House of Games is not the solving of a single mystery or the capturing of an individual. It is a movie that presents continual intrigue because the viewer is constantly questioning which elements are genuine expression from the characters and which are parts of an intricate con. The criminals wear many facades and disguises, expertly hidden from the viewer. It is not until the end, that the crimes are revealed and the most nefarious individual is exposed.
In the first half an hour of the movie, the viewer learns a good deal about psychologist, Margaret Ford, (Lindsay Crouse) from her relationships with her patients, colleagues, and readers of her book. Her structured life, which includes mostly work, begins to show some flexibility when she befriends a group of charlatans and decides she wants to study their methods of gaining trust for the subject of her next book. As a reputable source on compulsive behavior, she demonstrates through her interactions with the con men how much she knows about her field of expertise.
Mike (Joe Mantegna) and Joey (Mike Nussbaum) do a good job of entertaining Ford and the audience as she probes them for information about tricks of their trade and how they apply the multiple sides of their personality to manipulate their target. The female fatale that is often present in the classic noir is also in this movie, but in this case they are male.
Unlike many thrillers, where the protagonist exist on the fringes as a pariah police officer or a hard-boiled detective, the protagonist is a respectable member of society. She chooses to immerse herself into a sub-society of known criminals, soon learning how intoxicating their world can be. Her desire to observe escalates, resulting in her being a part of a far much more complicated con. This experience results in her making several lifestyle changes. Subjectivity of the viewer dictates which are positive and which are negative.
Although it could be argued that House of Games is more classic noir because it involves the behavior of a few people, the movie it is also an artistic method of depicting how much we know about human behavior, especially when applied outside of book knowledge and in real world situations. Similar to how neo noir focuses on the operations of institutions and societies, House of Games allows the viewer to analyze the field of psychology from a different perspective. This makes the movie more complex than solving a mystery or exposing a corrupt institution. The story becomes personal to the viewer because we are all affected by our decision making and sometimes the decisions of others.