I never saw a dame yet that didn’t understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45.

So I got a bit worked up about an Opinion article on Gamasutra by Steve Gaynor. It was discussing the concept of the noir video game (one following in the footsteps of Film Noir). Figured my response was worth posting here:

While I would love to see a truly noir approach to games and I appreciate the plea Gaynor is making, this summary of the genre does not do it justice. Noir was not created asfalconm.JPG a means to an end. There was no group of directors that didn’t know how to make a film with a small budget except “by focusing on flawed, unpredictable characters living out street-level conflicts between individuals in the mundane, modern-day urban world.”

Low budgets may have helped kickstart noir, I’m sure they did. It can’t be denied that big budget projects tend to lack experimentation because the backers don’t want to take any risks with their bank books. Still, noir is more related to artistic innovation than business strategy.

Film Noir was a movement which sprouted from an increasingly dark outlook in American filmmakers, reflecting an increasingly dark outlook in American culture (due to the Depression, the rise of organized crime and eventually the WW2 environment). It was influenced by German expressionism of the 20’s, but came from American filmmakers; not an “influx of expatriate German [Expressionists].”

Being noir has nothing to do with low budgets or pragmatism and it definitely is not “vérité” (try a couple decades later). Noir is about abstraction, the blending of reality and fantasy, truth and lies, good and evil, light and shadow. Open up any book on it and you’ll find the phrase “moral ambiguity.” Noir is about beauty contrasted against ugly minds in an ugly world. It’s always cynical and sometimes nihilistic.

The Third Man 1

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Death’s at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals.

Games can be noir, but not until we start taking them seriously and try expressing some ideas. It can be done. It should be.

I do agree about game budgets, but for different reasons. All of the experimentation will take place with small budgets because that’s where you can afford to take risks and because the standard for games as of today is pathetically childish, risky experimentation is a must.

The short, tightly crafted game is also a format that will need to be explored for further innovations and better structured games, but it will require a completely different perspective than the current one. The dominant theory on game design is Raph Koster’s oversimplified view that a game must be a string of shiny lessons for the player to bat around like a kitten with yarn. Keep them untangling your ludemes as long as possible because that’s all a game is, yarn to a kitten.

There’s a whole universe to explore and we’ve just seen the beginning. Start simple with what we know; a coming of age story told in 3 acts. That’s simple enough that most designers use do it intuitively, but this is the real trick: make sure that when you build it, you don’t just take the easiest path or the traditional one, but the one that grows organically from the story, expressing it and exploring its many facets.

The Third Man - PosterVictims? Don’t be melodramatic. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.

In film, it’s the cinematographer and editor that must learn to construct images to convey ideas, a job that does not come naturally to most people. The challenge to the game designer is a hundred times more complex. It’ll be hard and confusing, but worth it.

-Christopher J. Rock

About the author:
Christopher J. Rock (http://)
Film student at California State, Long Beach. I want to make the gaming world a better place.