In Discworld Noir, they help untangle puzzles. In Red Dead Redemption 2, they flesh out the central character. Is the notebook gaming’s most powerful narrative tool?
We use notebooks to give form to the intangible, jotting down half-formed ideas and strategies with the aim of corralling them into coherence. We record and reflect on events in our lives, a ritual that narrativises our experiences and makes them comprehensible. Notebooks are a technology, the most ordinary and unspectacular instance of cyborg enhancement – an extension of our memories. And all this makes them a fascinating motif in video games.
In Discworld Noir, a little-known adventure game from 1999, you play as a private detective named Lewton, plodding the streets of a hardboiled version of Terry Pratchett’s fictional city-state Ankh-Morpork and investigating murders and disappearances that pay homage to classic noir fiction. Lewton’s greatest asset is his notebook. Here, he writes down the names of suspects, clues, testimony and other key information. This simple device distinguishes Noir from other games in the point-and-click tradition from which it emerged.