PLAYING LOS ANGELES ITSELF: VERSIONS OF AND FROM THE HISTORICAL CITY IN LA NOIRE AND THE “SEMI-DOCUMENTARY” NOIR

Jedd Hakimi

Abstract


This paper considers LA Noire (2011, Team Bondi), a police-procedural video game featuring eight square-miles of navigable 1947-era Los Angeles terrain, as an occasion to interrogate the relationship between “real-world” historic cities and their counterpart versions experienced through video games and films. Upon noting LA Noire’s distinct modes of narration produce both fictional and historical versions of the city simultaneously, this paper positions LA Noire in relation to a peculiar cycle of mid-century American films sometimes referred to as “semi-documentary” noirs. In addition to the fact that LA Noire adapts one of these films, Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1947), into a playable sequence within the game, the crucial connection between LA Noire and the semi-documentary noir actually resides in their parallel projects of setting fictional stories within “real-world” settings. By recognizing how these semi-documentary noir films maintain a documentary function despite their inclusion of fictional elements, this paper suggests that LA Noire allows us to recognize a comparable, yet distinct, documentary function in certain video games.


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