LA Noire is, by many accounts, an astounding game. It deftly uses technology to create a world and narrative so wholly engrossing, so detailed and so rich, that it is near impossible not to be drawn in. It could be argued that this game is a work of High Art and can be used to fuel the old ‘can videogames be Art’ debate. For many gamers, LA Noire has become exhibit ‘A.’ They consider it to be a sort of interactive film. Which is certainly on par with the way the game was marketed; it debuted Sundance and was shown at a number of of other film festivals.
The game has a full cast, no character is played by the same actor as another. And each actor spent a fair bit of time with 20 or so sophisticated cameras recording their faces, catching every reaction. Much of the game relies on the player reading a person's face, trying to detect lies. There was a ludicrous amount research done for this game, likely more than you did throughout all your years of high school. The in-game map of L.A. is so accurate that you can use Google maps to find your next objective. Beyond that, some of your cases are based on actual events. It feels like a movie when you play it, an interactive movie where you are the hero, where you are Humphrey Bogart. As a movie, its great, fairly well written, with a strong narrative. There are some minor dialogue choices that can take the player out of the world; the term mother fucker is used from time to time which wasn't a popular saying in 1947. Richard Pryor hadn't popularized the phrase yet. There are some issues with it as a game however, simple control issues, vague instructions and things like that.
But can it be considered art? There are those who say firmly, that it cannot. Their argument sounds sort of like this; ‘despite the fact that it looks like a swan, acts like a swan, is sold like a swan and was shown at the Tribeca Film festival like a swan, it is in reality merely a duck because it still uses a controller.’ This of course sounds silly, because they are clearly describing what sounds like a film, especially if you replace the word swan with the word film.
One the other side of the aisle you have the gamers who claim that LA Noire is comparable to great works of art throughout history; Hamlet, David, Don Giovanni, War and Peace, Moby Dick and Police Academy Two, which in turn, sounds silly. The Police Academy movies are the of highest art and cannot be compared with.
Both arguments have had a number of advocates. Roger Ebert famously claimed that games could never be art, even though he later said that he may have been wrong is saying such. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, places videogames legally alongside films, plays, music and paintings. Everyone has an opinion. In the end however, does it really matter?
Roger Ebert and the boys over at Penny Arcade say that the whole argument stems from old people not being able to understand young people and their crazy music. This seems like an oversimplification, however.
The debate over what is and isn’t art is timeless and endless, and like all endless and timeless debates, is pointless. Whether it’s the man looking at a Jackson Pollack saying ‘I could have done that,’ or the high school music teacher that declares ‘the Ramones are too simple to be real music,’ the root problem is the same; misunderstanding. Now it may be true that Roger Ebert can’t understand what young people are doing with their TVs and whatnot but that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is that he misunderstands art and how it should be defined.
To too many people say art is this, it means this, looks like this, sounds like this and can only be this; and this is different to everyone and can be anything from a hippo in a tutu to Mozart. People throughout time have made concrete lists of criteria for art yet fail to realize each list is different from the one made a hundred years ago, and that it will be different from the one made in a hundred years. The definition has changed, is changing and will be unrecognizable at some point in the future and that the arguments, the rules and everything else will sound silly.
Now some people may claim that this argument against the argument sounds excessively postmodern, and it is, but it is also born out of frustration, this is not something that needs to be concretely resolved and even when the debate about games is over, another pointless argument about art will emerge. So, if you’re sick of hearing people say LA Noire is or is not art, take a deep breath, look at the people on both sides and say ‘Shut up, and shut up and let’s go get some goddamned ice cream.’