We have been watching Shameless, and the idea that being treated like shit by the residents of the urban areas that us top-knotted hipsters like to explore is by now a fairly well-understood trope. Craving authentic experiences suburbanites troll through the “shittiest bars on the South Side,” and we supposedly find them while insisting on creature comforts and treating the current inhabitants like inmates in a zoo.
The Detail offers a gamic (but mostly narrative) version of that experience, as the detectives – true to the genre from its inception – serve as our virtual guides. The landscape is hyperreal in its colors and depictions, the characters recognizable as stock at best, and we can follow one of three different experiences. They all lead to the same path.
The effectiveness of this guided tour via masquerade, however, is muted by the limitations of ourselves. The game limits us as well, offering a small number of possible responses, the consequences of which are not all that different. Clearly, the amount of immersion in this explorative experience is aided by the power of writing and acting in crime dramas like my clear favorite The Wire (and I also remember Homicide from back in the day), but in either case the amount of exploration possible is limited.
This exploration is one of a large set – colonial explorations discover savage natives, and wilderness explorations discover savage landscapes, and in essence crime fiction explorations do both. In a series like Shameless the goal is humanization, to make these Others not look like others, while in TD the accomplished effect is to make characters shallower (one arrestee has law books in his apartment, a detail that might be used to complicate his character, but the dialogue triggered by those law books simply notes what a pain in the ass he will be as a criminal who can figure out the legal system). These folks are different, as the game makes clear and that difference (and the chance to explore it risk-free) are hopefully worth the price of admission.
Does this sort of journey make texts like TD and Shameless yet another discovery voyage, a heroic journey to an altered, non-mundane land where us explorers can become heroes in our own minds (I apologize, Charles Dickens)? My hope, I think, is that instead we become more empathetic to those natives of these urban exploration zones, that the serialized nature of these texts enable us to connect to these characters by finding ourselves in similar situations.
The dumpy nature of the lead investigator helps as well, especially in contrast to hyper-masculinized comic book heroes. I was confused by his style of moving, as it seemed to be limited technically, but even so his slumped shoulders and way of moving his legs as if every step hurts lent to his humanity. As a tour guide he might rescue from a burning building, but I feel certain he’s seen some stuff.