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Ludonarrative Hermeneutics: A Way Out and the Narrative Paradox

  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht
  • HKU University of the Arts Utrecht

Abstract and Figures

The practice of designing Interactive Digital Narratives [IDN] is often described as a challenge facing issues such as the “narrative paradox” and avoid-ing the unintentional creation of “ludonarrative dissonance”. These terms are expressions of a perspective that takes narrative and interactivity as dichotomic ends of a design trajectory, mirroring an enduring discussion in-game studies be-tween positions often cast as ludologists and narratologists. The dichotomy of ludo versus narrative is, in itself, problematic and is often the source of the very conflict it describes. In this paper, we investigate this issue through the example of the cooperative game A Way Out, in which two players team up to break out of prison. The game is designed with a narrative twist, involving the escalation and final resolution of the game’s competitive motif in the final scene. To understand the user experiences of this reveal, and the concomitant consequences, we engage in a discursive analysis of "Let’s Play" videos as a largely untapped re-source for research. By analyzing the interactions and performances in these videos, we can more clearly understand player responses to unsatisfying IDN design. As a result, we introduce the notion of a ‘hermeneutic strip’, extending Koenitz’ SPP model to locate and describe the involved processes of narrative cognition in IDN work.
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Ludonarrative Hermeneutics: A Way Out and the
Narrative Paradox
Christian Roth1, Tom van Nuenen2, Hartmut Koenitz1
1HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, Nieuwekade 1, 3511 RV Utrecht, The Netherlands;
2 King’s College London, WC2R 2LS London, United Kingdom
Abstract. The practice of designing Interactive Digital Narratives [IDN] is often
described as a challenge facing issues such as the “narrative paradox” and avoid-
ing the unintentional creation of “ludonarrative dissonance”. These terms are ex-
pressions of a perspective that takes narrative and interactivity as dichotomic
ends of a design trajectory, mirroring an enduring discussion in game studies be-
tween positions often cast as ludologists and narratologists. The dichotomy of
ludo versus narrative is, in itself, problematic and is often the source of the very
conflict it describes. In this paper, we investigate this issue through the example
of the cooperative game A Way Out, in which two players team up to break out
of prison. The game is designed with a narrative twist, involving the escalation
and final resolution of the game’s competitive motif in the final scene. To under-
stand the user experiences of this reveal, and the concomitant consequences, we
engage in a discursive analysis of "Let’s Play" videos as a largely untapped re-
source for research. By analyzing the interactions and performances in these vid-
eos, we can more clearly understand player responses to unsatisfying IDN design.
As a result we introduce the notion of a ‘hermeneutic strip’, extending Koenitz’
SPP model to locate and describe the involved processes of narrative cognition
in IDN work.
Keywords: Interactive Narrative Design, ludonarrative dissonance, narrative
paradox, hermeneutics, hermeneutic strip, SPP Model, role distancing.
1 Introduction
The practice of designing Interactive Digital Narratives [IDN] is often described as a
challenge that requires moderation between player freedom and the structured experi-
ence that interactive forms like video games internalize. Here, terms such as “ludonarra-
tive dissonance” and “narrative paradox” are often used expressions of a perspective
that takes narrative and interactivity as dichotomic ends of a design trajectory, reflect-
ing the enduring trope of the narratology vs. ludology debate. However, as we will point
out, the dichotomy of “ludo” versus “narrative” is in itself problematic, and is often the
source of the very conflict it describes as a design challenge.
In practice, the terms “ludonarrative dissonance” [1] and “narrative paradox” [2] are
used in relation to unsatisfactory user experiences in terms of agency and immersion
[3]. Little is known, however, about the exact nature of the underlying issues, of the
supposed tension between narrative and interaction. We investigate this issue through
the example of Hazelight Studios’ narrative action-adventure game A Way Out [4], in
which two players team up to break out of prison and escape the authorities. We focus
especially on player reactions to the showdown in the final scenes of the game where
agency is suddenly revoked and the players are forced into a deadly confrontation from
which there is no escape. In order to understand how this reveal and change of gameplay
is experienced, we turn to the material of "Let’s Play" videos on YouTube, which we
consider a largely untapped resource for user-experience research. By analyzing the
interactions and performances in these videos, we can more clearly understand player
responses to IDN design.
This paper argues that the concept of ludonarrative dissonance is insufficient in de-
scribing situations where games let their players down due to tensions between game-
play and narrative constituents. We go on to suggest that the concept should, at least in
this specific case, be extended and better defined by using the construct of interpreta-
tion of the ludonarrative to better accommodate the hybrid nature of the ludonarrative
construct taking both player and game designer into account than the entrenched dicho-
tomic ludology/narratology perspective.
2 Summarizing A Way Out
A Way Out is a game about the prison breakout of Leo and Vincent, two inmates who
meet in jail and become partners in planning a daring escape. Convicted of robbery,
assault and grand theft, Leo is introduced as a confident, pragmatic and headstrong
character with a tendency towards violence. Vincent, on the other hand, has been sen-
tenced for fraud, embezzlement and murder; he is portrayed as a smart, rational and
reserved character. An unlikely pair, the two are united by their wish to take revenge
on a common enemy Leo’s former boss, Harvey, who has framed Leo and killed
Vincent’s brother. Determined to make their escape, the two have to work together.
Cooperation is required for most tasks, be it opening doors, subduing guards, hoisting
each other up, or creating distractions so the other character can accomplish a task.
Teamwork is at the core of A Way Out’s game design, realized as cooperative activity
for two players presented in a split screen. This configuration supports the narrative of
the two characters being dependent on each other, while placing the respective players
in the position of their avatars [5]. As Nitsche [6] argues, players understand the video
game space and their movement therein by ways of narrative comprehension: a form of
understanding of the events they trigger and encounter. To bolster the game’s syner-
getic disposition, both characters’ story unfolds simultaneously on the screen, allowing
each player to see what the other one is experiencing. In certain situations, the screens
merge, marking crucial points of interaction and shared experience. Once the two char-
acters have escaped, action scenes are intercut with slower narrative segments, reveal-
ing the gradual development of friendship. Throughout the game players encounter
dichotomic choices, usually juxtaposing Vincent’s careful approach with Leo’s brutish
one. The narrative comes to a climax as both players finally confront and kill Harvey
at his hideout in Mexico. Having fulfilled their mission, they return to the US, but in
typical Hollywood fashion, the game has a twist up its sleeve. Vincent turns out to be
an undercover cop whose sole reason for working with Leo is to get to Harvey. Feeling
betrayed, Leo takes Vincent hostage, leading to a series of actions that culminate in a
final showdown. Here, the game’s dominant mode changes from one of cooperation
(where players must help each other in order to proceed) to one of confrontation (where
players can and, in the end, must harm each other in order to propel the narrative for-
ward and achieve the game’s objectives), mirroring the narrative of the betrayal and the
resulting broken bond.
That is not to say that confrontation is absent beforehand: in fact, the game constantly
plays off of the dialectic between competition and collaboration to increase the bond
between players. From the start of the game, small, individual mini-games can be un-
dertaken, such as doing pull-ups in prison, the results of which can be compared to the
other player’s tally. However, in the game’s closing moments, narrative and gameplay
shift dramatically from a mode that is mainly co-operative to one that is solely compet-
itive. In the last interactive moment, players fight to reach a single weapon. Similar to
earlier friendly competitions, the player who presses X faster gets to the weapon first.
Once one of the characters reaches the gun, the game cuts to the perspective of that
character within a slow-motion scene. The scene produces a radical shift in what, fol-
lowing Genette [7], we might call ludic mood: the way the designer allows events to
unfold. We might say this is where the second betrayal occurs this time, of the contract
between the game and its players [8]. The narrative only advances when the trigger is
pressed long enough so that the character in control raises his arm, aims for the other
character’s chest and then pulls the trigger. This is the only way to advance the narrative
of this scene; any choice of non-participation just causes the game to pause.
3 Theoretical Background
3.1 Harmony, Dissonance and Narrative Paradox
< don’t make me shoot him > I DON’T WANNA SHOOT HIM
The above line is a Conversation Analysis excerpt from a Let’s Play video of A Way
Out [9]. The player, shouting at the game as he struggles to avoid killing his accomplice
and co-player, is typical for the response of players in the final section of the game,
having cooperated with the other player until this point. How can we understand these
strong, disapproving responses? We might be tempted to call this a matter of ‘lu-
donarrative dissonance’, which is typically understood as the result of a disconnect be-
tween game mechanics and narrative. The concept was first offered in a rather terse
blog post by Clint Hocking [1], who defines the concept loosely through the example
of Bioshock. In the game, the “ludic contract” between player and game, an objectivist
morality that regards everything around them as a means to their own end – is in conflict
with its “narrative contract”, in which the player only progresses when they help an
anonymous interlocutor over the radio. Bioshock thus contains a “dissonance between
what it is about as a game, and what it is about as a story” [1]. The concept has proven
fruitful outside academic circles and is frequently applied in games journalism and pub-
lic discourse.
In the case of A Way Out, if we take the game’s dominant ludic mode to be that of
collaboration, then, the narrative component seems incongruent, and – in the final scene
– violates the “narrative contract” through the removal of agency, eliciting strong neg-
ative reactions.
We argue, however, that “ludonarrative dissonance” does not adequately describe
this phenomenon, in part due to the unstable ontological premises of this term. While
the term ludonarrative dissonance seems to evoke diachronicity a tension or clash
resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements during a
musical piece the term very often describes its problem in holistic terms. A game
either is ludonarratively dissonant, or it is not. The qualitative statement Hocking makes
about his case study (“Bioshock seems to suffer from a powerful dissonance between
what it is about as a game, and what it is about as a story”) demonstrates this pars-pro-
toto well. Of course, Hocking’s example is not entirely ludonarratively dissonant: he
notes that during the initial hours of his playthrough, what he experienced was more
like what Pynenburg [10] calls “ludonarrative harmony”, as he writes: “the game liter-
ally made me feel a cold detachment from the fate of the Little Sisters, who I assumed
could not be saved.” Harmony and dissonance seem, much like in music theory, co-
dependent terms. Second, when understood in a particular way, ludonarrative disso-
nance may constitute what Gilbert Ryle [11] designated as a category-mistake, in which
things belonging to a particular category are presented as belonging to a different one.
We argue that the “ludic contract” Hocking describes is, upon closer inspection, another
narrative contract: the world-making that players engage in through the game’s me-
chanics is a cognitive achievement, and one in which their identification with “Randian
objectivism” is a wholly narrative model, based on connected events. This is no attempt
to drag up the problematic dichotomy of narratology versus ludology; instead, we mean
this insofar as Jerome Bruner noted that “[w]e seem to have no other way of describing
‘lived time’ save in the form of a narrative.” [12] of course, the player does engage with
mechanics that are not (overtly) narrative in terms of their practical involvement. A
reflection on what those mechanics mean, however, undoubtedly needs to consider the
narrative aspect. This means we need to look more closely into the tension, between
narrative aspects in a game, instead of stopping short at the definition of “mechanics”.
We will do so in the analytical section of this paper.
As mentioned, ludonarrative dissonance also implies ludonarrative harmony. Lu-
donarrative harmony refers to the successful syncing of both ludic and narrative aspects
to build a consistent, immersive experience. When achieved, this harmony results in an
internally consistent world that “feels right” [10]. As such, ludonarrative harmony
seems to describe the status of the well-functioning videogame, and its particularities
are interesting to analyze. Interestingly, the lead designer of A Way Out, Josef Fares,
has implemented cooperative gameplay before in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons [13].
In Brothers, the game mechanics require players to use one gamepad stick for each of
the two brothers they are controlling, reflecting the cognitively challenging task of co-
operation. The older brother helps the younger one with different tasks – notably, car-
rying him on his back while swimming. Later in the game the older brother dies, and
the younger brother has to finish the journey alone. Players are left with one of the
gamepad sticks to interact. Yet at the game’s end, players are confronted with another
stream to cross, and the younger brother refuses to go beyond the shore. The problem
is overcome when players realize that the older brother is still there ‘in spirit’: both
gamepad sticks can still be used. This narrative twist, told through the gameplay gambit
of first taking away agency and then giving it back, has brought much praise to Fares
and his design team. Similarly, in A Way Out, Fares’ design fosters the bond between
the characters (and the players) through cooperative gameplay right up to the climax of
the game, where agency is taken away. In this case, however, it is never given back.
Instead, the narrative design imposes either of two versions of an emotional ending,
with one character dead. On an analytical level, the question is whether the observed
problem is an instance of ludonarrative dissonance: the incongruence between what
players assume based on what they have thus far experienced, and what the game de-
signer has planned as the conclusion for the story.
Cliff Makedonski draws several conclusions from the notion of ludonarrative disso-
nance, considering designers responsible solely for the disruption. Overcoming the
problem would either mean “focusing its efforts in a mostly linear direction”, so that
the player cannot make decisions that would put consistency at risk, or creating a pro-
verbial map that spans the entire territory, and “molding a world where anything could
happen” [3]. Of course, creating an IDN system that allows for such high levels of
agency shifts the conversation to whether the resulting experience would still be mean-
ingful for both player and the designer.
This brings us to the concept of narrative paradox [2, 14] which describes the inherent
tension between authorship and participation, in which the player asserts agency, the
freedom to take actions, while the game designer refuses to relinquish control of the
narrative for the purpose of ensuring what they believe is a satisfying structure [15].
In IDN, interactors are encouraged to actively create belief by performing or, in effect,
inhabiting a role [16]. This perspective assumes a fundamental distinction between
agency and dramatic structure. A narrative is taken as a carefully woven product the
storyteller crafts in order to create maximum impact. Herein lies the problem.
Costikyan [17] writes: “To the degree that you make a game more like a story – a con-
trolled, pre-determined experience, with events occurring as the author wishes – you
make it a less effective game. To the degree that you make a story more like a game –
with alternative paths and outcomes – you make it a less effective story.” However, this
view has been challenged by a range of authors, including Jennings [18], Murray [16],
Mateas [19] and Koenitz [20]. Thus, in order to be able to identify more precisely the
tension caused by the ending of A Way Out, we need a better view of the ludonarrative
relationship between players and designers. To do so, we need to return to the problem
of what ludonarrative refers to in the first place.
3.2 Ludonarrative hermeneutics
Adding to the confusion about ludonarrative dissonance is the fact that “ludonarrative”
itself “is variously understood as a structural quality of the video game artifact, an ex-
periential quality during the experience of a video game, or a high-level framework to
understand video games.[21] In either case, as we mentioned in the last section, a
number of scholars emphasize the difference to linear narrative manifestations and
therefore work towards specific theories of video game narrative, seen as a variant of
interactive digital narrative (IDN).
As Montfort [22] and Koenitz [23] clarify, an IDN artefact is not itself a narrative,
it is an interactive computer program with the potential of instantiating narratives
through user interaction. Koenitz reflects this aspect in his SPP model [20, 23], by un-
derstanding IDN as comprised of System, Process, and Product. Through the process
of the player’s engagement with the interactive narrative system by choices and other
behavior - her performance (see also Knoller’s perspective on “userly performance”
[24]) - a concrete and personal narrative product is instantiated. Koenitz understands
the IDN system as a prototype for all potentially instantiated narratives and thus as a
At any moment of reflecting on this narrative, it forms a story in the mind of the
player. This is the ludonarrative expression of the hermeneutic circle, in which a text
as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one's understanding
of each individual part by reference to the whole. Yet, in the case of interactive digital
narrative, the player also makes plans by evaluating the results of the interaction strat-
egy so far, by speculating about paths not taken and by considering the current potential
for interaction.
To illustrate how this system of ludonarrative hermeneutics works, we propose to
extend Koenitz’ SPP model [23] by adding a “hermeneutic strip”, incorporating two
interconnected loops of narrative interpretation processes (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Extension of Koenitz’ SPP model [23] through implementation of a
double-hermeneutic circle (‘hermeneutic strip’)
The hermeneutic strip illustrates the player’s narrative meaning-making process that
happens a) when players interact with the system and b) when they interpret the instan-
tiated narrative at any point of the experience. The latter can be understood as the classic
hermeneutic circle, and together the two loops result in an interdependent double-her-
meneutic circle of the IDN experience (cf. [25]).
In the ‘upper hermeneutic circle’ players are reflecting what the system allows them
to do and what narrative they could extract, also in the sense of narrative game mechan-
ics [26]. Within the ‘bottom hermeneutic circle’, then, players interpret the currently
instantiated narrative. While players interact with an IDN system, they are continuously
extracting information to understand past and present events and to plan their actions.
As we mentioned above, this meaning-making process can be understood from a
cognitive perspective on narrative. Following cognitive narratologists Herman [27] and
Bordwell [28], Marie-Laure Ryan [29] narrative meaning is a cognitive construct, or
mental image, built by the interpreter in response to the narrative construct (text in
narratological terms). Intuitively, we might understand narrative as located with a nar-
rative product like a printed book or a movie, however, the cognitive perspective
stresses the point that narrative resides within the human mind as a mental construct.
“... it does not take a representation proposed as narrative to trigger the cognitive
construct that constitutes narrativity” [29]. Through interaction with a game such as A
Way Out, players create mental narratives in an effort to make sense of the simulated
environment and constantly check if their assumptions are consistent. New information
leads to an updated projection, and conflicting information can lead to perceived disso-
nance. Thus, we understand IDN to have different narrative agents: on the one hand
what is conveyed, implied, intended by the designer on a system level, and on the other
hand what is performed, interpreted, assumed, expected, speculated and planned by the
player. For the present discussion, we focus on player reactions to an IDN system.
Through an analysis of these responses, we will now attempt to shed light on the po-
tential dissonance players experience with the ending scenes of A Way Out.
4 Method: Analysis of Let’s Play Videos
For our analysis of player responses to A Way Out’s narrative twist, and the way in
which ludonarrative hermeneutics can be demonstrated, we turn to Let's Play (LPs)
videos on the popular video platform Youtube. Let's Play is a style of videos document-
ing the playthrough of a video game, usually including commentary by the gamer. Glas
et al. [30] identified LPs’ potential for game archiving and exhibition purposes within
cultural heritage institutions. Extending this perspective, we use LP as samples for the
evaluation of user experiences. The first selective step consisted of watching a number
of popular Let’s Play videos (N = 40), showing up under the search query “A Way Out
Let’s Play”. We narrowed the selection to 20 videos for the conversational analysis
when the responses to the telling moment seemed not to yield any new insights.
For the purpose of this analysis we focus on two ‘telling moments’ at the end of the
game, when the narrative twist takes place. In the first scene Vincent reveals that he is
an undercover cop and Leo becomes aware of his betrayal. The second scene is the
showdown in which Leo and Vincent fight each other, leaving one of them dead. We
decided to exclude Let’s Play heavily edited videos as we were interested in a recording
situation that resembles an unedited think-aloud protocol. A smaller number of conver-
sations (6) were then transcribed using the Jefferson system, one of the founders of
conversation analysis (CA). [31, 32]. This method is interesting for several reasons.
Reeves et al. [33] note that investigations into video game play developed from ethno-
methodological and conversation analytic (EMCA) perspectives remain scarce. EMCA
approaches the need to engage both with play as social action and the ways in which it
is practically accomplished by players, “between players themselves, and between play-
ers and “the game” – as a moment-by-moment, sequentially organized activity” (ibid.)
They do, however, offer the opportunity to focus in detail on the embodied act of play
itself. Yet, EMCA typically attempts to work with what we could refer to as “natural-
istic data”: audio and video recording of activities that are, as much as possible, occur-
ring in their original settings.
While the kinds of performative behavior that Let’s Players demonstrate are likely
not the same kinds of behavior found in everyday – and unrecorded – home scenarios,
we contend that the performativity here allows us more insight, not less, into the ways
in which players respond to the tensions arising out of the particular combination of
gameplay and narrative. Youtubers “act out” their responses, often using what Ytreberg
[34], following Goffman [35], refers to as a performative aspect of mass media, namely
hyper-ritualizations and dramatic scriptings. The former involves a concentration and
intensification of certain traits of unmediated behavior and interaction. The latter,
Goffman notes, refer to “all strips of depicted personal experience made available for
vicarious participation to an audience or readership” [35]. It is this dual nature of the
Youtube performance that makes it indicative of the way players “ought” to respond
to, in this case, a game. Goffman writes that “[the] deepest significance [of dramatic
scriptings] is that they provide a mock-up of everyday life, a put-together script of un-
scripted social doings, and thus are a source of broad hints concerning the structure of
this domain.” We view the videos we analyze, then, as “over-performed” interactive
narrative user experiences, telling of the ways in which games produce affective re-
sponses in their players.
To transcribe the findings of the LP sessions we turn to Conversation Analysis (CA):
cf. [31, 32], which focuses on “the shape and form of the ways in which contributions
to interaction form a connected series of actions”, while attempting to “discover and
describe the architecture of this structure: the properties of the ways in which interac-
tion proceeds through activities produced through successive turns” [31]. In the process
of annotation, we made use of the "Jefferson system" after its developer, the late Gail
Jefferson. One of the additions we decided to make to this system is the inclusion of
physical behavior, which due to the video format includes important interactional cues.
We further made a distinction between physical player behavior (throwing the control-
ler away) and in-game character behavior (pointing the gun towards something), as the
latter is obviously controlled by the player but adds further contextual information.
5 Analysis
As the final confrontation between the characters commences, all of the players re-
mained highly motivated to continue, as this event at first seems in line with the gradual
escalation of the competitive elements that it has included from the beginning. Then,
after a long fight scene between the characters Leo and Vincent (both badly wounded)
stumble to a gun at the edge of the building. Still enthralled by the game’s ludonarrative
harmony, players shout and curse at each other as their movements bring them closer
to the gun. Then, as one player reaches the gun, they are confronted with the results:
the camera pans behind the winning character, and all they can do is to press the trigger.
In all of the analyzed LPs in which Vincent was the victor, players did not want to
shoot the other, trying out a myriad of ways to avoid the outcome. Some temporarily
put down the controller in refusal [9], others started playing meta-games with the mech-
anism of pointing the gun at the player [36]; yet others simply waited for a long time
[37]. A closer look at a particular response of the players in The Let’s Play channel T&J
Nexus [38] demonstrates the disbelief of players as the game forces their hand and ne-
gates the ludonarrative harmony of comradery that has characterized the majority of the
P Vincent: wha- aim, i don’t wanna shoot. (.5)
P Leo: oh::: my god (.4)
P Vincent: i don’t gonna i’m not gonna shoot (.) are you kidding me? {switches be-
tween pointing and pointing away at Leo} (.3) do I have to? (.3) no, what
if i don’t. (.6) i don’t wanna d(h)o this (.h) it’s gonna f(h)orce me
P Leo: (h) (.h) you don’t have an option. (.3)
P Vincent: (h) i don’t wanna do this (.3) I really don’t wanna do this (.2)
P Vincent [holy shit]
P Leo: [ahh:: this is so] (.hh)
P Vincent: {shoots} ohh:: my god. why? (..) ohh:: come o::n
P Leo: (.hhh) (hhh)
P Vincent: fuck this ga::me. No:: i didn’t w(h)ant it to e(h)nd like this
What we see here is a familiar “mapping” of players onto their characters, despite
the fact they have played a round character for the entirety of the game – putting further
tension on Troisi’s distinction between “objective” and “subjective” narrative positions
[39]. Players refer to their characters in first person yet simultaneously reflect on their
own position as players. Additionally, they use the subject pronoun “it” to refer to the
agency of the game itself, clearly no longer a “game” in the sense of “free movement
within a more rigid structure” as Salen and Zimmerman [40] put it, but a system of
predetermined choices. We also see players rationalizing the choices made by their
characters and, instead of resisting, “playing along” and roleplaying as the idiosyncratic
character they are playing. One player who gets to shoot while playing the cop, Vincent,
rationalizes by saying “Well, it’s my job” and “there’s no honor among thieves” to his
co-player. At the same time, players who control the character who shoots the other
discursively distance themselves from the act they engage in. One player, while having
used first and second person pronouns throughout the scene, slips into third person di-
rectly after his avatar shot the other.
P Vincent: why did he shoot im? (.) i mean i guess he-
P Leo: leo definitely was gonna kill him
P Vincent: yeah i mean he (.) had (..) all the right to
The player demonstrates what Goffman calls ‘role distancing’ [35] which pertains
to the act of presenting one’s 'self' as being removed or at a distance from the role one
is being required to play. Role distancing is one strategy which allows the individual to
play the role but to resist it – for example, by keeping your eyes open when asked to
pray or say grace, you communicate to the group by role distancing, that you are making
no commitment to the role. As such, people get to deny "the virtual self that is implied
in the role for the allocating performers" [41]. While role distancing is a well-known
trait from everyday life, it has as of yet not been connected to the complex performances
of streamed video game play. Let’s Players have to negotiate the space between them-
selves as performers vis-a-vis both the game (which fixes them into certain roles) and
their potential audience (which may expect certain roles to be played). In this particular
case, their linguistic behavior signals a dissonance not between their play and the nar-
rative, but between their prior investment in the totality of their prior role and the new
one they are forced to take. Taking stock of such conversations, where Glas [42] argues
that “the aim with LP videos is not to create stories”, we would strongly disagree. More
than “annotating their game-play in real time” [43], Let’s Players engage in all kinds of
narrative life writing acts [44]. Moreover, it is the negotiation of that self that occurs in
the moment that players are confronted with a forced action they do not subscribe to.
In sum, the use of role distancing in the broader narrative construction of “demon-
strative play” that the Let’s Play genre consists of, shows the subtle ways in which
players are claiming authorship over the uncontrollable experience that the game offers.
It also demonstrates that the dissonance, here, is not primarily one between mechanics
and narrative, even if we would agree upon such a binary: there is not necessarily a
tension between the narrative of the betrayed partner and the mechanical consequences
that flow from that. Instead, the dissonance here arises between what we could describe
as the hermeneutics of the designer and that of the player.
6 Discussion
The term 'ludonarrative' and related vocabulary ('video game narrative', 'narrative-fo-
cused game' 'interactive story') has been used to describe the phenomenon of narrative
in interactive media. However, clear and generally accepted definitions of what this
term actually entails are elusive. Accordingly, Koenitz states that no generally accepted
definition of video game narrative exists as of yet [21]. He identifies a range of positions
(e.g. the experience of a video game, its content and or an analytical perspective), which
clearly demonstrate the vagueness of existing terminology. In this paper we have seen
how current definitions of interactive narrative are not sufficient to describe the
problems players have with the narrative of a particular game, and its narratively inter-
preted mechanics.
Again: the fact that we cannot conceptualize gameplay without a resort to narrative
is not an attempt to police the borders of narratology and ludology. What it allows us
to see is that there is a friction between the player’s unfolding ideas about the characters
they inhabit, and the designer’s intended experience for that player. In this respect, lu-
donarrative dissonance describes the consequences of deeper-seated systemic tensions.
In order to conceptualize this, we have proposed a different categorization by incorpo-
rating a hermeneutic approach to Koenitz’ SPP model [23]. This conflict we identify
lies beyond the moniker of ludonarrative dissonance: it is a disturbance in the interac-
tive narrative experience caused by the unbridgeable distance between players’ expec-
tations (the assumptions they develop as they experience the narrative through game-
play, as shown in the interaction and interpretation circle in figure 1) and what is im-
posed by the designer, with the intention to create an engaging, immersive, and mean-
ingful experience.
This view is supported by our analysis of Let’s Play sessions as we observed players
to be confused and in some cases even “rebelling” against the removal of agency, es-
pecially when the narrative that ensued subverted their conception of its integral unity.
The hermeneutic strip we have introduced seemed to break, as the particular instantia-
tion of the story turned out to differ (due to player agency) from the protostory players
had imagined. This, we argue, demonstrates how players develop a sense for the level
of granted agency, for instance when choosing to follow Leo’s or Vincent’s approach
to the issues they encounter throughout the game.
As discussed above, IDN is a shared meaning-making activity between designer and
audience. In the last interactive scene of A Way Out, shared meaning-making turns into
an imposed narrative by the author. Here, the creator changes from the role of an inter-
active narrative designer, offering agency to the players, to the role of the traditional
author who wants to convey a specific narrative meaning. Players revolt, when encoun-
tering the withdrawal of their agency as the co-creative process turns into an authored
one, subverting their own co-created hermeneutical ideas about the ‘protostory’ (the set
of all possible narratives ) and the current concrete instantiation (the product created so
far). This issue is related to the concept of design conventions as the conventional un-
derstanding of design methods by the audience [45]. A Way Out, in this context, applies
the IDN design convention of “meaningful collaborative choice” throughout most of
the game before finally frustrating audience’s expectations when a novel, limiting in-
teraction design is imposed.
This confusion leads to perceived dissonance, a rupture in the experience, leading to
a break in the ludonarrative process. We argue that players, as a result of this interrup-
tion, instead of being invested in further narrative progression, started focusing on the
change of their interaction experience – a move towards a meta-communicational level.
As we know, in literature the “whole”, as part of the hermeneutic movement, refers to
the entirety of the story. When it comes to IDN, that whole is more than that: as the
protostory it also refers to anything the player “could have done” as well. This is, in
fact, what Murray [16] considers part of the transformative aspect of games: knowing
that things could have been different is constitutive for the experience, as it makes one’s
decisions personally meaningful.
7 Conclusion
When creating interactive digital narrative systems, designers need to find a balance
between player agency and a dramatic structure to offer a consistent, meaningful nar-
rative. The resulting set of ludonarrative experiences is an essential part of narrative-
rich games that cannot be ignored. Ludonarrative dissonance can be best understood as
a temporal dissonance between the player’s interpretation of the ludonarrative process
and the interpretation of the overarching narrative (the instantiated narrative product
created so far), and a function of the player’s iterative hermeneutic oscillation.
“Ludonarrative dissonance” as an umbrella term does not explain the actual disso-
nances that occur and which can easily be misinterpreted as creating a false dichotomy
between ludic and narrative elements. Our extended SPP model is a first step towards
gaining a better understanding of such dissonant experiences. The challenge that lies
ahead involves identifying and explaining the actual dissonances that can occur as the
construction of narrative is tightly connected to our meaning-making. To understand
the complex relationship between interaction and narrative it is crucial to include a
cognitive perspective in the analysis. This destabilizes the dichotomy between “ludo”
and “narrative”, as narrative interpretation can be situated on several dimensions of the
ludonarrative experience.
Future work might focus on expanding the IDN model to include the different nar-
rative dimensions in between which dissonance can occur. Researchers might also in-
vestigate into temporal aspects and, for instance, the dissonance between different play-
through sessions (e.g. for systems that offer cross-session memory like Save The Date).
In terms of methodology, a further exploration of Let’s Play Videos as qualitative sam-
ples for the evaluation of the interactive narrative user experience is warranted – the
fact that the captions of these videos can be computationally scraped is noteworthy.
A Way Out creates a collaborative experience, while highlighting the friction be-
tween collaboration and competition by which many friendships are characterized.
Each player is capable of relating this “social model” to their own life. Interactive nar-
ratives, in other words, are significantly more flexible in achieving what Barthes called
the writerly text, in which the reader is located as a site of the production of meaning,
and for which the goal is to make the reader no longer a mere consumer, but a producer
of the text [46]. Interactive Digital Narratives are not played for escapist motives alone
but also for the transformative aspect: “The right stories can open our hearts and change
who we are. [...] Enacted events have a transformative power that exceeds both narrated
and conventionally dramatized events because we assimilate them as personal experi-
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... Their participatory nature and the interactivity they afford produce significant differences in the hermeneutic mechanisms conducive to their understanding. The strategies for interpreting IDNs have been thoroughly studied in recent years, and several discussions developed around the effort to describe such functions (Karhulahti, 2012;Koenitz et al., 2015;Roth et al., 2018;Knoller, 2019). However, the ways in which these interpretative modes are set in motion received much less attention (on this, cf. ...
... Players will move in the fictional world according to their understanding of the narrative and to the arrangement of these attractors, shifting between new places and already-known locations: this will cause the game-and storyworld, and their presentation, to adapt accordingly, by changing at each moment or even by progressing in the story as a consequence to the current state of the engine governing the game. This adaptability further builds the context of future developments and helps foster its meaningfulness, it triggers further movements that could be informed by different memories, and so on, in a circular and continuously looping cognitive mechanism whose hermeneutic modes have been discussed by many scholars in recent times (Karhulahti, 2012;Koenitz et al., 2015;Roth et al., 2018;Knoller, 2019). ...
... Contrarily to contemplative media, video games and IDNs are not pre-determined, but rather they are generally constituted by a set of "possibility spaces" (Bogost, 2007) contained in "protostories" (Roth et al., 2018). Authors and designers do not create an artifact that exists per se in a unique, immutable form: on the contrary, IDNs are based on an interactive engine, which requires exchanges between the player(s) and the computing unit, where the computer actively responds to the physical inputs coming from the player and the player actively responds to the sensory inputs coming from the computer. ...
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Is our way of expressing meanings through digital interactive artifacts simple? How does our sensemaking work when we try to understand Interactive Digital Narratives? To answer these and other questions, the present article discusses a complex-systemic understanding of the expressive mechanisms of Interactive Digital Narratives, to argue the expressive complexity of these artifacts. Interactors of Interactive Digital Narratives necessarily base their hermeneutic processes mainly on what is conveyed in the artifact itself; yet the question of how meaning is expressed in (and sense-making is guided by) Interactive Digital Narratives remains significantly open. I contend that sense-making in such artifacts works by synthetizing the knowledge coming from a number of layers of information, which are intercurrent, interdependent and interoperating, and which concurrently participate in the creation of an overall meaning of a higher order. According to complex systems theory, these layers are therefore elements of a complex system: this justifies the understanding. Even though largely unexplored, this understanding may help advance our knowledge of the representational capabilities and affordances of Interactive Digital Narrarives, not least in representing multifaceted worlds and complex phenomena. A complex-systemic view can also improve our comprehension of the interpretative processes involved in the sense-making of Interactive Digital Narratives. Furthermore, the awareness gained through this understanding could be useful to get a better sense of the impact of the narratives featured in these artifacts, and ultimately to create more engaging and more powerful experiences that can help foster the societal impact of Interactive Digital Narratives.
... On the other side, the theories of "coconstruction of the story" and "ludo-narrative" have emerged (Verdugo et al., 2011;Koenitz, 2015), highlighting the viewer's necessary contribution towards the progress of delivering a complete story and providing a circle of experience. In these works, they put forward models of story construction regarding the viewer also as an author of the story (Roth et al., 2018). Nevertheless, they have not designed models specifically for immersive media such as 360-degree videos. ...
... We know that if the viewer is regarded as a character in the story scene in immersive storytelling, they expect a certain level of interaction to be involved in narrative progression (Tong et al., 2021). A system designed to be responsive to viewer input will also increase the level of viewer involvement and immersion (Ryan, 2008;Roth et al., 2018). Concern has also been raised by some researchers, pointing towards the design around consequences of choices. ...
... As has already been verified by previous research, the viewer's role in immersive media is different from the one in a regular movie. The viewer feels they are a character in the scene and form the expectation that they have some influence over how the guided tour will progress (Ryan, 2008;Roth et al., 2018). Secondly, as mentioned in the previous section, explicit choices for the user will make them think about the potential consequence of the action of choice, thus breaking immersion and deteriorating the general experience (Rezk and Haahr, 2020). ...
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Content creators have been trying to produce engaging and enjoyable Cinematic Virtual Reality (CVR) experiences using immersive media such as 360-degree videos. However, a complete and flexible framework, like the filmmaking grammar toolbox for film directors, is missing for creators working on CVR, especially those working on CVR storytelling with viewer interactions. Researchers and creators widely acknowledge that a viewer-centered story design and a viewer’s intention to interact are two intrinsic characteristics of CVR storytelling. In this paper, we stand on that common ground and propose Adaptive Playback Control (APC) as a set of guidelines to assist content creators in making design decisions about the story structure and viewer interaction implementation during production. Instead of looking at everything CVR covers, we set constraints to focus only at cultural heritage oriented content using a guided-tour style. We further choose two vital elements for interactive CVR: the narrative progression (director vs. viewer control) and visibility of viewer interaction (implicit vs. explicit) as the main topics at this stage. We conducted a user study to evaluate four variants by combining these two elements, and measured the levels of engagement, enjoyment, usability, and memory performance. One of our findings is that there were no differences in the objective results. Combining objective data with observations of the participants’ behavior we provide guidelines as a starting point for the application of the APC framework. Creators need to choose if the viewer will have control over narrative progression and the visibility of interaction based on whether the purpose of a piece is to invoke emotional resonance or promote efficient transfer of knowledge. Also, creators need to consider the viewer’s natural tendency to explore and provide extra incentives to invoke exploratory behaviors in viewers when adding interactive elements. We recommend more viewer control for projects aiming at viewer’s participation and agency, but more director control for projects focusing on education and training. Explicit (vs. implicit) control will also yield higher levels of engagement and enjoyment if the viewer’s uncertainty of interaction consequences can be relieved.
... Recent work on ludonarrative hermeneutics [12,10] has attempted to address the question of how players make sense of narrative meaning in interactive digital narrative (IDN) systems, including narrative games. To date, this work has largely focused on the analysis of games in which a strong protostory is deliberately embedded by the designers: in other words, games that attempt to communicate certain preauthored narrative events to the player on every playthrough, regardless of variations that might arise from one playthrough to the next. ...
... To get there, it's useful to examine how the theory of interpretation has penetrated the field of interactive digital storytelling. Roth, van Nuenen, and Koenitz [12] have put forth their own "ludonarrative hermeneutics" as an extension to Koenitz's System, Process, Product model of IDN [6]. Their extension, the "hermeneutic strip", imports Heidegger's hermeneutic circle and adds a second circle; the part-whole interpretation loop of an unfolding narrative coincides with and mutually reinforces the player-system interactions that are causing the unfolding. ...
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Eve Sedgwick’s theory of reparative reading offers a mode for interpreting text that is “additive and accretive” and “wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object”. It was developed in response to what Sedgwick calls “paranoid reading”, which embodies the desire to locate a stable, canonical meaning and is therefore hostile to the notions of multiplicity and surprise. We argue that interactive digital narrative can be productively understood through the paranoid/reparative framing, and that in particular, narrative sandbox games—games that lean heavily on emergence to produce a narrative effect—invite a kind of reparative play. Narrative sandbox systems function by producing deliberately incomplete artifacts that facilitate a diversity of reparative meaning-making processes by the player; they invite repair by arriving in disrepair.
... Christian Roth and colleagues situate this process of interpretation in a hermeneutic strip that runs through the SPP (Roth et al., 2018a). Designers structure kairos for the "bottom hermeneutic circle" (Roth et al., 2018b). Within this bottom circle, interactors interpret moments in the currently instantiated factual IDN. ...
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The turn to Interactive Digital Narratives to understand complexity offers a new model for creating, developing, and maintaining knowledge. At the same time, storytellers have turned their attention to Virtual Reality (VR). The confluence of these trends draws attention to how non-fiction practitioners can use the technical and aesthetic affordances of VR to create knowledge about complex subjects through the IDN form. This article explores the epistemic rhetorical nature of using narrative discourse in VR to create knowledge about a non-fiction subject. The IDN community has not addressed this rhetorical aspect in their proposed epistemological process. Clarifying the epistemic rhetorical aspect inherent in producing knowledge on complex subjects through IDN provides insights into practitioners’ persuasive and political design and development choices. These intentional choices, in turn, impact the kind of knowledge produced. This rhetorical approach to knowledge production can be grounded in a Neo-sophist epistemic tradition wherein aesthetic choices are used rhetorically. I will present and discuss the Sophist rhetorical tactics of antithesis, the rhetoric of the possible; enargeia, the rhetoric of vivid details; kairos, the rhetoric of opportune timing; and mêtis, the rhetoric of the body. Their implementation by practitioners, how these aesthetic choices rhetorically create knowledge in the System-Process-Product model is presented. The article clarifies these rhetorical processes and choices and analyzes the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Immersive Narrative, The Changing Same: An American Pilgrimage: Episode 1 . This VR factual IDN allows interactors to experience historical moments of racial injustice in the United States. The production team was interviewed about how they used the technical and aesthetic qualities of VR and IDN rhetorically to produce knowledge about the complex and violent history of racial injustice in the United States. Their responses indicate their active use of epistemic rhetorical tactics that capitalize on the technical and aesthetic affordances of VR and IDN to create knowledge.
... By taking pictures, shining light in dark places or writing notes on the walls, they are from that moment on fully involved in the narrative, not by guiding or controlling the protagonist, but by actively cooperating with her. This coherence of narrative and gameplay mechanics creates what could be understood as ludonarrative harmony and supports the player's meaning-making process [33]. Remarkably, in this experience the role of the player sometimes resembles the ghost-like feeling that was described by Burdette [4], when the player's existence is not acknowledged by the other family members in the house. ...
Initial expectations about the interactive affordances of VR were often inspired by science fiction and technological fantasies rather than based on actual technical possibilities. In these futuristic accounts of VR, interactors would have the opportunity to fully engage with the characters that inhabit the story world, in ways that would feel so natural that it would be indistinguishable from reality. In ‘real’ reality however, the actual production of VR has turned out to be considerably more complicated. To provide a realistic impression of the actual possibilities of VR, this study presents four widely acclaimed contemporary VR experiences (Wolves in the Walls, The Line, Down the Rabbit Hole and A Fisherman’s Tale) and reviews them from a media theory and communication science perspective. We discuss whether and how the concepts identification, parasocial interaction, ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and spatial and narrative presence can still be applied to these VR case studies, eventually aiming to contribute some rudimentary insights into the range of possible media conventions that narrative VR may contain.
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When Bandersnatch (2018) was released on Netflix, interactive storytelling became accessible to a mainstream audience on a new scale. While this interactive film lets audiences make binary choices, the influence they have over the plot is limited, and at times the correlation between a choice and the resulting story is difficult to recognize. Although it can be argued that this constitutes a thematic design choice for this particular title, we think there is general room for improvement for this type of highly restrictive, branching structure film, in order to make the format applicable to a wider range of themes and stories. In this paper, Bandersnatch is examined as a representative of its format in order to develop and identify approaches to increasing agency. We use Hartmut Koenitz’s SPP model to understand the title and its format, and the hermeneutic strip extension to assess the perceived agency. Then, we introduce and examine potential approaches to increased agency from other interactive narratives to understand their adaptability and impact. Our discussion concludes that the most promising design idea for increased agency in Bandersnatch-like titles is invisible agency; an approach in which a player model is generated based on identifiable traits in the audience behaviour and used to select matching plotlines. This approach would allow audiences to see the results of their choices immediately, but also allow the impact of the choices to accumulate as the plot progresses, thereby increasing the overall sense of agency.
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Yakın okuma yöntemi ile detaylı oyun incelemeleri içeren çalışmada;12 tane ana oyun ve 6 tane eklenti oyuna sahip olan 14 yıllık Assasin's Creed serisinin gelişim süreci anlatı ve görsel estetik ana kavramları üzerinden ele alınmış ve oyunun sinemasal gelişimi ile bağlantı kurarak dijital oyunun yıllar içerisinde anlatı ve görsel estetik bağlamında yaşadığı değişim üzerinden yorumlanmıştır. İnceleme esnasında belirlenen alt başlıklar üzerinden oyun serisi incelenmiş ve benzerliği korunan ve farklılaşan özellikler temelinde çıkarımlar yapılacaktır. İncelemeler anlatı ve görsel estetik bağlamında yapılmış olup bu incelemeler için sinemasal anlatı ve görsel estetik kuramları üzerinden bir çerçeve çizilmiş böylece dijital oyunun sinemasal dönüşümünün detaylı bir analizi ortaya konmuştur. Sonuç olarak çalışmada, görsel estetik ve anlatı ilişkisini sinemasal oyun kavramı üzerinden Assassin’s Creed serisi temel alınarak kurgulanmıştır.
This chapter discusses the concept of the retelling as a narrative product and as an instrument of narrative design analysis and criticism. Focusing on longform video essays as a prominent category of critical retellings, we analyze transcriptions of Noah Caldwell-Gervais’ video essay and Jose Antonio Vargas’ video review of the 2020 videogame The Last of Us Part II. Using web-based reading and analysis environment Voyant, we investigate the indicators of how they approached and discussed the game’s narrative design and compare their texts as examples of critical and popular retellings of video games.
Interactive Narrative is blessed with a myriad of forms, this richness makes it hard to compare IDN systems or to develop general theories and tools as each example can seem like a special case. We take the approach of using hypertext as a method of inquiry to explore the similarities of different IDN forms. Using the Interactive Process Model to scope our analysis we systematically examine IDN from the perspective of hypertext structure. We show that hypertext can coherently explain the transition functions (the parts of the system that manages narrative state) across calligraphic, sculptural (storylets), adaptive, database driven, parser, and game narratives. In doing so we define a Hypertext Lens, made of layers of lexia state, story state, world model, and story engine. We also show how sculptural systems, parser fiction, and game narratives make use of interaction and presentation engines that complement and build upon these structures. Rather than trying to reconcile hypertext and IDN our approach instead presents hypertext as a useful thought pattern for approaching IDN that can bridge the gap between IDN forms and clarify their relationships to one another. Our analysis clearly shows a fluidity of form, encourages experimentation, and provides a mechanism through which theory can be applied widely.
This paper presents the early findings of a pilot study on the analysis of longform video essays as critical retellings of video game narratives. Using web-based reading and analysis environment Voyant, the study explores the indicators of how players critically approach and discuss game narrative design.
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Today, no generally accepted definition of video game narrative exists. The academic discourse has pointed out ontological and phenomenologi- cal differences to more traditional forms of narra- tive, and therefore, the relationship to established scholarship in narratology is complex. In the field of video game studies, narrative aspects of video games are often described in contrast to rule-based aspects. A wider scan of related fields reveals additional positions. Ludonarrative is variously understood as a structural quality of the video game artifact, as an experiential quality during the experience of a video game, or as a high- level framework to understand video games. Finally, a number of scholars emphasize the difference to traditional manifestations and there- fore work towards specific theories of video game narrative. While all legitimate by them- selves, these different usages of “narrative” in the context of video games are often not clearly distinguished in professional or academic dis- course and can lead to considerable confusion. It is therefore essential to scrutinize the particular context and underlying assumptions when approaching the topic. This state of affairs puts particular responsibility on scholars to identify the origins of their understanding of video game nar- rative and define their particular usage of the term in contrast to earlier applications.
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In the context of this paper we take design knowledge as the methods applied by the creators (for example game designers in the case of games) of interactive experiences in contrast to for example the design of authoring tools or the design of game engines and similar computational systems. Such knowledge about rule-based game design is widespread as evidenced by numerous book publications and many university-level programs of study. In contrast, there is considerable less academic or professional knowledge on the design of interactive narratives -- for example, book publications focused on this topic number in the single digits and in academic programs the topic only exists on the margins. This paper proposes the use of empirical research methods as means to address this situation and examines specific challenges. On this foundation, we introduce a research effort to gather transferable interactive narrative design knowledge and report on a first user study. Finally, we provide guidelines and discuss future research.
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Accounts of video game play developed from an ethnomethodological and conversation analytic (EMCA) perspective remain relatively scarce. This paper collects together an emerging, if scattered, body of research which focusses on the material, practical ‘work’ of video game players. The paper offers an example-driven explication of an EMCA perspective on video game play phenomena. The materials are arranged as a ‘tactical zoom’. We start very much ‘outside’ the game, beginning with a wide view of how massive-multiplayer online games are played within dedicated gaming spaces; here we find multiple players, machines and many different sorts of activities going on (besides playing the game). Still remaining somewhat distanced from the play of the game itself, we then take a closer look at the players themselves by examining a notionally simpler setting involving pairs taking part in a football game at a games console. As we draw closer to the technical details of play, we narrow our focus further still to examine a player and spectator situated ‘at the screen’ but jointly analysing play as the player competes in an online first-person shooter. Finally we go ‘inside’ the game entirely and look at the conduct of avatars on-screen via screen recordings of a massively multiplayer online game. Having worked through specific examples, we provide an elaboration of a selection of core topics of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis that are used to situate some of the unstated orientations in the presentation of data fragments. In this way, recurrent issues raised in the fragments are shown as coherent, interconnected phenomena. In closing, we suggest caution regarding the way game play phenomena have been analysed in the paper, while remarking on challenges present for the development of further EMCA oriented research on video game play.
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This paper explores the notion of narrative game mechanics by apposing theories from the field of cognitive narratology with design theories on game mechanics. The paper aims to disclose how narrative game mechanics invite game agents, including the player, to perform actions that support the construction of engaging stories and fictional worlds in the embodied mind of the player. The theoretical argument is supported by three case studies. The paper discusses examples of games that employ mechanics and rules to create engaging story events, focusing on: building tension through spatial conflict, evoking empathy through characterization and creating moral dilemmas through player choices.
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Using both manual and automatic content analysis we analyzed 100 collected screen plays of 50 users of the IS system Façade, coding the extent to which users stayed “in character”. Comparing this measure for first and second exposure to Façade revealed that users stay significantly less in character during second exposure. Further, related to a set of independently collected user experience measures we found staying in character to negatively influence users’ affective responses. The results confirm the notion that the more Façade users keep to their assigned role, the easier they become dissatisfied with the system’s performance. As a result, users start exploring the system by acting “out of character”.
Over the years, the Let’s Play (LP) video phenomenon has gathered an audience of millions on video platforms like YouTube. Unlike machinima, the video form which also uses play performances in digital games as its mode of production, the aim with LP videos is not to create stories. LPs simply show captured gameplay sessions, the primary entertainment coming from the added, often humorous commentary by the player through audio or a picture-in-picture frame showing the player in action. This article draws connections with work on early film to explore the particular experience LP videos offers its viewers. These connections include modes of engagement associated with the cinema of attraction, but the focus is on how some early films presented characters onscreen – diegetic stand-ins which put something on display for the spectator. It is argued that LP creators have a similar, though more play-oriented function. Through ludic immersion, LP videos offer non-ludic engagement for its viewers: an experience of vicarious play.
Bringing together twenty-five years of work on what he has called the "historical poetics of cinema," David Bordwell presents an extended analysis of a key question for film studies: how are films made, in particular historical contexts, in order to achieve certain effects? for Bordwell, films are made things, existing within historical contexts, and aim to create determinate effects. Brginning with this central thesis, Bordwell works out a full understanding of how films channel and recast cultural influences for their cinematic purposes. With more than five hundred film stills, Poetics of Cinema is a must-have for any student of cinema.