BG 40 – Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation

Futurismic have my latest Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column is about the various attempts by game-designers to emulate the cut and thrust of human social interaction.  I begin by taking and in-depth look at L.A. Noire‘s attempts to climb out of the uncanny valley before widening the aperture a touch and taking a look at some of the theoretical challenges that need to be overcome before games become capable of modelling conversation as well as they model shooting people in the face and slicing them up with great big swords:

Phelps’ capacity to be inhuman to his fellow man helps him to understand his fellow humans better… thereby raising the possibility that Phelps is in fact a sort of autistic Colonel Kurtz whose willingness to commit acts of terrible violence is a form of spiritual strength. The road to Nirvana is easy to walk when you are wearing jack-boots.

However, in the interest of full disclosure I do feel obliged to make clear the fact that I did not come up with the term ‘pixel-bitching’ all by myself. The term used to be bandied about on the RPGnet forums as a means of referring to a mode of adventure design whereby games masters will not allow the game to progress until the players have uncovered a single specific (and usually well-hidden) clue.  I’ve also heard the phenomenon referred to as a ‘plot bottleneck’ but I think that term fails to capture how irritating it can be to find yourself hunting for a single pixel in a digital landscape.