When you introduce a video game to an older relative who doesn't play them — a parent or a grandparent — and they realise they've underestimated how detailed, how immersive these things really are, the conversations you have after that really are special. If this hasn't happened for you, ask anyone for whom it has.
Or better yet, just go read Christian Donlan's charming story of exploring Los Angeles with his father in L.A. Noire. The elder Donlan grew up in Los Angeles in the 1940s, and has a vivid recollection of the city in that time — where long gone landmarks were located, how wide the streets were, what sorts of things you'd see in a diner window.
L.A. Noire, a jewel box of a period piece, did profoundly well against his father's memory, whose photographic quality probably comes from his father, a Los Angeles police sergeant. Donlan's granddad had brushes with tabloid fame and deviations into petty graft, adultery and all the other pursuits that make for a good film noir cop. A colourful recounting of his career, including the only time he used his gun, opens the piece.
It's in the sightseeing tour of downtown Los Angeles where the real affirmation comes. Even minor landmarks seemingly there just to hold a city block together present some antecedent for Donlan's father to remark on and marvel at. There are some details gotten wrong — an engine note in one car is off; too many of them have whitewall tires. But the fact his father praised the gloomy quality of lighting on the streets, at night, in the game is rather profound. It reflects a great credit on anyone who worked on this game — for all of its troubled history — for it to get this stamp of authenticity, even 18 months out.
Donlan later asked his dad for a few thoughts on what he had seen. His reply concludes the essay, and it is well worth reading through to the end. But here's a highlight. "This seemed a refreshingly thoughtful — almost intellectual — scenario that I would not have expected in something called a game."
Night and the City [Eurogamer]