mirror … … which leads to a secret camera room. Clearly the prop house is a makeshift pornography studio. The hidden camera also implicity comments on how an unsuspecting public can be watched.

Go to page 2: photo essay continued

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