ArticlePDF Available

Ludonarrative Dissonance: Is Storytelling About Reaching Harmony?

Article

Ludonarrative Dissonance: Is Storytelling About Reaching Harmony?

Abstract

This paper is a literature review focusing on the term " Ludonarrative Dissonance " which was coined by the game designer and scriptwriter Clint Hocking in a blog post from 2007. Through diverse blog posts and academic papers that reused the term, this essay is attempting to identify a definition of the concept that factors the different ways it can be perceived. It identifies a dichotomy of concepts that participate in creating the dissonance: the opposition between incentives and directives and how it is handled both in the narrative and ludic structures. Relevance to design practice – This paper will help game designers and writers to understand what is at stake behind this concept of ludonarrative dissonance. It is identifying ways to avoid dissonance to happen, but also opens the possibility of a purposeful use of dissonance for designing deeper ludonarrative interactions.
1
Ludonarrative Dissonance:
Is Storytelling About Reaching Harmony?
Frédéric SERAPHINE
Ph.D. Candidate
The University of Tokyo
Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies
Seraphine [at] g.ecc.u-tokyo.ac.jp
Abstract
This paper is a literature review focusing on the term “Ludonarrative Dissonance” which was coined by
the game designer and scriptwriter Clint Hocking in a blog post from 2007. Through diverse blog posts
and academic papers that reused the term, this essay is attempting to identify a definition of the concept
that factors the different ways it can be perceived. It identifies a dichotomy of concepts that participate
in creating the dissonance: the opposition between incentives and directives and how it is handled both
in the narrative and ludic structures.
Keywords Game design, Ludonarrative dissonance, harmony, emersion, immersion, incentives,
directives, emergent narratives
Relevance to design practice This paper will help game designers and writers to understand what is
at stake behind this concept of ludonarrative dissonance. It is identifying ways to avoid dissonance to
happen, but also opens the possibility of a purposeful use of dissonance for designing deeper
ludonarrative interactions.
Introduction
2
“Ludonarrative dissonance” is a concept that was first described by Clint Hocking(2007) in a post on
his blog. This blog post, which was first and foremost a critique of the videogame Bioshock(2007), had
an extraordinary effect on the communities of players, game developers and scholars alike. It was
putting a name on something that most players felt while playing the game: a certain sensation of
detachment. Ludonarrative dissonance could be described as a specific form of what could be called
emersion a term chosen to be used in this paper to refer to the opposite of the experience of
immersion in videogames. Emersion is the sensation of being pulled out of the play experience.
Through a review of the literature produced in response to Hocking's blog post, this essay will
attempt to identify a definition of the term and understand how it narrows the broader concept of
emersion. Secondly, it will seek the different perspectives from which it was perceived and analyzed, in
order to spot where the very potentiality of the term lies. Thirdly, it will try to use the pinpointed
definition and prospect through its potentialities, in order to take a look at it through the lens of game
design.
Ludonarrative Dissonance: A Working Definition
What is it about?
Starting from the basic consideration that there was a “lack of game criticism”, Hocking decided to
write a blog post that would be a game critique instead of a game review. For Hocking, Game criticism
is for professionals who “want to think about the nature of games and what they mean”, as opposed to
game reviews which are there to help the public to choose which game they should buy. A definition
that seems to narrow game criticism towards academic writing. It is somewhat an opposition between
contents with promotional value and contents with professional value. Thus, the latter being somewhat
very rare, he decided to write a critique of Bioshock, a game which was released earlier that year. Game
critiques are rare, but game reviews are so prominent, that it is only after apologizing to the game
developers, for the unusual harshness of what he had to say, that Hocking made his point: “Bioshock
seems to suffer from a powerful dissonance between what it is about as a game, and what it is about as
a story”(Hocking, 2007).
For Hocking, there are two structures in opposition in Bioshock, the “narrative structure” and the
“ludic structure”(Hocking, 2007). In a nutshell, what is at stake and in opposition between those
two structures, are incentives and directives. Indeed, on one side, still according to Hocking's analysis,
the ludic structure or “contract” as he also refers to it — is inciting the player to embrace the
underlying “Randian rational self-interest” philosophy that defines “Rapture” the world of Bioshock;
while on the other side the narrative structure's incentive or rather directive is to betray this
philosophy by helping Atlas, a character which is not aligned with Rapture's Randian philosophy. This
narrative choice is vouching for the developers' actual critical discourse on the Randian objectivist
philosophy, but according to Hocking, it interacts poorly with the gameplay. When the Mechanics of
the gameplay incite you to gain power by harvesting little sisters, you can still choose between your
self-interest (by harvesting them) and their interest (by rescuing them). However, the contract proposed
by the narrative structure of the game is way less malleable; as your only choice in order to finish
3
the game is to help Atlas. It is no longer an incentive but a directive. Hocking puts it in the
following words:
This is a serious problem. In the game's mechanics, I am offered the freedom to choose to adopt an objectivist
approach, but I also have the freedom to reject that approach and to rescue the Little Sisters, even though it is not in
my own (net) best interest to do so […] Yet in the game's fiction on the other hand, I do not have that freedom to
choose between helping Atlas or not. (Hocking, 2007).
(Even if the game still rewards you for rescuing the little sister, that reward is nor as immediate nor as
profitable as the other option.)
For Makedonski(2012), ludonarrative dissonance “at its core” happens when the discourse
conveyed through a game's story and environment contradicts the discourse underlying its gameplay.
From this contradiction, according to him, the player becomes “unimmersed” and “disconnected” from
the experience. Therefore, it comes back to the concept of emersion. To put it in other words,
ludonarrative dissonance could be a state of emersion that is triggered by a semiotic mismatch between
play and narration. When in Hockin's example there is clearly an opposition between the two structures,
it can be assumed that a lesser form of mismatch might have a proportional potential for emersion.
The causes of dissonance
In another blog post reacting to Hocking's critique of Bioshock, Nick Ballantyne(2015) makes an
interesting comparison between cognitive dissonance and ludonarrative dissonance in order to highlight
the fundamental difference between those two.
When confronted with cognitive dissonance (i.e., our beliefs and actions not lining up) in our boring everyday lives,
people can cope in a few ways. If someone's actions conflict with their beliefs, they can change their beliefs, change
their actions, or just ignore it […], but ludonarrative dissonance isn't about your beliefs, it's about the system's
imposed beliefs. (Ballantyne, 2015).
To clarify, Ballantyne is telling us that ludonarrative dissonance only exists when the game “the system”
forces the acceptance of its beliefs onto players by not giving them any choices to cope with those
beliefs. (Which is seemingly not always perceived negatively by Ballantyne, as we will see later.) In
like manner, what Makedonski(2012) defines as “the roadblock to ludonarratively consistent games” is
very analogous. Indeed, from Makedonski's point of view, “the developers, themselves” are often
responsible for the ludonarrative mismatch to be experienced in their own games. According to him,
developers would have to surrender the power that they have over the story and put it in the player's
hands” (Makedonski, 2012).
Hence, Makedonski is advocating here for the adoption by game developers of the story-telling
methodology that Schell(2008) is calling the “story machine”, or what is more recently referred to as
emergent narratives. Games that don't have a specific story to tell, but offering many potentialities of
stories to be experienced by the player.
Dissonant Ludonarrative Perceptions
Ludonarrative biases
4
Maybe because of the negative subjacent meaning of the term dissonance, much of the literature that
was produced around the term of ludonarrative dissonance, seem to be pinpointing it as an intrinsically
negative aspect of videogame narration. Strangely enough, most of the articles making this assumption
also seem to suffer from what could be called the “avatar bias.” The avatar bias being the assumption
that a controllable character in a videogame always has to be considered as the avatar of the player.
For instance, when summarizing Hocking's accounts on the dissonant narrative structure of Bioshock,
Makedonski is stating that anyone [any players] in this position had to merely accept that the game
funneled them in that direction [or else they would have to quit playing]” (Makedonski, 2012), as if
there couldn't be a relation of alterity between the player and the controllable character. Same for
Hocking himself, for whom blog post the lexical field referring to the game's main character “if I
reject”, I can help”, “and if I choose (Hocking, 2007) is often self-referential. Of course, with
Bioshock featuring a first person camera, it is quite understandable that many players will assume that
the character is their avatar, but the same phenomenon of dissonance can be perceived in games with
playable objects that are way more characterized. Before diagnosing ludonarrative dissonance in a
game, one should maybe ask if the ludonarrative dissonance would still be there once the alterity of the
controlled character is accepted by the player. If it disappears, it might then mean that we were rather
facing cognitive dissonance instead. In a movie, for example, the codes of the medium can help to
create an identification with a position that the viewer might averse to take in real life, that’s the very
principle of having such things as antiheroes. Even when taking into account the possibility that a game
character is not always meant to be considered entirely as the player's avatar, it does not erase the
ludonarrative dissonance; instead, it might help us shed new light on the concept. Create a vision of the
concept that would be less negatively tainted. Similarly, Daniel Dunne (2014), when advocating for a
multimodal scope in game studies, laments the negative aura surrounding ludonarrative dissonance
(Dune, 2014, p.1). Seemingly, for him, this negative vision of ludonarrative dissonance is a cue on a
biased consensus among many game scholars for implicitly denying the multimodal or ergodic
nature of games (Dunne, 2014, p.3).
Ludonarrative potentiality
Tilo Hartmann and Peter Vorderer (2010) who wrote an article about “moral disengagement” in
videogames, also addressed the issue of dissonance, more precisely in violent videogames. When
advocating that “virtual violence is only enjoyable when it comes with no or minimal costs,” they state
that “distressful concerns” like “guilt” are more likely to emerge when the game's moral standards are
dissonant with the player's own values (Hartmann & Vorderer, 2010). Even though the issue they are
addressing here, is closer to the concept of cognitive dissonance, it might also be highlighting a form of
emotional potential of ludonarrative dissonance. Indeed, we are touching here a concept that might
explain how a certain gamut of emotions can be triggered only through gameplay. In a conference at
Vancouver Art Gallery, Will Wright(2008), the famous game designer behind Sim City, was stating
about games in comparison to movies that they “do not have an inferior emotional palate, but
'rather a different one' - feelings such as pride, guilt, and accomplishment, which are commonly felt
when playing games, are not felt in the viewers of films”(as cited in James & Remo, 2008).
Even if Will Wright makes this statement to plead like many for the advent of emergent games,
and to criticize game designers suffering from what he calls “film envy”, it is nonetheless implying that
just as filmmakers embrace the full emotional palate of their medium game designers should do
5
just the same, except with different emotions.
Coping with Ludonarrative Issues in Game Design
The quest for harmony
The use of the term dissonance suggests that the developer should be aiming for some sort of
ludonarrative harmony. A harmony that is by its musical definition, an unattainable goal, as long as
there is still any form of dissonance disturbing it. A goal that most of the literature on the subject
indirectly imply as their own. Being now conscious of the ways narrative and ludic structures can
contradict within a game, game designers should become more prone to create strategies to avoid this
form of dissonance.
However, most of those who wrote on the matter seem to be pointing in the same direction: the
annihilation of any form of pre-built narrative structure. A method that in their eyes would finally
allow videogames to become coherent and harmonious. The inferred hypothesis behind this idea being
that, games cannot reach harmony if game developers are trying to tell players a story. The idea is not
that game developers should abandon creating games where players will experience a story, but that,
game developers should abandon being authors of their game's story. Thus, many are looking at games
based on emergent gameplay as a potential solution to be rid of any form of ludonarrative dissonance.
In Makedonsky's words:
this would require the creators to focus on molding a world where anything could happen. Essentially, it would ask the
developers not care so much about providing the experience that they visualized, but rather that they provide the
means for an experience to occur. (Makedonski, 2012).
In a paper written for an FDG conference, Simon Chauvin, Guillaume Levieux, Jean-Yves Donnart &
Stephane Natkin(2014), are trying to figure out a methodology for creating emergent game narratives,
in order to provide the player with a satisfying ludonarrative experience. Within this article, the authors
are attempting to present what they consider being five essential characteristics of emergent narratives:
“coherence, agency, possibility space, uncertainty and co-authoring” (Chauvin et al., 2014, p.1) They
first define coherence under two conditions, consistency and “persistence”(Chauvin et al., p.2)
Consistency is for the rules of the game and the mechanics which should stay coherent and rational all
across the game world. In emergent games, all objects of the same type or class, as programmers
may say would behave consistently on a similar pattern. Persistence is for the effect of the player's
actions which should permanently affect the game state. To put it simply, if, in an emergent game, a
rock can be broken with a hammer, every other similar rock should be breakable with a hammer; and if
the player breaks a rock somewhere, that rock should basically stay in its broken state. Agency is
simply the possibility for the player to have an impact in what they call a “dynamic, responsive
world”(Chauvin et al., p.2). Developing on the previous concept of coherence, they state that an
emergent game world, with its coherent rules, is more prone to allow players to plan their actions and
anticipate the consequences, as one would do in the real world. In their essay, they describe possibility
space as the “set of game states that can be attained through play.” To illustrate the effect of a large
possibility space, they take the example of permanent death. When restarting to play in a linear game,
6
would mean experiencing the same story again; in an emergent game, restarting the game after a
permanent death would open totally new possibilities; especially in a world that would have evolved
through the previous play. The wide possibility space of emergent games brings up the concept of
uncertainty. When explaining their concept of uncertainty; the authors are stating that “it can be
impossible for players to monitor every action taken by each entity of the game world.” What is
implied in this statement might also be that every game object should have the ability to change the
game state, just like the player. Even if the article itself doesn't really dig into the subject, it is
somehow putting an emphasis on the importance of AIs in the creation of emergent narratives. The last
parameter they describe is co-authoring, a word they use to say that the game creator leaves control
over the story to the player. “Authors do not intervene or impose mandatory events; rather they build a
constrained space in which players are free to come and go as they please.”(Chauvin et al., p.2).
Chauvin and his collaborators are suggesting that games with emergent narratives should target a
specific audience of players that would have the creativity to assume the roles of “both player and
director”(p.3). The collaboration from the game author here only comes from providing the story-
telling assets to the player. And the article goes event further by suggesting that the freedom to create
or more precisely code new story-telling assets should also be given to players. However it feels
like following the latter idea literally, would rather lead us to the creation of a powerful story-telling
tool for game engines. Then again, we might wonder if in an actual game such mechanics
implying a necessity to code, would not be as emersive in the end, as ludonarrative dissonance?
It might also to be taken into consideration that emergent game-play might be “too mechanical” to
favor a truly immersive experience. As an answer to ludonarrative dissonance, some propose the
opposite approach to emergent gameplay. In her thesis about The Last of Us(2013), Karen Stanley
(2014) analyses how the game is making an elegant interlacing of scripted events and game-play in
order to avoid dissonance. When addressing the behavior of the companion AI in the game, she states
that “the subtlety of the events is the key in maintaining player immersion” and that events that are “too
obviously scripted or repeated in the same manner” can cause “distance between the companion AI and
the player.”(Stanley, 2014). What we can fear with emergent narratives, is that their deeply mechanical
or automated nature, might have them falling into this form of emersion described by Stanley.
However, for the writer Matthew Burns(2012), the whole “mechanics vs. narrative” debate is a “false
dichotomy”, he's rather pointing at the omnipresence of the combat mechanics as responsible for the
dissonance that can happen between those two. For this reason, he states that games that explicitly
exclude combat such as Dear Esther[2012], Journey[2012], and others of their kind seem so
promising right now. As an industry, we still haven’t developed anything as mechanically complex as
our combat, but at least we’ve figured out that we can remove it. “(Burns, 2012).
Toward a purposely 'ludonarratively dissonant' game design
As we saw, many authors who reutilized the concept coined by Hocking seem to advocate for emergent
narratives as the ultimate cure for the evil of ludonarrative dissonance. However, among the literature
reviewed, the point of view defended by Ballantyne is truly standing out. Indeed Ballantyne seems to
be one of the only authors who's advocating for purposely using ludonarrative dissonance as a story-
telling tool instead of putting so many efforts into avoiding it. For Ballantyne, “if we are not given the
allowance to change our play-style or ignore the contradictions, we're only left to justify the
dissonance”, still in his own words, it “might not be the worst thing in the world to […] be forced to
7
think why it's there.”(Ballantyne, 2015). It seems that Frasca(2001) in an essay about The Sims (which
was not yet referring to Ludonarrative Dissonance) was probably agreeing with Ballantyne's standpoint.
Frasca was stating that the characters in The Sims were “flat” because they avoided any form of
ideological conflict. Frasca was comparing videogame to drama, and stating that The Sims probably
corresponded to an Aristotelian vision of drama with an emphasis on immersion before all. Frasca
was doing so to propose a solution which would be aligned with Bertolt Brecht’s idea of drama. For
Brecht(1964) theater could take a form that could be non-aristotelian, where the viewers and also
the performers would be purposely pulled out of immersion in order to create an interactive and
dialectical relation to the performance. The solution proposed by Frasca was to give the player control
over the drama by implementing themselves some character traits (like alcoholism, depression) to
create what he calls “means of consciousness raising.” Even if it doesn’t necessarily proceed by giving
control over the code of the game as advocated by Frasca, this notion of ludonarrative dissonance may
have exactly the effect of “consciousness raising” that Frasca was aiming for.
Even when their content is controversial, games will generally tend to avoid ludonarrative
dissonance. If we take a classic example, a game like the wonderful Silent Hill 2(2001); despite
addressing themes like guilt or remorse, will address those themes by detaching them from the main
character. To symbolize the main character's guilt, they introduced the character of “Pyramid Head,” a
purposely faceless foe that cannot be killed. The player and his character are always only
witnessing the horrendous actions of this monster. A monster, which is nonetheless probably an avatar
of the character controlled by the player. At the time the game was released, it was an incredibly
inventive way to address such provoking themes in a video game. However, it would be interesting to
see more recent games addressing these kinds of themes through a rationalized use of ludonarrative
dissonance.
Stanley, writing about The Last of Us, highlights an interesting moment in the game. At some
point, there is a momentary disruption of one of the game mechanics the player has gotten used to. One
of the recurring mechanics of the game was the ability to lift Ellie, the main character's companion AI,
on Joel's shoulder; so she could do something to open the way for Joel. Along the game, the player gets
used to this recurring mechanics as part of what might be the rules of the game.
However at a certain moment, the player can press the button to call Ellie, but she doesn't come.
This disruption of a recurring gameplay pattern creates a kind of, momentary ludonarrative dissonance.
But at the same time, it tells us something more about Ellie at this precise moment of the game. She is
sitting far away from Joel because she is emotionally hurt, even more than usual (Stanley, p.11). This
same principle of disruption of the gameplay routine as a potential semiotic tool for narration is
something that was also identified by Seraphine(2014) in a Kindle publication where he explains that
changing a game mechanics or making it disappear will sometimes have the ability to create meaning
about the game world or its characters.
This moment of dissonance in the gameplay of The Last of Us is only momentary, and in the end,
it is highlighting the narrative structure of the game. However, the game's true stroke of genius is that it
was hiding the narrative structure's directives, behind changes in the ludic structure's incentives. The
disruption of the game mechanics that the player got used to, suddenly creates a new incentive within
the game-play. The player needs to walk toward Ellie the player needs her to go further, and is
probably not going there with the intention to cheer her up but through a masterful use of incentives,
8
the game manages to have the player acting in the best interest of the story's dramatic tension. And this
might be only a tiny example of the potential use of ludonarrative dissonance as a game-design tool.
Conclusion
Through the different analyses of debates on the term ludonarrative dissonance, it became clearer that
the real issue behind dissonance was coming from the opposition between incentives and directives in
the narrative structure on one side and the ludic structure on the other side. To face this issue, some
scholars and designers advocate for the use of emergent narratives, as an intrinsically more harmonious
way to create narrative experiences within games. Others are advocating for more interconnections
between the ludic and the narrative structure, as it permits a form of guided storytelling that feels
harmonious to the player. But one interesting alternative that stands out is the purposeful use of this
dissonance, in order to create interrogations or dissonant feelings in the player's mind. And after all,
despite all the debates it sparked, this might have been exactly the goal pursued by the designers of
Bioshock. The game tries to draw our attention on the linear play that most FPS usually put us through.
Atlas gives directives by addressing the player with a very polite “Would you kindly”, but when the
game reveals that you were manipulated by Atlas, it actually draws the attention to the clichés of linear
gameplay. The debates it sparked shows us that this game actually had an influence on the way we
think about games. Recently, the French studio Dontnod Entertainment famous for their previous
game Life is Strange(2015) announced a game called Vampyr(2016). A game where the player
controls a doctor during the epidemic of Spanish influenza. A doctor, who also happens to be a vampire,
is forced to drink people's blood in order to survive. The game seems to be based on the dissonance
between trying to save people's life from influenza which is your duty as a doctor and the
incentive of the gameplay which pushes you to drink people's blood in order to survive and become
stronger. The trailer of the game ends with the following sentence: “I did not choose the thing that I've
become, but I can choose the lives that I'll not take Cursed be the choice...” (Focus Entertainment,
2016, 1:17-1:30). It seems that more games in the near future might use ludonarrative dissonance as a
way to tell more compelling stories. In essence, stories are about characters and the most interesting
stories are often told with dissonant characters; as it is the surprise, the disturbance, the accident, the
sacrosanct disruptive element, that justifies the very act of telling a story.
Acknowledgments
As always, I would like to thank the Professor Akira Baba for his solid support and for his trust. I
would also like to thank the Professor Karlin for his essential help in narrowing the focus of this paper.
And finally, I would like to show my gratitude to Ms. Fernanda Branz and Mr. Philip Leth Möller for
proof-reading this article and giving sound and useful comments.
References
9
1. Chauvin, S. Levieux, G. Donnart, J.Y. & Natkin, S.(2014, April ). An Out-of-Character
Approach to Emergent Game Narratives. Paper presented at Foundations of Digital Games
2014, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Research Gate
2. Brecht, B.(1964). Brecht on Theatre. Ed. Willet, J. London: Methuen Drama.
3. Burns, M. S.(2012, May 1) Dumbness in Games, or, The Animal as a System [Blog post]
Magical Wasteland. Retrieved July 13, 2016 from
http://www.magicalwasteland.com/notes/2012/5/1/dumbness-in-games-or-the-animal-as-a-
system.html
4. Huck ,J. & Remo, C.(June 09, 2008) Exclusive: Will Wright Video Games Close to
'Cambrian Explosion' of Possibilities. [Blog post]. Gamasutra. Retrieved July 12, 2016 from
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/109886/Exclusive_Will_Wright__Video_Games_Close_
To_Cambrian_Explosion_Of_Possibilities.php
5. Hartmann, T. & Vorderer, P.(2010) It's Okay to Shoot a Character: Moral Disengagement in
Violent Video Games. Journal of Communication, 60(1), 94-119.
6. Hocking, C.(October 07, 2007) Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock: The problem of what
game is about [Blog post]. Click Nothing, TypePad. Retrieved June 29, 2016
from http://clicknothing.typepad.com/click_nothing/2007/10/ludonarrative-d.html
7. Stanley, K.(2014). Ludonarrative Dissonance: Interlacing the Narrative and Ludic Structure
Together in The Last of Us (Bachelor dissertation, University of Hertfordshire). Retrieved June
15, 2016 from http://kazperstan.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/StanleyKaren_LastofUs.pdf
8. Makedonski, B.(2012, September 26). Ludonarrative Dissonance: The roadblock to realism
[Blog post]. Destructoid. Retrieved June 30 2016
on https://www.destructoid.com/ludonarrative-dissonance-the-roadblock-to-realism-
235197.phtml
9. Dunne, D.(2014, December) Multimodality or Ludo-Narrative Dissonance: Duality of
Presentation in Fringe Media. Paper presented at the 2014 Conference on Interactive
Entertainment, University of Newcastle, Australia. ACM.
10. Frasca, G.(2001) Rethinking Agency and Immersion: videogames as a means of consciousness-
raising. Digital Creativity, 12(3), 167-174.
11. Schell, J.(2008). The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. [Kindle version] Taylor and
Francis.
12. Seraphine, F.(2014). The Intrinsic Semiotics of Video-Games. [Kindle version] KDP. Retrieved
on https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306358922_The_Intrinsic_Semiotics_of_Video-
Games
13. Ballantyne, N.(2015, February 15). The What, Why & WTF: Ludonarrative Dissonance [Blog
post] GameCloud. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from
http://gamecloud.net.au/features/wwwtf/twwwtf-ludonarrative-dissonance
14. Focus Entertainment. (2016). [E3 2016] Vampyr E3 Trailer. [Youtube video]. Retrieved July
10
1, 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KK4NoMKOMs
Ludography
1. Levine, K. & Hellquist, P.(2007). Bioshock [Videogame] 2K Boston/2K Australia. Novato: 2K
Games.
2. Morgan, J.(2012). Dear Esther [Videogame for computer]. The Chinese Room. Steam
3. Chen, J.(2012). Journey [Videogame for computer]. Thatgamecompany. Steam
4. Raoul, B. & Koch, M.(2015). Life is Strange [Videogame]. Dontnod. Levallois-Perret : Square
Enix France.
5. Tsuboyama, M.(2001). Silent Hill 2 [Videogame for Playstation 2]. Team Silent. Tokyo:
Konami.
6. Wright, W.(2000). The Sims [Videogame]. Maxis. Redwood City: Electronic Arts.
7. Druckmann, N. & Straley, B.(2013). The Last of Us [Videogame for Playstation 3] Naughty
Dog, San Mateo: Sony Computer Entertainment
8. Moreau, P.(2016). Vampyr [Unreleased video game for Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, to
be released in 2017]. Dontnod. Levallois-Perret : Square Enix France.
... Since then, this "ludonarrative dissonance" has been discussed extensively on various blogs (e.g., Ballantyne 2015;Brislin 2013;Bycer 2017) -less so in academic circles. According to Seraphine (2016), "ludonarrative dissonance" describes a "semiotic mismatch between play and narration" -leading, in turn, to player emersion, or "the sensation of being pulled out of the play experience." As one blogger remarks, however, the notion relies on a "false dichotomy" between narrative and mechanics (Burns 2012). ...
... In his literature review pertaining to this subject, Seraphine (2016) identifies an opposition between "incentives" and "directives" in "narrative and ludic structures" alike. The present study builds on this observation by employing a teleological approach to the question of dissonance in games -assuming that "players have stable and ordered preferences" and "that these preferences are directly determined by the game goals" (Smith 2006, p. 240), i.e., that "players want to achieve the goals of a game" (Smith 2006, p. 6). ...
... Indeed, the mere suggestion of a "dissonance" in games should be indicating of the profound meaning-making capabilities of these phenomena. Nonetheless, the apparent negativity surrounding the topic of ludonarrative dissonance suggests an unhealthy longing for "harmony" between narrative and ludic structures (Seraphine 2016; see also Makedonski 2012;ris11 2013). Indeed, it is often implied that dissonance is inherently defective. ...
Presentation
Full-text available
This study explores the concept of teleological dissonance, describing a semiotic conflict between game-afforded goals and end-game conditions. Drawing on Seraphine’s groundwork (2016), this proposed revision of the notion ”ludonarrative dissonance” – originally coined in an (in)famous blog post by Hocking (2007) – is motivated by a) the latter’s lack of coherence; and b) the latter’s apparent negative connotations. Indeed, the powerful potentials of dissonance should be of great interest to researchers and designers alike – to whom a teleological approach may prove productive.
... Papers rated with the scale value "3" explained recommendations and partly definitions of ludonarrative dissonance. The identified papers are authored by Arnott, 2017;Ballantyne, 2015;Hocking, 2007;Makedonski, 2012;Roth et al., 2018;Seraphine, 2016. Table 3 provides an overview of our review list. ...
... To engage its users, Duolingo uses numerous gamification features which have often been praised as well used (Captain Up;Solis, 2015). Features include rewards, so-called "lingots", which users receive when they level up or complete a new language skill. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
After being included in the Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies in 2011, there have been high expectations towards gamification as a way for companies to incentivize users and as a concept to improve motivation in education. Even though the scientific relevance of Gartner is disputed, it’s predictions about gamification became a reality: After an initial boom for gamification adaptations, their effectiveness was more and more questioned in the following years. Finally, in 2015, Gartner didn’t include gamification in its hype cycle anymore. Although it cannot be denied that using gamification in a serious non-game context can have a positive impact, possible reasons for the failure of gamification applications need to be further examined. At about the same time most game design researchers agreed on a more comprehensive view on video games that considers a game’s narrative structure as well as its gameplay. This agreement led to several ludonarrative models which place ludic and narrative elements in a relationship with each other. Furthermore, Clint Hocking coined the term “ludonarrative dissonance” already in 2007, when he published a video game critique, where he showed that in the example of the video game BioShock its gameplay and story contradict each other. Since then, the idea of ludonarrative dissonance has been used and developed when analyzing video games. By bringing those two topics together, ludonarrative dissonance could be one reason why gamification applications often struggle in practice. Since ludonarrative dissonance has been researched very little in the context of gamification so far, at first we examine how various researchers of video games define and understand ludonarrative dissonance. In a second step, we discuss how this phenomenon can be transferred to gamified applications. As a solution to this scientific issue, we conducted a systematic literature review and conceptualized ludonarrative dissonance, including examples of video games, reasons for ludonarrative dissonance and its implications. Afterward, we discuss the transferability towards gamification applications. Therefore, we slightly redefine the term and analyze three popular gamified apps concerning their ludic and narrative elements and their corresponding relationship.
... In the first playthrough, the machines' actions and speech were the elements that challenged the established frame of reference; in the second, it is the dialogue with other androids that causes the ten-sion, which serves to expand upon and drive home the 'point' of the incited epiphanic moment. The game uses its "ludonarratively dissonant game design" [25] to set up the conditions for aporia and global ludonarrative epiphany, contrasting the rigid actantial model of 'androids = helpers; machines = enemies' enforced by the ludic system with the rhetoric of blurred lines conveyed by the narrative system (insofar as the two can even be considered separate in this case) to great effect. In other words, the competitive friction between ludic and narrative systems, "ludonarrative dissonance" [25], is actually a strength in this case, rather than a weakness. ...
... The game uses its "ludonarratively dissonant game design" [25] to set up the conditions for aporia and global ludonarrative epiphany, contrasting the rigid actantial model of 'androids = helpers; machines = enemies' enforced by the ludic system with the rhetoric of blurred lines conveyed by the narrative system (insofar as the two can even be considered separate in this case) to great effect. In other words, the competitive friction between ludic and narrative systems, "ludonarrative dissonance" [25], is actually a strength in this case, rather than a weakness. The moment of epiphany is ludonarrative because the player's altered understanding of narrative relationship between androids and machines also affects their understanding of their ludic interactions with the machines. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
In this paper, we take up the subject of epiphany in digital games, inspired by Espen Aarseth’s claim in Cybertext that epiphany serves as one half of a “pair of master tropes [that] constitutes the dynamic of hypertext discourse: the dialectic between searching and finding typical of games in general”. This article investigates the continuities and discontinuities between the literary epiphany and the hypertext epiphany, and subsequently theorizes the different types of epiphanies that occur in various digital games. We argue that epiphany in digital games is experienced by the player instead of the fictional protagonist, and that this experience can be brought about by ludic or narrative elements (making either a ‘ludic’ or a ‘narrative epiphany’), or by the collaboration of those elements (a ‘ludonarrative epiphany’). In addition, we distinguish between epiphany on a ‘local’, meaning small-scale and context-specific, and a ‘global’ scale, pertaining to the entirety of the game system. We conclude that an improved understanding of epiphany in digital games contributes to the maturation of digital games as a medium, since it allows both designers and scholars to better understand the medium-specific ways in which games can evoke certain feelings and emotions within their players.
... Dissonance does not necessarily lead to incoherence (Polansk, 2015). It can be used as a storytelling technique (Seraphine, 2016). Just like other media, a game designer can bring the form to the foreground intentionally. ...
Book
Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Narrative Aesthetics in Video Games is a collection of contemporary research and interpretation that explores the narrative structures in video games and ludonarrative content design in related media. Featuring coverage of a broad range of topics including narrative theory, game studies, history of video games, and interdisciplinary studies, this book is ideally designed for scholars, researchers, intellectuals, media professionals, game developers, entrepreneurs, and students who wish to enhance their understanding of the relationship and correlation of video games, narrativity, and aesthetics.
... P5 is one such game, often utilising the way in which the player is able to interact with the game world to complement and reinforce its narrative argument. There are also mechanics that deliberately deny player agency, which is discordant with the game narrative; it has been suggested game developers may consciously subvert the narrative with the game mechanics in what is known as 'ludonarrative dissonance' (Seraphine, 2016) 'to create complex narratives of trauma and suffering' (Kuznetsova, 2017, pp.iii). This section will explore a selection of P5's core mechanics and the procedural rhetoric that they mount, while playing close attention to the relationship between mechanics and narrative, and the way that impacts the game's overall argument. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Persona 5 is a videogame first released in Japan in 2016, and for the Western market the following year, to critical acclaim. Its story follows a group of high school misfits who enter the Metaverse, a supernatural realm inhabited by malevolent manifestations of society’s subconscious desires, to attempt to effect change in society by holding corrupt adults accountable for their actions. Set in modern-day Tokyo, the game highlights the social issues affecting young people in Japanese society by enacting them in the game’s narrative and mechanics. By combining traditional methods of textual analysis with more contemporary approaches, such as Bogost’s concept of procedural rhetoric, the game is read as a text to clarify what arguments it makes about contemporary Japanese society, how it does so, and evaluate whether or not the game is as subversive as it appears on the surface.
Thesis
Full-text available
The following paper analyses moral philosophy in single-player video games by linking the academic fields of ethics and game studies. The paucity of academic work on the subject has instigated the creation of a theoretical framework that establishes a clear link between both fields. In turn, this theoretical framework has allowed the creation of a methodology for the selection of video games with ethical components for subsequent study by means of a proprietary analysis methodology based on the identification and classification of normative ethics in the design of single-player video games.
Chapter
The paper introduces RecovR, a research-creation project whose aim is to develop a ludo-narrative model that would enable to have a sustainable impact on cultural diversity and inclusivity. The preliminary conclusions concerning the necessity of creating a space for debate and the poetics of chaos that could make it possible are discussed.
Article
Full-text available
Alongside the direct parallels and contrasts between traditional narrative fiction and games, there lie certain partial analogies that provide their own insights. This article begins by examining a direct parallel between narrative fiction and games—the role of fictional reliefs and reality checks in shaping aesthetic engagement—before arguing that from this a partial analogy can be developed stemming from a feature that distinguishes most games from most traditional fictions: the presence of rules. The relation between rules and fiction in games has heretofore been acknowledged but not examined in detail, giving an impression of a tension that is constant. However, the paired concepts of formal reliefs and representation checks, once introduced, allow us to explain how rules and fiction interact to alter the ways in which players engage with games in a dynamic but limited way.
Article
Digital games propagate mythical stories and revitalize medieval legends. Amplification of gothic elements in contemporary media and in digital games reflects an ideological and aesthetic transformation of cultural products in contemporary society. This essay discusses distinctiveness in game narratives by citing diverse theories, including semiotics and theories of psychoanalysis, as well as mythology and theology. Game narratives tend to deconstruct the conventional timeframes of chronological order seen in the narratives of traditional literature. Contrary to the formulaic structure of mythology described by Joseph Campbell, digital games introduce a new dimension of time in narratives akin to biblical apocalypse. Digital games deploy synchronic time, exclusively in the form of the present tense, which Tillich identifies as relating to kairos contingent on Heidegger’s notion of time. At their forefront, digital games visualize elements of literary stories as a result of deploying synchronic time in reimagined narratives. While digital games attract users via this new concept of transformative time and their visual embellishment of mysticism, innovative narratives in digital games function as a new means of ideology, resonating with the social psychology of users under the challenges of the contemporary world.
Article
Full-text available
p>En este artículo se analizarán los conceptos que resultan de la combinación de narrativa interactiva y realismo gráfico en videojuegos. Su revisión es importante debido a la presencia de software como los motores de videojuegos o “game engines” que desde 1998 están al alcance de desarrolladores y público entusiasta. Muchos son gratuitos, sencillos de usar y con recursos para aprendizaje como videotutoriales. Sin embargo, se halló que estudios acerca del equilibrio gráfico y narrativo en videojuegos son escasos. Para este análisis se revisó documentación teórica, declaraciones de profesionales vinculados a la industria, y ejemplos de narrativa interactiva direccionada al entretenimiento en géneros de ficción y desde eventos reales. Se concluye que únicamente la narrativa o únicamente el realismo no activa una mejor experiencia global en videojuegos. A ese equilibrio se suma factores visuales y de interacción; cada uno con un peso diferente pero necesario según la temática y los objetivos de sus creadores.</p
Book
Full-text available
This article aims at highlighting semiotic devices that are proper to the field of game design. By analyzing how current games handle their story telling, it will try to identify the process of signification within games in order to understand how it could be enhanced. This article will make use of concepts from Ludology, Semiotics, and Narratology; yet this paper's intent is to give new perspectives in the domain of game-design. It is a first attempt at identifying a language specific to games; a language that would permit the emergence of richer contents within games. It is likely that games have the ability to convey emotions, ethical values or stories. Some games already do. But we have yet to understand the workings of this signification. What really belongs to games? What is borrowed to other forms of art?
Article
Full-text available
What makes virtual violence enjoyable rather than aversive? Two 2×2 experiments tested the assumption that moral disengagement cues provided by a violent video game's narrative and game play lessen users' guilt and negative affect, which would otherwise undermine players' enjoyment of the game. Experiment 1 found that users' familiarity with the violent game reduced guilt and negative affect, and enhanced enjoyment, whereas opponents' nonhuman outer appearance and blameworthiness had no effect. Experiment 2 found that fighting for a just purpose, perceiving less mayhem, and framing the overall situation as “just a game” or “just an experiment” reduced guilt and negative affect, whereas the distorted portrayal of consequences did not. Effects on game enjoyment were mixed and suggest that moral disengagement cues may both foster and diminish game enjoyment.
Book
Anyone can master the fundamentals of game design - no technological expertise is necessary. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses shows that the same basic principles of psychology that work for board games, card games and athletic games also are the keys to making top-quality videogames. Good game design happens when you view your game from many different perspectives, or lenses. While touring through the unusual territory that is game design, this book gives the reader one hundred of these lenses - one hundred sets of insightful questions to ask yourself that will help make your game better. These lenses are gathered from fields as diverse as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, writing, puzzle design, and anthropology. Anyone who reads this book will be inspired to become a better game designer - and will understand how to do it.
Article
Until recently, most videogames characters did not reflect our everyday life for the simple reason that most of them were trolls, aliens and monsters. However, this has changed since the introduction of The Sims, the people simulator. Nevertheless, characters in this game are still flat since The Sims simulates life in a Disneyland-like way, avoiding ideological conflicts. Encouraged by authors like Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray, videogame designers have been taking for granted that a high level of agency and immersion are desirable effects. However, I will show that alternative, non-Aristotelian techniques could be used to develop character-driven videogames that enhance critical thinking about ideological issues and social conflicts while keeping the experience enjoyable. I will do this by borrowing some concepts from Bertolt Brecht's and Augusto Boal's ideas on non-Aristotelian theater and applying them on videogame design. In this paper, I propose a modified version of The Sims would allow players to create behavioral rules for their characters that reflect their personal opinions. Like in Boal's Forum Theater, this game would foster critical discussion about social and personal problems.
The What, Why & WTF: Ludonarrative Dissonance [Blog post] GameCloud from http://gamecloud.net.au/features/wwwtf/twwwtf-ludonarrative-dissonance 14
  • N Ballantyne
Ballantyne, N.(2015, February 15). The What, Why & WTF: Ludonarrative Dissonance [Blog post] GameCloud. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from http://gamecloud.net.au/features/wwwtf/twwwtf-ludonarrative-dissonance 14. Focus Entertainment. (2016). [E3 2016] Vampyr – E3 Trailer. [Youtube video]. Retrieved July 1, 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KK4NoMKOMs
Ludonarrative Dissonance: Interlacing the Narrative and Ludic Structure Together in The Last of Us (Bachelor dissertation, University of Hertfordshire) Retrieved
  • K Stanley
Stanley, K.(2014). Ludonarrative Dissonance: Interlacing the Narrative and Ludic Structure Together in The Last of Us (Bachelor dissertation, University of Hertfordshire). Retrieved June 15, 2016 from http://kazperstan.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/StanleyKaren_LastofUs.pdf