We are built to look for faces. When we see a face it activates a particular part of our brain, one that some scientists say evolved specifically for the purpose of recognizing, processing and storing face data in our cerebral Rolodex. We’re so good at finding faces that we can find them anywhere, even where they’re not: the man in the moon, Jesus on a slice of toast. All we need is two dots and a straight line in the proper orientation, and our brain sees a human being staring back at us.
Video games have long benefited from the brain’s fervent, automatic search for faces, especially when two dots and a straight line was practically all technology could manage to display. Even early games could get us attached to their characters thanks to our natural tendency to ascribe human characteristics to anything that even barely resembled one. With its latest game L.A. Noire, Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar Games has taken a significant step further, using pinpoint-precise motion-capture technology to record the faces of actors as they recite their lines. When I look at the man in the moon, I see a face; when I look at L.A. Noire’s characters, I see people.