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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

Digital Games: The New Frontier of Postmodern Detective Fiction

Clara Fernandez-Vara (New York University)

Panel: Games
Friday, August 7 • 09:00 - 10:30 (Sydneshaugen skole: Auditorium A

The tropes of the detective genre have been challenged, subverted, re-appropriated by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Thomas Pynchon, or Paul Auster, establishing what could be considered a new strain of postmodern detective fiction. In these stories, solving the case is not central to the story, and what the detective searches transforms or is derailed by becoming a discovery of something completely different. In some cases, the detective, along with the reader, explores an encyclopedic space in such a way that these stories have already been connected to hypertextual literature (Rosello 1994). 

This paper will explore how digital games open up new territory in the genre of postmodern of detective stories. Digital games can have the player explore aspects of the narrative that may not be directly relevant to the mystery to be solved, or by creating a mystery that may be unstable and dependent on the choices of the player. In my presentation at ELO 2014, I discussed how video games have gone from trying to implement classical detective story models (Todorov 1977), encouraging the player to interpret the space and events to solve the case, to removing the challenge of all exegetic performance and letting the player carry out more trite, video game-like activities.

In further examination, I realized that the “vanishing exegesis” that I discussed then relates to postmodern literary detective fiction; both games and novels share a strong influence of cinematic noir and mystery films. While games like L.A. Noire (2011) attempt to put the player in the shoes of a traditional sleuth, some games experiment with the gap between the identity of the detective, narrative exploration, and how player’s choices affect the events of the story. The paper will focus on two games, Blade Runner (1995) and Deadly Premonition (2010).

Blade Runner takes place in the same time period as Ridley Scott’s film (1982), and provides the player with tools to perform exegetic work to solve the mystery. On the other hand, discovering who is an android and who is a human, which is part of solving the mystery, is determined randomly at the beginning of each game. Depending on the player’s attitude towards the non-player characters and their interpretation of whether the protagonist is an android or not, the game will have different resolutions.

In contrast, Deadly Premonition is a detective game with supernatural undertones, which also includes traditional detective work to solve a murder case. Heavily influenced by the show Twin Peaks, the game also lets the player digress and abandon detective work to explore the town where the play is set, from hanging out with the inhabitants to going fishing. The player character seems to address the player by the name of “Zack”, establishing the detective as a schizophrenic personality, whose perception of reality is unreliable. In both examples, the mystery, its resolution, and the identity of the detective are questioned and subverted as the player works on unraveling the mystery, bringing a rich interactive parallel with postmodern literary fiction. 


Knight, Stephen Thomas. 2010. Crime Fiction since 1800: Detection, Death, Diversity. Houndmills, Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Print.

Nickerson, Catherine Ross, ed. 2010. The Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press. Print.

Rosello, Mireille. 1994. “The Screener’s Maps: Michel de Certeau’s ‘Wandersmänner’ and Paul Auster’s Hypertextual Detective.” Hyper/Text/Theory, edited by George P. Landow, 121-158. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Print.

Priestman, Martin, ed. 2003. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Print.

Suits, Bernard. 1985. “The Detective Story: A Case Study of Games in Literature.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 12.2: 200–219. Print.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1977. “The Typology of Detective Fiction”. The Poetics of Prose, 42–52. Print.

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