Posted on May 24, 2011, Ross Lincoln Remembering Police Quest 4: LA Noire’s Angry, Racist Uncle
LA Noire has us thinking quite a lot about the sordid history of LA’s police force. While individual officers often made a significant difference, the Los Angeles Police Department as a whole has a long, well documented history of rather unsavory behavior. Prior to the 1950s, (as documented in the excellent nonfiction book LA Noir), the force actually had deals with local Gangsters like Mickey Cohen giving tacit approval to drug operations – so long as they operated under certain limited conditions. (This relationship is actually a plot thread in LA Noire.)
After ‘incorruptible’ Chief William Parker took over the force in 1950, the LAPD became much more professional and rooted out an enormous amount of corruption during the subsequent decade. But that correction included the tragic adoption of a policy of neglectful hostility toward the city’s growing minority population, and a general disregard for civil liberties considered extreme even in the era of the PATRIOT act. These policies included the widespread application of excessive force and racial profiling which contributed to a bleak, violent atmosphere in many of LA’s poorer neighborhoods. (This climate helped spark riots in the 1960s). By the 1970s and 80s the gang problem began to resemble outright war.
Which brings us to LA Noire. LA Noire works in part because it is informed by a healthy knowledge of that dubious history. By refusing to whitewash the state of things, it manages to create a compelling character in Cole Phelps, an up-and-comer who rejects the corruption around him and seeks to serve and protect honestly. But imagine if instead it were developed by, say, Clemence B. Horrall? Horrall was LAPD Chief during the 1940s – his tenure oversaw numerous black eyes on LA’s face and ended when he was forced to resign after numerous instances of corruption were uncovered, including that he perjured himself.
Wonder no more. We’ve dug deep into the mists of time and have discovered what LA Noire might have been had Team Bondi decided to propagandize rather than create a compelling story: Police Quest: Open Season. See, we know how things in LA eventually turned out: Excessive force was widely known as LAPD’s favored tactic, but it had never been documented until a bystander filmed several officers beating suspect Rodney King to a pulp. Their acquittal, despite evidence, led to a massive riot in April, 1992 that caused a billion dollars in damage and ruined the reputation of the police force.
LAPD Chief Darryl Gates, in office since 1978, was forced to resign in disgrace soon after the riot. A report commissioned to investigate that riot found Gates’ management of the LAPD during his tenure was partly responsible for the mess the city was in. Most people would quietly retire and hope the stain to their reputation would fade over time. But Not Gates. For his first big job after leaving the force, he teamed up with Sierre Online for the 4th installment in their Police Quest series of adventure games, Police Quest: Open Season. Open Season differed from previous Police Quest games in that it actually took place in Los Angeles, and was strongly branded with Darryl Gates’ name.
It’s going to look terrible by today’s standards, but it is a hilarious time capsule that captures not only Gates’ unrepentant view of how LAPD should have operated, but the casual racism he was widely derided for. Here’s a clip from Police Quest: Open Season’s actual gameplay, featuring some incredible voice work. I’m not sure what’s worse, the near minstrel-ism of the ‘home-boy’ informant, or the sickeningly stereotyped Jewish? Hispanic? councilman whose belligerence interferes with the righteous work of game protagonist Det. John Carey. What I am sure of is that I can’t believe Sierre Online let Gates vent out his grudges like this. Therapy would have been cheaper.
H/T Earnest Pettie.