The “Anatomy of Choice” in L.A. Noire

Posted: February 3, 2013 by sdamle in Uncategorized

The experience of playing L.A. Noire is, in my view, unlike almost any other game currently on the market; the innovative and ground-breaking facial recognition software the game employs (a technology called MotionScan which, with stunning accuracy and clarity, captures the facial expressions of the games actors), coupled with the modality of player engagement the game designers use creates a unique and wholly engrossing gaming environment. While the facial recognition software and how it enhances the gaming experience warrants a lengthy discussion in its own right, this entry focuses on how the game designers use “choices” to create a dynamic and engaging experience. In doing so, I will use Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s concept of the “anatomy of choice” in gaming. Using this lens will help us better understand how the designers manipulate the idea of “choice” in order to create a more immersive experience.

As Salen and Zimmerman note, in order to dissect the concept of choice in games it is imperative that five questions are posed (for the purposes of my analysis of L.A. Noire, I will focus on the interview sequences of suspects and witnesses – hereafter referred to as POIs). The first question Zimmerman and Salen pose is what happened before the player was given the choice? When the detective you play as first arrives at a crime scene, the remnants of a prior event – usually a grisly crime – are laid out in front of you. Your task is to now find all of the relevant evidence that might help you crack the case. Most importantly, the evidence that you find will help inform the way in which you approach interviews with a POI. The second question is how is the possibility of choice conveyed to the player? In the interview sequences of L.A. Noire, your first task is to ask the POI questions relevant to your investigation. Here the choices are provided to you in the form of pre-set questions on your notepad, as the image below shows:

L.A. Noire 4Next, you must determine whether or not the POI is telling the truth or lying in their answer – a choice which is presented to the player through three buttons which represent “truth,” “lie,” or “doubt.”

L.A. Noire 3

The next question is how did the player make the choice? As with most other games, players make choices, quite simply, by pressing the button which indicates the question they would like to ask, or whether or not they believe a POI is lying or telling the truth (The options presented to the player are show in the interview sequence above).

L.A. Noire 2

Things get interesting, however, as we reach the fourth question that Salen and Zimmerman posit: what is the result of this choice? How will it affect future choices? In L.A. Noire, it is entirely possible that the choices you make – generally with respect to whether or not you believe a POI is being trustworthy – could completely change the trajectory of your investigation, or, at the very least, make your life more difficult. For example, if you suggest that a suspect or witness is lying but you don’t have the evidence to support your claim, your investigation will be thrown off. It will be harder to solve the case. Thus, a real sense of consequence exists with the choices you make in the interview sequences. The fifth and final question with regard to the “anatomy of choice” is how is the result of that choice conveyed to the player? In the context of interviews, the result of your choice is conveyed through both a visual clue (a big X next to that question on your notepad) and, more frustratingly, a tangible sense that you aren’t quite making the breakthroughs necessary to solve your case.

As the discussion above highlights, the choices you make in L.A. Noire have consequences with respect to the trajectory of your game play. Luckily, the game designers at L.A. Noire have laid out your choices in a compelling way – who would have ever thought that monotonously collecting clues or interviewing suspects could be so fascinating? Ultimately, The effectiveness of L.A. Noire’s interview sequences largely rest on the creative way in which choices are presented to the user.

  1. suzannescott says:

    This is a great post, both thorough and thoughtful. What would have made this even stronger is if you had made an explicit connection between your early remarks on the facial recognition software, and the role this “accuracy and clarify” plays in guiding player choice. Considering that so many of the interrogation choices are driven by player observation of the witness/suspect, I don’t think it was irrelevant to the rest of your analysis.

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