Hermeneutics of Detection in L.A. Noire

Presented as “The Hermeneutics of Detection in Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire.” Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Conference, Chicago, Illinois, April 2014: conference site

Abstract: From Edgar Allan Poe’s comparison of ratiocination to a game of checkers to Sherlock Holmes’s catchphrase “the game is afoot,” and from S.S. Van Dine and the Detection Club’s “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” to Howard Haycraft’s seminal academic essay “The Rules of the Game,” mystery and detective fiction have always imagined the solving of crimes as playing an elaborate game. With stories, novels, movies and even television shows, this game remains largely metaphorical because for however engaged the readers or viewers may be their involvement remains limited to that of a passive observer. The reader tries to guess the solution before the detective reveals it in the end. However, with Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire, this metaphorical game of detection becomes literalized as the reader/viewer inhabits the role of a hard-boiled police detective in 1940’s Los Angeles, searching for clues, interviewing suspects, and attempting to construct the “correct narratives” to solve a series of crimes. This paper analyzes how long-standing traditions of “fair play” in detective fiction inform the hermeneutics of detection in L.A. Noire while also considering how the genre of detective fiction intersects with new narrative structures made available in video games.

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