Editorial: A Raisin in L.A. Noire
By Larry Ragland
During my time in college one the courses I took was an English Literature class and part of our assigned reading was to analyze as a class Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the sun.” Written as a play in 1959 (and later a film adaptation starring Sidney Poitier in 1961) the story takes place shortly after World War II and takes the reader/viewer into the life of the Younger family, a poor African-American family that has the opportunity to significantly change their lives. If you haven’t read it you really should. It is an excellent depiction of post war African-Americans trying to obtain a piece of that ever elusive slice of the American pie.
This is where Rockstar Games L.A. Noire comes in. Admittedly I have not been a fan of most of their past work. The first time I really got into one of their games was Grand Theft Auto IV and later Table Tennis. I lost interest in GTAIV because the main character Neko was way too contradictory to his stated purpose. Wanting to live the life of a reformed killer, he essentially multiplies his previous efforts exponentially. That was a severe disconnect for me. It wasn’t until I played LA Noire that I “got” Rockstar’s games. The attention to detail and the animations are what sucked me in. In previous games they had all the production values but for me the overall point of their games (ie open world, do whatcha like) was severely hampered by the visuals. Not to mention that every person I seemed to come across only wanted to talk about how you can kill police officers and beat prostitutes; not really my thing. It wasn’t until LA Noire did I really start to enjoy what they were doing.
LA Noire like “A Raisin in the sun,” is set post WWII which in America was a boom time. The civil rights act wouldn’t be past until 1964 so the time when Hansberry wrote this was a reflection of her yearning for equality. In LA Noire you are constantly introduced to people of all colors and creeds trying to take advantage of the same situation. LA Noire is littered with characters who bet it all to move out west and get swept up in the wave of Hollywood lights and glimmer. In a similar way the play’s main character, Walter Younger is having delusions of grandeur, although his ambitions while well intentioned are far more destructive to society and as a whole and is something that in general, his family doesn’t approve of. In other words, both scenarios represent people trying to get ahead, trying to take advantage of the situation but from completely different perspectives. One group is hindered by their ethnicity and social status. The other is only limited by status and at that time in America that meant all the difference.
In both cases, “A Raisin In The Sun,” and in LA Noire, there is the attempt to achieve the American dream. But despite the ideal white picket fence with a garage and two perfect kids, I would argue that the American dream is just that, a dream. One that we are free to actualize at any point in our God given lives.
When weighed against the age of time, space and the universe itself, our life spans here are but a gust of galactic wind caressing the cheek of a nearby moon. For me as an American, I appreciate and value the fact that I can interpret the American dream as such, one that allows me to become whatever it is I choose given a solid effort and time. It doesn't always work out (note that I didn't say guarantee) but here you can at least try. I cannot think of any other place where you are that free to do so. In both “A Raisin in the Sun” and In LA Noire--just like in real life--all the characters have their own stances on things and their own motivations. This is played out rather well in both cases, but I found it rather interesting that a play and a video game can tell such similar stories.
Going forward I think it would be interesting to see more historically and socially relevant material being brought into the gaming space. A mixture of authenticity and creative license as in the case of El Shaddai would be good for not only introducing a completely new and interesting genre to gaming, but also educating gamers as they play. The challenge of balancing a game and the actual knowledge would be a difficult task indeed but I have no doubt that someday, someone can make it happen.
Who knows, maybe I’ll get to write the story.
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