Tag Archives: The Wire

The Wire: The Video Game

17 Nov


In his essay “All in the Game,” Mittell is quick to admit that the type of interactivity afforded by videogames (in the sense of an input-output feedback loop) is incompatible with the static spectatorship inherent to the televisual form of The Wire. Other problematic tensions aside, he instead deploys this surprising metaphor by turning to “the ludic elements within the show’s diegesis” (3), and ultimately uses this cross-media parallel to illustrate how the show simulates and aesthetcizes the kind of rule systems (i.e. institutional and personal codes) and “systems of interrelated actions” embedded in digital games. In both forms, “procedures are the essential building blocks of narrative, character, and rhetoric, the actions that are undertaken within the parameters of the simulation, the rules of the game” (9).

Indeed, “games” and “codes” assume various metaphorical functions in the televisual narrative of The Wire, and Mittell’s metaphor is useful in its ability to unravel the show’s formal features in a seemingly incompatible framework; but what would a videogame adaptation of The Wire actually look like? Or rather, how would it play? What game genre would such play fall under? How would a game designer translate the show’s narrative complexity, with its novelistic ambitions, thematic scope, and implicit procedural rhetoric, into an interactive ludic system that accounts for player intervention and agency in its procedural articulation of narrative?

There are a lot of hypothetical design decisions to be made here. Perhaps one way to re-imagine The Wire as a videogame is to (humorously) distill all of its narrative complexity into the limited form of a 16-bit role-playing game, as CollegeHumor did a few months ago in an animated viral video. The primitive RPG imagined in this video has the player assume the role of a character, whereas Mittell draws comparisons to the simulatory logics and bird’s-eye perspective of “god games” like SimCity and The Sims, and comically exaggerates the frustration associated with rule systems overriding the individual — indeed, it’s hard to imagine a Wire videogame that’s “fun” (whatever that means), unless it thematically deviates from the tragedy of its source material and aims for loftier ambitions by allowing for different outcomes based on player choices, or the possibility of a character winning “the game.”

The “Fuck” Scene

11 Nov

For last Thursday’s in-class “hypothetical pedagogy” exercise, our group used the infamous “Fuck” scene from the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire as a springboard for further discussion about how The Wire deviates from or challenges the conventional narrative strategies employed by most procedural crime dramas, in a lesson tailored to a high school demographic (with access to hypothetical permission slips and cool parents, of course). In case this doesn’t ring a bell, for whatever reason, or if you’re an outsider stumbling upon this blog, it’s the scene where McNulty and Bunk are investigating the scene of a murder and piecing together the clues, all while saying or muttering “fuck,” or variations of “fuck.”

The scene is both hilarious and brilliantly self-reflexive in its eschewing of redundant dialogue as an expository device, a narrative strategy prevalent in many crime scene investigations conducted in Law and Order, in favor of essentially-nonverbal, visual exposition that ultimately provides the same amount of narrative information. Implicit in a scene that is so minimal and economical in its exposition is a level of trust that a writer has with the viewer (whose spellbound spectatorship is figured by the landlord in this scene), which is often a safe assumption to make with HBO’s audience — in other words, if you’re not closely following the series of connections being made by McNulty and Bunk, then the final discovery of the bullet jacket in the grass might not be such a satisfying revelation. Indeed, information is rarely ever spoon-fed through cheap expository devices in a narratively complex show like The Wire, although the pilot does at one point break this principle by turning to a flashback to clarify a connection between the Gant murder and an earlier courtroom testimony. In the commentary track for the pilot, David Simon expresses how he was very much against relying on this time-manipulation device because it disrupted the organic, linear momentum of the narrative, and perhaps momentarily undermined its style of realism; although, as someone who often struggles to follow or keep up with the logical flow, jargon, and pace of the series, I definitely appreciated it and thought it effectively visualized an internal moment of epiphany.