A Policeman On What Police Games Get Wrong

If you played Ryse: Son of Rome you may remember it for the serviceably clangy combat. My friend “Jack”, a police officer from northern England of several years standing, recalls the game for other reasons. “There are those bits where you join a shield wall – you’re in a tortoise formation. There are public order situations that are like that. Most officers in Yorkshire get riot training, because of the riots in Bradford. And that sense in Ryse of having all your colleagues alongside, you’re all behind your shields, getting pelted with stuff, there are flames going off everywhere and you’ve got your enemies in front of you… That’s real! That happens.”

City riots are, he adds, scenarios that could be “great” in a third-person action game – our wide-ranging conversation is rife with jarring transitions of this sort, where talk of broken bones and drug dealing flips over abruptly into talk of reward mechanics and hardware specs. “Certainly with the advances in technology, the latest consoles and PCs could cope very easily with the amount of animation required, the particle stuff like smoke, all the crap that comes up off the floor, people getting hurt all around you. It’s like that and it’s scary.”

I’m speaking to Jack over the phone on a sweltering afternoon in London – city of 50,000 police officers, where you seldom go two minutes without hearing the wail of a siren. We’re discussing what designers of police-themed games could do better, inspired by the release of Visceral’s controversial and theoretically “non-military” shooter, Battlefield: Hardline. I wrote the game up for Official Xbox Magazine in March and I’m not sure I really did it justice. Lulled by the innocuous Netflix copshow stylings, my review skimmed the politics of a game that depicts crime-fighting as a literal war between evenly matched armies, in which players are at liberty to gun down suspects on sight. This, in an age of skyrocketing SWAT team deployments and midnight raids, when US enforcers are rolling up to protest marches in armoured personnel carriers, wielding automatic weapons.

Drawing comparisons between Jack’s work and US policing is, of course, a little contentious. Ordinary British police officers don’t carry guns, for starters, and supposedly “police by consent”, which obliges them to seek “the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws” rather than resorting to physical coercion. But there’s comparable tension between UK coppers and those they serve – according to an Independent report, some 3,000 currently active officers were being investigated for assault as of May this year, and London’s Metropolitan Police continues to be plagued by claims of institutional racism.

The problem, Jack suggests, is partly that police are too insular – given to a “siege” mentality when subjected to what they consider to be hopelessly naive public scrutiny. “Everyone’s desperate to tell you what policing’s all about, but police themselves know that it’s actually far seedier,” he says. “We see the very worst things in life, we see all the most horrific, godawful things that happen to people. We see everybody’s worst day of their life on every day of our week. So what happens is this culture develops among police of: ‘we know what it’s really like – the public don’t’. And I think it’s so important to get over that.”

In the course of an hour’s chat, we discuss how games might bridge the divide, exploring not just the procedures but the strains, compromises and occasional surreality of policework. Jack invokes the scriptwriter’s cliche that crime-fighting is itself a game, a gigantic, shadowy bout of cat-and-mouse – it transpires that this contains more than a grain of truth. “The very top officers – every morning they get round a table, and they have a projector on the wall, and they put dots on the map of the areas they have to cover,” he explains. “And they say: ‘these are the types of crime that have happened in these locations’. And they look at where there are most dots and say ‘right, we’ll put all of our resources there today’. That’s how they do it. It’s reactive. Genuinely, it’s like a game to them.

“Where can we allocate resources to reasonably try to prevent crime? Simulation-wise, something like that would be easy [to represent]. You could have offenders with different MOs, crime types, you could set up loads of people who are low-level drug dealers or burglars, who are going around doing specific kinds of theft. You could have an overview of everything without getting into specifics. That’s real-life policing. You wouldn’t need to go that far-fetched to make it into something playable.”

It can feel like a game at ground level, too. At times, even, a farce. “I caught a burglar on a golf course, would you believe,” Jack recalls. “I ended up chasing him and I caught him on the ninth hole.” Two golfers – “they must have been bankers, because it was Monday afternoon and they were out putting” – happened to witness the arrest, and applauded as he dragged the man back to his car. “And you know, [the burglar] said: ‘Ah well, I lost this time. Another time I’d have beaten you.’ And, seven years in, I said: ‘Yeah, you probably would have done, but I got the drop on you this time, didn’t I?’

“All of these lads, you get to know them. The criminals become known to you. And they’re certainly not your friends, but there’s a very clear understanding that this is the game. You’re a robber, I’m a cop, there is a big game. And sometimes it’s just like on the playground. It really is. Honestly, sometimes it is just running and tackling people, other times you have to be a bit cleverer. But that’s difficult to depict in games. How do you do it without it becoming just a hackneyed Assassin’s Creed chase sequence or capture-the-flag? It’s not simple.”

Jack’s outlook is coloured by the games he has played – from a teenage “obsession” with the top-down SWAT series through Rainbow Six’s hostage rescues to the environmental riddles of Assassin’s Creed and Arkham Asylum. He’s also a fan of LucasArts. “I think about a year ago, I came out of a house after dealing with a particularly troublesome criminal, who we knew had done something, realistically, but we couldn’t pin it on him. And I ended up having a sort of verbal joust with him – did you ever play Monkey Island? You know where you have to use those phrases, you have to match the riposte to an insult. It sort of became a little like that.

“So I was thinking, if I was going to make a cop game… [Tone] is a massive thing. You can be heavy-handed, you can be jocular, you can be neutral. How you are with them affects the overall result. But could you transfer that into a game, or would it end up being a sort of glorified Monkey Island rip-off? ‘I am rubber and you are glue’, and all that sort of business.”

Jack is particularly enthused about L.A. Noire, Team Bondi’s 1940s-set whodunnit, with its murder scenes that are steeped in case history and its visionary if goofy handling of body language during interrogations. “I know for a fact that a lot of my colleagues at work loved that game as well, because it was all the best bits of what we actually do, without all the boring paperwork.” The game’s weakness, he suggests, is a familiar one where games in general are concerned: there’s only ever one way of solving a particular problem, so cracking a riddle is often a question of second-guessing the script. “There was one killer, one arsonist or whatever, and if you didn’t get the right answer, if you got the wrong bad guy, you got a low rating no matter how well you’d thought it through, no matter the order in which you did things.”

“The cynicism that I’ve developed kind of tainted what I did in the game, so I was double-checking, triple-checking, or cross-verifying things that you’d perhaps take for granted. So maybe an AI-driven game, where there’s no set answer… It would score you on how thorough you were, or on how instinctive you were, or how you followed one lead all the way and then went back to the other one, or whether you dealt with the time-dependent things first. That’d be really fascinating – that would really test your might.”

We speak at length about the valorised concept of moral choice in games – among other things, Jack admits to “agonising” over the decision you make at the end of Far Cry 3. Real-life ethical dilemmas in policing are, as you’d expect, rather trickier and much less glamorous. “My mum always fears for my soul,” says Jack. “She’s a religious woman and she thinks that my soul is in jeopardy, because I’m repeatedly presented with – not even ‘moral dilemmas’, because that sort of gives you the idea of a good and a bad choice, doesn’t it? Just infinite shades of grey.

You stop a car full of lads, they all run off and there’s ten grand in the boot. Nobody would ever know that you’d taken it except those lads, and they’re not exactly going to tell the police about it. So what do you do with the cash? Noire didn’t deal with [those kinds of] choices, really. It didn’t deal with things like ‘shall we plant evidence on someone to get him in because we know he’s done it’. And there is a lot of that in the real world and certainly in serious policing, there’s so much out there – you are wading through a soup of immorality. Bradford is a den of iniquity, for example.”

Police games commonly cast the player as a rookie officer, the idea being to suspend disbelief by having you learn about the job alongside your character. But if police games are to be a means of breaking down assumptions about the profession, it may be more productive to cast the player as a veteran – to demonstrate how police officers can become dangerously desensitised after years of service. “If you’re called a twat enough you end up becoming a twat, don’t you?” Jack comments. “If you’re going to call me a twat anyway I might as well be one – what’s the point in being good, if you’re still calling me a twat? There’s that kind of resignation.”

He tells me a harrowing story about a colleague who was called to investigate a break-in at a nursing home. The officer arrived to find a young man holding a screwdriver to the throat of a 90-year-old woman, demanding that she hand over the money under her bed. “This burglar was extremely well-known, had a list of previous convictions as long as your arm, but had never really been sent away because he’d always managed to wriggle out of it. And what ended up happening was a bit of summary justice. As far as I’m aware – this must have happened about a few years ago – that burglar still isn’t eating solids. He’s eating through a tube.

“Now of course the copper’s report came out and said ‘well, this guy was holding a screwdriver to the lady’s throat – I entered the room and started speaking to him, he threw her down and attacked me, and I eventually managed to best him but I had to punch him several times with a bookend’, I think it was. He ended up doing him several times around the head, punched him in the throat a few times, and his larynx collapsed – he had to have his jaw wired. But what we realistically knew was that this copper had gone in there and snapped, something in him had just snapped. He’d seen this guy holding a screwdriver to the throat of a frail old lady, and thought ‘do you know what – that’s wrong’.”

One thing Hardline tried to do was reveal how law-abiding people can be driven to commit crimes. It went about this in a fairly tawdry, unimaginative way – the twist in question sees an officer “going rogue” after being set up by corrupt members of his department, a device that’s as old as Hollywood – but the attempt itself was worthwhile, and worth revisiting. After all, nobody is born a criminal. “Everybody’s somebody’s son – that’s something a lot of police officers understand very well,” Jack notes. “This might be a thieving, stabbing, drug-using scumbag, but he’s still somebody’s son, somewhere. He’s still that little baby with no preconceived notions, and is it a bit of a tragedy? It’s a massive tragedy. It’s awful that it’s come to this.

“I think it would be good to show the slip in a game, when people go from non-criminality to criminality. It’s something The Wire was excellent at, certainly that season to do with the kids at school who ended up selling dope – they were actually quite sweet kids, weren’t they. It happens anyway, it’s not going to change the world, but there’s something to be said for showing it, and asking: can we avoid it in some way?”

As our chat winds down I’m left with a deflating sense of just how far there is to go, for all the work that has already been done. Designers have long been alive to the intricacies of CSI and interrogations, the thrill of the chase, the zip and whine of cop jargon, the spectacle of breach-and-clear. There are innumerable police-themed adventure games, joined nowadays by forensically-minded “walking simulators” such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Even open worlders like The Witcher 3 are getting in on the action, however superficially. But there’s a chronic scarcity of games that dig into the psychology of the profession – the brutalisation of both officers and suspects; how it feels to work within a community of known offenders over a period of years; the burdens of circumstance that move people to commit crimes and, most pressingly of all, the possibility of rehabilitation.

“Police work is all about dealing with people,” Jack tells me. “It’s the person you work with and what they bring to the situation. It’s all about the “customers”, as we call them, but also the law-abiding people, getting the best information out of them.” We need more games that treat it as such, rather than as grounds for yet another firefight.


Top comments

  1. Barberetti says:

    I bet he's a PC gamer.
  1. jonahcutter says:

    Here’s a recent, fascinating interview with a Baltimore cop about what is going on in U.S. police departments. He’s very honest about the racism, abuse of power, lies/secrecy, and flat out adrenaline rush attraction of the job:

    Abridged, 30-min version:

    link to youtube.com

    Full, 2-1/2 hour version:

    • TWChristine says:

      I’m a former LEO, and one of the big issues I think the US PDs have (and this guy kind of touched on it a bit, indirectly) is they prefer to hire people straight out of the military. On the one hand it makes perfect sense, you have someone who is already trained to deal with intense, violent situations, is used to taking/giving orders and a command structure, weapon handling and you pretty much feel that they don’t need immediate supervision. The downside is that they’re trained to see intense, violent situations around every corner (and yea, every time you walk up to a car for a traffic stop, you have no idea what that person might do/have on them) and the way they’re trained to deal with intense situations is to go pull out their gun and start shooting. Obviously, once you get into the academy you’re trained to go about things differently, but it’s not always easy to completely retrain a mindset someone has had for 4+ years in a matter of months.

      Kind of like he said, he came from a special ops background, and as a LEO was telling the guy to drop the knife, but in his head was hoping he wouldn’t so he could have the adrenaline rush of even more danger/shooting the guy. Personally, having never had that background (I was one of only a small handful of people that weren’t prior military), I know when I was yelling at someone to drop their knife I was thinking “Holy shit, what’s wrong with!? Don’t you see we’re pointing a gun at you!?”

      I think it also brings a very Us VS Them (Goodguys VS Enemy) mindset to the job, which obviously shows up when you’re dealing with gang members, but also can be hard to turn off when dealing with the general public..you immediately shift to the aggressive attitude as soon as there’s even a hint of push back (ie, even just asking a question). In my experience, the older an officer was, the easier he got a long with the public. They were still firm, but they were much more at ease with banter, and answering questions. And really it’s kind of obvious. It’s the young ones (like I was at the time) that want to pull over everybody, and do all the fun stuff like pursuits and what not. I remember one time, I was riding support with another officer, and we heard a call go out (from a guy that was kind of a hothead) that he was in a fight/foot pursuit with someone. All of the other patrols started radioing that they were en route to back him up, but my guy just rolled his eyes and said he wasn’t getting involved. That really floored me because my first thought was, it’s an officer calling for support we should get up there! But his reasoning was (based on us monitoring what had been going on) that he had needlessly escalated the situation, there was already a lot of people responding, and we would just add more fuel to the fire. Looking back, I think he was absolutely right.

      Anyway, I’ve been rambling quite a bit, so to finish off I’ll touch on the actual subject of the article.. I don’t see why this is a surprise. Or should I say, I, with my experience, don’t see why this is a surprise, because it’s the same stuff that crime dramas do wrong. But at the same time, apparently there’s a large portion of the population that think even the “accurate” ones are dead on. I can’t recall how many times my parents would go on about how Law and Order was SO accurate, and I’d watch five minutes and say “Uhh..no..that’s..not accurate at all..” And don’t even get me started on how many people I’ve run into that say they want to get into forensics “Like on NCIS!” It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them those shows are not even remotely accurate to what the job is actually like, they still have that dream bubble.

      • jonahcutter says:

        I don’t mind hearing you ramble at all. To even begin to hope policing problems it’s going to take cops willing to be honest like yourself, or the guy in the interview, about what is actually happening. Keep publicly rambling about it, because it’s all too rare.

        As far as being realistic in relation to creating a game, yeah, the NCIS’s and Law and Order’s aren’t a good reference. But interviews like this and perhaps a show like The Wire (coincidentally taking place in Baltimore, the same city as where this officer worked) are.

        I really liked L.A. Noire. As imperfect as it was, I thought it did a fairly good job of portraying a police department where officers face constant pressures of corruption, secrecy and group “loyalties”. Often succumbing, sometimes not. It probably could of been far better at portraying the likely racism, especially from 60+ years ago.

        I’d love to play more games in the L.A. Noire vein. Or a policing game based around The Wire. An open-world game where you play from a rookie cop up through to higher ranks is absolutely perfect for what can games do, arguably better than films or even episodic television. Experiencing everything from walking a beat, to the almost classic military phalanx formations of riot tactics as the article discussed, to actual detective work. And as the Witcher 3 has established, it’s quite possible to create a large environment filled with complicated, adult storylines about people driven by their own goals and biases, that aren’t simplistic morality plays or not-so-subtle ideological agendas.

        Such a game would be as topical and generally relevant to many peoples’ lives as perhaps any ever has been. We are all affected to some degree by how our law enforcement behaves. And with the militarization of police forces and the outright, naked violence we’re seeing in the U.S., it’s a situation that is trending towards being far more important.

      • Tacroy says:

        one of my favorites was on a csi spin off where a lab tech was chastised for not having his gun.

        A lab tech.

      • w0bbl3r says:

        I think the big difference is that soldiers are trained, very very strongly and roughly, to the point to make it instinct, to see their adversary as an enemy, rather than a criminal.
        Don’t get me wrong, the criminals here in the UK need some tougher policing, since the cops do their amazing work only for the justice system to then throw it all away. Such as the guy who assaulted me with a brick, scarring me for life, for zero reason other than his girlfriend asked me to call the cops when he was kicking and headbutting her in the street, was arrested and got….. a community order, basically some probation for a year, after the weeks and weeks of fantastic work the police put in and weeks and weeks of doctors visits by me because of the huge scar I now have on my face.
        But when the police see the criminal, and their in-grained, trained and now instinctive feeling is of this person being an enemy combatant, then sometimes things can go a bit far. And it really is nobody’s fault, it’s just how soldiers are trained, and as stated, it makes perfect sense for the police to recruit people with such experience already on-hand.
        Somewhere in-between the heavy-handed tactics of the US police and the pussy-footing of the UK police is what we need.
        Stop handling criminals like enemy soldiers in the US, but stop treating them like easily damaged babies here in the UK, especially when it comes to the criminal justice system here. Police here in the UK tend to end up losing and battering criminals when they get sick of arresting them for despicable crimes, only to see them laughing (literally laughing in most cases, like the guy who hit me with the brick, LITERALLY laughing) their way out of court.
        It’s time the justice system started to back up the cops rather than the vile criminals they are arresting.
        Oh, and stop closing all the police stations as well, would be nice. Both of my local stations have closed now in the last 2 years, with the 3rd closing next month. That will mean the closest police response for people in my small town will be around 10 miles away or more. Nice if you’re getting mugged I guess.

        • Crimsoneer says:

          If i can just chime in to your point, one of the main reasons the justice system is so lax is accountability. When police officers make a decision, they have to think very carefully of the ramifications of that decision, because it can – and will – bite them in the ass. The courts system has no accountability at all. No magistrate has ever been criticised for bailing somebody that re-offends, or giving an unduly lenient sentence. They don’t hold that risk, and that makes them not particularly bothered.

      • james___uk says:

        Thanks for the perspective, it’s always more interesting to hear the inside story and I gotta say my dad barely spoke of anything he saw in the police, half of what I heard I overheard

      • Philopoemen says:

        I’m a current LEO, in detective/investigative role role now, but had stints in both SWAT-equiv and Public Order units, as well as the obligatory general duties and traffic (ugh) experience. I’ve had excessive force complaints, corruption allegations and the usual mess. I’m not US, but we have plenty of former military in our ranks, and we carry firearms at all time on duty.

        I don’t play policing games, even though SWAT3 what was what led me to joining the police. I find games like Payday to be abhorrent, even though I intellectually know it’s only entertainment. I’ve been shot at, stabbed, had friends hospitalised, and visits to physios and doctors simply as a result of going to work. Shooting at coppers on screen makes me feel ill.

        But more than that, police games glorify the extreme. No one wants to play “Go to domestic, talk to everyone, maybe arrest this guy, go back to lockup, process guy, start doing court brief.” No one wants to play “Go tell the family Daddy was in a car accident, and won’t be coming home.” People might want to play “Take down the guy that just ate a half weight of meth”, because watching someone trying to eat their own face is both hilarious, and can be quite tricky to contain. Would have to be a fighting game, and the moves would be spectacular.

        But at the end of the day, games are entertainment, and fantasy. I spent years doing tasking and inquiry work before making detective, in La Noire it takes like two hours. We trained 30-40 hours a week whilst in SWAT role, in SWAT4 you do more jobs (and more exciting jobs!) than you in your whole career in less time than that.

        I view it the same as a bus driver would view OMSI2 – its work, why would i want to do work for fun?

        • Alipaeillee says:

          No one wants to play “Go to domestic, talk to everyone, maybe arrest this guy, go back to lockup, process guy, start doing court brief.” No one wants to play “Go tell the family Daddy was in a car accident, and won’t be coming home.”

          Games like these can be extremely successful and popular. They just, not surprisingly, take a fuckload more work to design properly than a shooter game where most of the elements have been refined.

      • M3ATSHI3LD says:

        I think that you are failing to give a balanced view on prior military who transition to LEOs. The military is trained to deal with much higher levels of aggression as a general rule, we are also trained in appropriate use of force.

        Military personnel have to fill the role of LEO in areas where the likelihood of actual violence in any situation is monumentally higher than on the streets of the US, but still have to react appropriately to the given situation, as the majority of the encounters with civilian populaces will not require reactionary violence.

        The military is not trained to deal with intense situations by pulling out their gun and shooting stuff. That is an extremely ignorant and insulting comment to make. If there is a threat of violence, prior military may act much more definitively than non-military LEOs, but definitive action in the face of legitimate danger is not actually something to chastise.

        I no longer have the actual statistics off-hand, but as part of my education in Criminal Justice I did research into the prevalence of bad shootings and excessive use of force. Military trained LEOs had a significantly lower occurrence of accidental discharges, bad shootings, and excessive force complaints that were both found to be substantive and invalid.

        Simply put, military trained LEOs by volume are far less of a problem than you have implied. Your personal experience may have clouded your opinion on the matter, but statistics don’t lie. I urge you to look up those statistics yourself, as I simply don’t have time to find the statistics to provide myself.

        The reality of the current issues with the police is actually the over-militarization of the police. This is compounded significantly by the lack of proper training and/or experience from non-military trained personnel who are tasked with using tactics and weaponry that force them into situations well above the aggression level they are prepared to deal with.

    • Bing_oh says:

      Either Baltimore PD is a hellhole or this guy is just trying to drum up some publicity for his book. After 16 years in LE, I can say that I’ve never experienced anything like what this guy is claiming was standard practice while he was an officer.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Everything this guy said in the video could be replicated in my city of Toledo, OH and I think Toledo is smaller than Baltimore.

      • TheRealHankHill says:

        Baltimore PD has been fucked for a long time.

  2. Wisq says:

    While my overall favourite police game might go to SWAT 4, I think True Crime: Streets of LA will always occupy a special place in my heart.

    There was always something really exciting about playing an urban open-world game but being the good guy (instead of a bad-to-terrible guy like GTA or Saints Row); about hearing a crime report and putting the siren up on the dash and zooming towards it (rather than because I hijacked a police car and was just screwing with everyone); of actually trying to talk people down and only drawing my gun if I needed to (rather than shooting first and asking questions never).

    There have been GTA-alikes since then that have you playing as a “good guy” (albeit with pretty questionable methods sometimes), but none has really had you playing as a cop — no hearing about active crimes on the radio, rushing towards them, trying to deal with them “by the book”.

    Really wish someone would try another game like that, but I don’t know that the concept would be popular enough these days.

    • iambecomex says:

      Of course it has a special place in your heart. How could you not think fondly of a Police game set in modern-day L.A. with branching plotlines… in which the correct path through the story suddenly goes all Big Trouble In Little China? Zombies, dragons & James Hong included.

    • JiminyJickers says:

      I wish I played that game. I am really starved for a proper police game where you play a run of the mill patrol cop or detective, not super shooty man.

    • shadybearfaced says:

      Man, I’m glad I’m not the only person who actually really, really liked True Crime. It’s such a shame that Streets of New York was absolute trash and was most likely the nail in the coffin for the whole series until Sleeping Dogs came out, which honestly isn’t even really that similar to True Crime.

      Oh, the nostalgia.

  3. orcist says:

    Part of the problem in America are vastly confused to exactly what their rights and how it related to police interaction lawful orders. It’s just like maybe 1 out of 20 Americans actually know who their elected representatives are, maybe just as many know that a cop could – if he or she chose to do so – could take you to the station for a busted head light to issue a citation there. They can also ask you to get out of your car just because. And this frightens most people because no one teaches people how to deal with police officers and at the same time police are sorely lacking in the professional conduct department and deescalation tactics.

  4. Barberetti says:

    I bet he’s a PC gamer.

  5. Arathain says:

    The thing that struck me first was the golf course story. In the US that person would likely have had a gun pulled on them, and shot if they didn’t stop fast enough for the officer’s comfort. Whereas this officer went to the trouble of bringing them down physically by himself and bringing them in.

    As a Brit living in the US, I understand the challenges facing cops are different here, but as dodgy as it can sometimes be I miss British policing.

    • BiggerCheese says:

      I don’t want to get into a comments section argument but this is just an absurd statement. You are not likely to have Police pull a gun on you and shoot for running, that is not a valid reason to use deadly force. They may taze you …

      There may be few examples of it happening but it’s not commonplace or tolerated, it’s considered murder.

      • TheRealHankHill says:

        There are plenty of examples just from this year of exactly that happening.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        The statement that’s absurd is yours, I’m afraid.
        If you pay attention, it’s a weekly occurrence.

        “Another kid got shot by the cops” is a phrase I’m getting so sick of hearing.

  6. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Love this. All creators of media of any kind should rely heavily on professional consultants during the writing and testing stages of development. I love cop shows, but entirely too often you see characters handwaving away rules and regulations that get in the way of the plot, or making absolutely terrible tactical decisions (on a weekly basis, no less) simply because they up the tension of the drama. The right professional consultant can help writers tweak these these scenes to accomplish their storytelling goals without requiring the characters to make jarringly unreasonable decisions.

    The discussion of the descent into criminality also brings to mind one of my big complaints with party-based RPGs, and that’s one of betrayal and shifting loyalties. Not that they haven’t been portrayed in games – from Yoshimo to Logain, the concept is definitely there – but that this opportunity for truly deep and emotionally compelling plotlines is so rarely capitalized upon. Most games, of course, portray the party as roughly uniform in their motivations, and never bother to touch upon the subject at all, but even those that do tend to regard a loyalty change as being the penultimate act in a character’s drama – one that is inevitably followed by retribution or redemption (and the latter case almost always involves self-sacrifice). I’d like to see more games that examine the fallout of such decisions, games that keep a treacherous or unreliable character alive and kicking, allowing for tense but ongoing relationships. TWD is the only recent game that I can recall that actually pushed to make deep tension and conflict between party members a compelling B-story, and I’d credit it for a good part of the game’s success.

  7. James says:

    Fascinating read.

    I’d like to see more crime games looking at bystanders, what causes crime to go unreported. Or looking at the relations between police and public more from the public side of things. As someone who rarely has interactions with police, most of the time they’re dressed in full riot gear beating up some thugs, which always flies in the face of the nice, calm coppers I occasionally saw outside my school, in spite of the fact that they were probably waiting to question some students about drug investigations (the common thinking being that there’s no need to go after the dealers in each year group when the same guy is probably supplying each of them, take him down and the kids go back to their lives). It’d be nice to see a Life Is Strange style of game based around someone’s perceptions of law and order growing up. I’d certainly buy it.

  8. Wulfram says:

    I found myself wondering how “Jack” would feel about Black Closet.

  9. harvb says:

    Love this article. As a serving British bobby it’s good to see another like-minded individual with similar experiences thinking along the same path.

    A lot of the day is the drudge, the absolute mind-numbing soul-destroying paperwork that takes up about 85-90% of an arrest for example. The missed birthdays and anniversaries, the spoiled dinners and domestics you yourself experience because you just aren’t there at home when you should be.

    But the trade off is great. I really really do actually enjoy my job, because every single day I do get to make a difference, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. The look of gratitude on someone’s face when you turn up at their door is only matched by the look of horror on a nominals face when you lock them up, so to speak. The camaraderie is also why I do it, the shield wall, the training, the deployments, the blue light runs, the grief and the tears and the laughs. The tears of a colleague, the banter in the station, the smiles and the shouts and the laughs and the angry rants.

    How the hell do you put that into a PC game? I’ve seen nothing close so far.

    • Sin Vega says:

      My impression is that a truly representative cop game would be 2% LA Noire, 8% Covert Action, and 90% Papers, Please.

      • TWChristine says:

        Not a bad analogy…I’d say throw in Microsoft Word along with Papers, Please for a 50/40 split (of the 90%).

    • TWChristine says:

      “The camaraderie is also why I do it, the shield wall, the training, the deployments, the blue light runs, the grief and the tears and the laughs. The tears of a colleague, the banter in the station, the smiles and the shouts and the laughs and the angry rants.

      How the hell do you put that into a PC game? I’ve seen nothing close so far.”

      That’s well said. I often think of it like Band of Brothers almost. I guess like anything really, no matter how detailed your stories are, there’s something about being there, and going through it that connects you with the others that have been there, and that you can’t quite share with everyone else. I had some great laughs, some wonderful adrenaline highs, and like you I loved the feel of making a difference. Seeing how appreciative someone was even just when giving directions was awesome. And seeing the faces on everyone when you walk into a donut shop..priceless! Every now and then I think of going back, it’s the one job I’ve done that I absolutely loved.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Amen, brother.

  10. Andy_Panthro says:

    I wonder what he’d think of the old Police Quest games, especially the first one where you have to try and do everything by the book.

    Also the bit where he mentioned the tone: ” [Tone] is a massive thing. You can be heavy-handed, you can be jocular, you can be neutral.” made me think of Alpha Protocol, and one of the best parts of that was how it handled the conversations, where your tone would affect how well the various characters would respond to you.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Yup. AP was also one of the first games to put a time limit on your dialogue choices, which was refreshing at the time. Not only did you have to choose between the Bond-Bauer-Bourne approaches, you also had to go with your gut, and that did a hell of a lot to put you “in” the action.

  11. Immobile Piper says:

    Always glad to see something like this on RPS.

    • Archangel says:

      Agreed; this is excellent stuff. Thanks, RPS!

      • Arglebargle says:

        As someone who’s seen both side of the tracks, this is indeed a really good article. Great perspective.

  12. Sin Vega says:

    Oooh. this person should definitely try Covert Action. There’s none of the human side of it, psychologically or narratively, but when it comes to solving a case from multiple angles, it’s a really strong example, much less a case of second-guessing the writers/programmers than most mystery games.

  13. Unclepauly says:

    A real cop game has to have 300% more personal invasion of privacy. For instance (:D), the police in my area (maumee, OH US) have put in listening devices into peoples homes and cameras around my neighborhood. YET NOBODY IS STOPPING THEM! I am currently trying to find someone who can do something about this. It’s clearly illegal.

  14. King in Winter says:

    Interesting article. Regarding escalation that was touched in above comments, I was reading elsewhere about the latest US shooting to make the headlines and some commenter claimed cops over there are trained to purposefully escalate a situation, and they call it as establishing authority. If true, to a layman’s ears that sounds like a terrible way to approach a situation, and no surprise it leads to shooting.

    • TWChristine says:

      I think “escalating the situation” is both a fair thing to call it, and the same time I disagree. It’s fair, because that’s initially what happens some of the times (sometimes the people fully back down, which is what you’re going for). But I also feel that it’s not fair because that’s not what you are WANTING to do..what you are wanting to do is be a louder, meaner, and more intimidating person than the one you are confronting, and hoping the visual of a uniform/belt of doo-dads will add into the “maybe I shouldn’t mess with this person” mindset. I know I come off like I’m contradicting myself there, and I don’t really know how to fully explain it…your goal is (obviously) to de-escalate the situation, but a lot of times you have to go in yelling, screaming and getting physical to go about doing it. It’s not ideal, but I’m not sure how else you can go about it with some situations.

      • King in Winter says:

        Yeah I think I should have added some context to my comment, anyway the thing I’m referring to is here but to sum it up, Commenter A says the french police is trained to only go as far as the other party, ie. not draw a gun if the other guy hasn’t, and Commenter B claims the US police is trained to escalate – in context, draw even if the other one hasn’t. It sounds a little bit iffy to me, I can’t really believe they’re told to start swinging their guns at the slightest sign of trouble.

        • TWChristine says:

          Ahh ok, yea in that case it’s more along what the French guy is saying. We had a “Use of Force Continuum” which was basically this chart saying, if he does this, your justifiable response is this. In effect, it was: Verbal commands, unarmed self defense tactics, OC, baton, pistol. Every situation is obviously different, and would determine where on the continuum you started. If some guy is yelling, you reeeeally don’t need to pull out your gun and tell him to shut up. If some guy has a gun, you don’t pull out your OC and spray him. (This is all obvious, I know, just giving examples!)

          I think the problem is, well take tasers for instance. You get a non-lethal weapon that you can easily use to gain compliance, so people start using it…but then they start to use it as a crutch. And then you start to have old people, and kids getting tasered just because they’re mouthing off. With that said, some old people and kids can still pack a wallop, and I am all for officer safety…but there are also certain risks inherent with the job, and if you have to get your hair pulled by a bratty 12 year old instead of tasering him, you do that. If you get hit by an old lady’s cane once as you close the distance to stop her instead of tasering her, you do that.

          The same goes with guns… I think a lot of officers simply see it as the ultimate compliance device and so they instantly pull it out. It’s a correction that needs to start at the academy level, and then be drilled into their head through seeing other officers act appropriately. When you pull out your gun, and you see you’re the only one of five other officers, you’re going to feel stupid and hopefully put it away. That’s the hope atleast.

          • ignare brute says:

            It probably depends of countries.

            I dont think police in most european countries are often drawing guns.

            They seems to do it a lot in the USA. But in the USA, everyone is possibly (legally) carrying a gun, so they’d be dumb not to draw guns beforehand.

          • Philopoemen says:

            see our force only allows us to use taser if we reasonably suspect that the suspect is about to cause serious injury. Of course, “serious injury” has a specific definition, as does “reasonably suspect”. And because of overuse in the early days, now a use of force report is required if you draw and turn it on.

            So rather than it being a crutch, people are reluctant to use it at all, due to the administrative stuff which goes with it. So of course they go hands on, and get hurt.

            Like most things in policing, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  15. Radiant says:



  16. Radiant says:

    The Phoenix Wright games are some of the best examples of spot the lie/spot the deception type of detective games.

    My issue with police games is that most of them are shooters.
    Where shooters always paint the people you are mowing down as universal cannon fodder, either zombies or monsters or historical bad guys with enough distance to modern life to be monsters [nazis], put there to purely fulfil a gamers fantasy of being a bad ass/diehard/commando/robocop action hero.
    A hero.

    Shooters that put either cops or criminals in the firing line are essentially saying yes criminals and cops are also mindless fantasy monsters to be mowed down because that’s what it takes to become a hero.
    They paint people as mindless monsters who have to be killed for you to be the hero.
    Fox news as a multi million selling AAA game.

    I don’t think the makers of games like Hardline or CoD actually give a shit about the ramifications of the work they’re doing.

    Anyway anyone up for some PayDay 2?

  17. joe balls says:

    “And that sense in Ryse of having all your colleagues alongside, you’re all behind your shields, getting pelted with stuff, there are flames going off everywhere and you’ve got your enemies in front of you… That’s real! That happens.”

    Or as they’re also known, The Public.

    • Bing_oh says:

      When they’re pelting you with rocks, I don’t think I’d call them something as blase as “the public.”

      • joe balls says:

        I wonder if that sense of The Public being The Enemy ever goes away, even when they’re not pelting you with rocks.

  18. brgillespie says:

    LEO, Denver metro area, Colorado. Best representation of day-to-day policing is the LCPDFR mod for GTA 4. It’d be the *ultimate* representation if your calls for service were 95% day-to-day disputes and 5% critical incidents (car chases, shootings), and had a shitload of paperwork to complete after each critical incident (case report, use of force report, evidence collection/submissions, arrest affidavit, etc).

    There are mods for the mod that really inject some cool stuff, like evidence techs, tow trucks for vehicles, etc.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Yeah but don’t you find you don’t actually want to do work whilst playing a game.

      I hate going to domestics in real life, paying to be able to do it in a game would do my head in.

      • brgillespie says:

        I’d make it an optional mode of some sort. “Realism” mode, where use of force is somehow evaluated by the game, where you’re sent to random dull calls, “routine” domestics, welfare checks, noise complaints, etc.

        Then you’d have “Action” mode, which cuts out the bullshit grind and has you doing traffic stops and handling emergent incidents one after another, with the current system in the LCPDFR mod where you can be as realistic or psychotic an LEO as you wish (Judge Dredd style summary executions for traffic violations and other insane horseshit).

  19. Bing_oh says:

    Nobody in their right mind would want to play a truly “realistic” cop game. It’s not as fun as you see in the movies or on TV. I mean, would you buy a game where you went to various calls, mostly long after the crime had been committed, take the information, and complete the paperwork? Or, when you do make an arrest…again, after talking to various people and noting all of the information…the suspect is out on bond before you’re done with your virtual paperwork? You wouldn’t even get to see the “courtroom drama” after most of your virtual arrests, since the prosecutor will probably plea it out to a lesser offense.

    Yea, that’d be a flop of a game. People want drama. People want action. People want excitement and escape from their already boring lives.

    • Wisq says:

      It’d almost certainly be a commercial flop, but I wouldn’t say nobody would play it. There are a lot of simulators you wouldn’t expect people to buy, like Street Cleaner Simulator, yet they do.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Cart Life exists.

      Darn, now I *want* to make such a game.

  20. Windypundit says:

    This discussion of a really realistic police game reminds my of the Onion’s Ultra-Realistic Modern Warfare Game: link to theonion.com

  21. Crimsoneer says:

    OOOoooh jesus now you’ve got me started. A few more observations from a police officer.

    For starters, a few corrections. There are 32k police officers in London, give or take, and that includes a few thousand volunteer officers. The Met employs 50k people, but many, many of them aren’t police officers. The Met is one of London’s largest employers (I believe still the largest minority employer) and policing involves an awful lot. Also worth pointing out 70% or so of Londoners thinks it does a “good or excellent” job, which is staggeringly high and seems unaffected by a multitude of scandals in the press.

    That’s the first thing to throw in there – policing is staggeringly, incomprehensibly vast. Sure, there is the running around to blue light calls that most people think of, but that’s a small cog to a far larger engine. There is neighbourhood policing, which is far closer to social work than most police officers are comfortable with. There is detective work, there is licensing work, there is missing people, specialised units – it’s HUGE.

    The one thing they all have in common is dealing with quick time risk. That’s fundamentally what policing is about – you’re given a series of tasks, from the fatal collision or the high risk missing girl at risk of exploitation to the low level shed burglary or fraud, and you need to decide which of those is likely to blow up and cause real levels of harm to the public, the organisation, etc.

    So yes, making a game about policing is difficult, in the same way it’s difficult to make a game about “construction”, or “officework” – it’s huge with all sorts of different challenges. In the words of one criminologist, the job of the police is to deal with”‘something-that-ought-not-to-be-happening-and-about-which-someone-had-better-do-something-now!’

  22. Innocent Dave says:

    “…if you got the wrong bad guy, you got a low rating no matter how well you’d thought it through.”

    “Nobody would ever know that you’d taken it except those lads, and they’re not exactly going to tell the police about it.”

    “…things like ‘shall we plant evidence on someone to get him in because we know he’s done it’. And there is a lot of that in the real world…”


    As someone currently working through a suspended prison sentence and extended treatment for PTSD following an unprovoked assault by cops, it’s good to see even them debunking the “a few bad apples” theory.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Flipside of that in five years in the service, I’ve never seen any of that happening, or even heard of it. The checks and balances are just too stringent. I mean, where would you get evidence to plant from? Property is so strictly monitored these days, it’s not like you can just grab some coke from the safe.

      As to “appropriating” cash – absolutely insane, and not worth it unless you’re talking absolutely silly amounts. We’re all paid quite well – recent joiners not withstanding – and we all know our internal affairs equivalent spends more money surveilling us than we do the public. I have a colleague whose house was searched and suspended for weeks after a scorned friend alleged he had taken drugs from a suspect (all which later turned out to be false, for the record).

      I’m not saying it doesn’t happen at all, but I suspect if it does, it’s in small, tight nit specialist squads with little oversight. Between CCTV, body-cams, radios constantly recording, and every member of the public recording everything 24/7, corruption is very difficult to get away with these days (and that’s a good thing).

      • Innocent Dave says:

        Among other things, I was convicted of criminal damage, having allegedly broken all of the body-cams present. I thought that was a particularly nice touch.

        • Crimsoneer says:

          Not going to lie, a little sceptical, because those things are built like bricks and you’d have to do some very serious damage to stop them functioning, and I don’t think any of my colleagues would have the technical know-how to remove the footage without making it blatantly obvious.

          Mind if I ask the specifics of this? Not asking you to identify yourself if you don’t want to, but I’d be curious to know what force we’re talking, what sort of date and general situation.

          • Innocent Dave says:

            So, I was going to type a brief outline of what happened and stuff, and then whilst trying to work out a way to add trigger warnings, it occurred to me that it was wildly inappropriate stuff to put in such an open part of the internet. And also really, really heavy, so I got rid of that.

            What I will say is that the reason I felt compelled to say what I said, and to raise issues, is that the interviewee goes out of his way to talk about messed-up stuff he’s done or thought about doing, in a public forum. This is enablement-seeking behavior you’ll often see from racists, sexual predators, and the like: they worry about the morals or social acceptability of the messed-up stuff they think and do, so they talk about it loudly in public, and when everyone’s too scared or awkward to call them out, they tale that as agreement and go away content in the knowledge that what they do is somehow ok.

            It’s not.

            The police should not be awarded points when they put the wrong guy in prison, just because they really reckon he probably did it. They shouldn’t be given our sympathy when they do crime because they can totally get away with it, and it was, like, loads of money. And crucially, they don’t get to say they behave like “twats” because they get called it. If you’re going to occasionally hit someone so hard they’re “still not eating solids”, you should probably be taking some moral responsibility for your behavior.

            Just to be clear: I know cops are people. I know they have rights and feelings. That doesn’t mean they have a right to be my mate, or to have me accept and agree to the messed-up things they’ve done, just because they talk loudly about it in public.

            Postscript: “…among other things, Jack admits to “agonising” over the decision you make at the end of Far Cry 3.” …really? The one where you choose whether to kill your partner and best mates because then you’ll gain the eternal adoration of people you basically just met? The one where you can betray the trust of your loved ones for the opportunity to be really, really white? Did I miss something here?

          • Crimsoneer says:

            Okay, last question if you don’t mind me prying – was this a public order situation? Eg, demo/riot/wotsits?

          • Innocent Dave says:

            It wasn’t, no. In court, the police said they were responding to reports of “a man dressed as a woman”.

          • TWChristine says:

            “Reports of a man dressed as a woman”? And that warranted a police response? Reminds me of the call I heard go out to a neighboring patrol of a kid not doing their homework..

          • ignare brute says:

            People talk of the wire but it’s Babylon they should be watching now. link to ignarebrute.tumblr.com link to ignarebrute.tumblr.com

            And crucially, they don’t get to say they behave like “twats” because they get called it. If you’re going to occasionally hit someone so hard they’re “still not eating solids”, you should probably be taking some moral responsibility for your behavior.

            Maybe they did. Maybe they decided they can live with the picture of themselves destroying a known offender that put a skrewdriver under the throat of a grandma. Maybe they can live with the notion of hurting someone that took the liberty to at least psychologically hurt a grandma, if not physically.

            Just to be clear: I know cops are people. I know they have rights and feelings. That doesn’t mean they have a right to be my mate

            Maybe they don’t care about being your mate. And, moreover, maybe making friends, being mates, is not at all why police exists.

          • Innocent Dave says:

            Sorry, perhaps I was overly flippant there. I was referring to an observed tendency for cops to be doing horrible things whilst yelling at everyone about how great they are and how much everyone should like and respect them.

          • Sin Vega says:

            To be fair, I’d have jumped at the chance to kill every NPC in Far Cry 3 reward or not.

      • TheRealHankHill says:

        Dude you don’t need to grab coke from the safe… Where did you police? Cops here will just grab a baggy off someone and hold onto it. Shit they will take peoples weed/mushrooms at the renn-fest here and not book them, wonder where that stuff goes!

      • TheRealHankHill says:

        Could very well be different where you are but I don’t trust Texas cops to even hold a cup of water for me unless I personally know them.

  23. P.Funk says:

    My biggest problem with LA Noire (of many) might seem odd. I hated the limited chat options. I hated how the interview was based on you deciding the tone and letting the game come up with the words when I desperately wanted an older Bioware KOTOR level chat where you had all these strings of dialogue and you had to yourself infer what the tone was from the 4 or 5 sentences you had to choose from. So much more granularity was available in those games for guiding a conversation and of course there were more than 1 way to end a conversation in many cases.

    How many times I wonder did people click an option in LA Noire and end up seeing Ken Cosgrove say something totally out of sync with what you thought it meant.

    It felt so clumsy compared to what it was trying to achieve. Real human conversations and interviews I’ve seen from real life (as in cops interviewing people) involve a subtle strategy, a lengthy string of careful language. LA Noir made it into a goofy elemental choice that belied the complexity that the situation was driving any person with a bit of social intellect would identify.

    • ignare brute says:

      Strangely enough, I think the only good part of LA Noire are actually dialogs as described in link to linethemup.wordpress.com:

      “Homicide Detective Rusty Galloway: Hollywood… Every prom queen from every fucking hick town in America turns up here. Where do they end up? Gutted on the fucking sidewalk.”

      “[Galloway swiftly punches Ferdinand in the face]
      John Ferdinand Jamison: It’s not against the law! There’s no law against it.
      Homicide Detective Rusty Galloway: Shut up and take your beating like a man. ”

      I do not think allowing player in LA Noire to set the tone would be consistent with the story. You’d probably often break out of character.

  24. Little_Crow says:

    This is a really good article – Up with this kind of thing!

    It’s nice to hear a critique of video games from the perspective of someone who has not just done the job portrayed, but is very obviously a keen gamer.

    Can we expect a UK Border force officer in to chat about ‘Papers, Please’ at our next show and tell?

  25. Sarkhan Lol says:

    Ask him if he has to walk in a circle around his car every morning to prevent it exploding on the road.

  26. manny says:

    Yeah I predict U.S will turn into a police state, and the media will play a large part in normalizing this. After all, when you play as a criminal in GTA or a cop or soldiers, it’s primarily about entertainment, not insight.

    What’s needed in fact is a horror game where you play a soldier, cop or criminal.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Generally the word “prediction” is applied to stuff that *hasn’t* happened yet.