A Brief History of Ludonarrative Dissonance as an Actual Thing

Wow. People are really starting to get impatient with the idea of ludonarrative dissonance, aren’t they? We’re getting downright hostile toward the phrase itself, and that I sort of get: it’s a clunky phrase. “Lugoscababib Discobiscuits,” harrumphed a moderately irate Jim Sterling just a few days ago. Har har.

But it’s the backlash against the premise that’s so striking. In that, Sterling is far from alone. MovieBob recently dismissed the concept of ludonarrative dissonance as idle puffery, and a veritable deluge of blog posts and videos and podcasts have expressed similar impatience, consternation, and just-plain-grumpiness.

Trouble is, ludonarrative dissonance is a real thing, even if a great many people play games without noticing it or caring. It’s a phenomenon that indisputably exists, and more to the point, understanding the term means understanding the oddball sectarian controversies of early videogame theory, and if you’re into videogames, that’s pretty neat. So come along with me, if you will, on a journey from the primordial soup of deepest, darkest prehistory (1938), through the tumultuous Iron Age of videogame studies (2007), and into the glorious present.

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If you’ve done the whole college thing, and especially if you’ve done it at the graduate level, then you’re probably familiar with “literature review.” The idea is that, before arguing whatever you’re going to argue, you offer up a (hopefully brief) roundup of other people who’ve written about your chosen topic. You never want to presume that you’re the first one who ever asked the questions you’re asking, because you virtually never are, and also because the search for previous work on the topic can’t help but refine your thinking. If you think you’re starting from scratch, you simply haven’t done the research. In academia, context is king.

OK, then, what happens if you really are the first person, or one of the first people, to write about something academically? Somebody has to be the first, after all. What goes in your literature review, in that case? Since you can’t presume that you’re starting from scratch, where do you start? Generally, you’ll use an established approach from some other field of study, or a blend of several, the way that early film scholars lifted the descriptive language of paintings, photographs, novels, and plays to explain how movies meant what they meant.

Employing similar techniques of methodological remixing, an academic who wanted to talk about games was, at first, likely to do so in one of these two ways:

    (a) Videogames tell stories, not just through their images and text and sound, but also through their interactivity. So to describe them, let’s borrow the language of film, literature, theater, television, and media theory.

    (b) Videogames are rule-sets, and also virtual places. So to describe them, let’s borrow the language of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and economics.

(There were also fields of study that both camps used, like computer science and mathematics and philosophy).

I promise you this was a thing. Battle lines were drawn, territory staked out, dinner parties ruined. That first approach became known as narratology, because it focused on narrative, and the second approach became known as ludology, because it focused on play—the word choice being a call-out to Johan Huizinga’s 1938 tome Homo Ludens, one of the then relatively few scholarly works on games and play. (The book’s title is Latin for “Playing Man,” the same way that Homo sapiens is Latin for “Thinking Man”).

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This, by the way, is where a lot of people get off the ride and decide that the whole discussion is bullshit. Jargon ahoy.

I know, I know, jargon is goofy (yet self-serious), exclusionary (yet ubiquitous), vaguely condescending. But it’s also the price of entry if you’re going to get deep into any formal field of study. If you stopped reading Marx as soon as he mentioned the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, you’d miss out on pretty much all of what makes his ideas so important, and also what makes them such terrible, terrible ideas.

Even if we all declared a sort of linguistic truce tomorrow, and all future academic writing was jargon-free by law, there would still be an awful lot of past scholarship—fascinating, vital, bewildering, wonderful scholarship—completely inaccessible to those with jargon allergies. So let’s not lean too heavily on jargon when we write, but also, let’s not fear it when we read, is what I’m saying.

Now, plenty of writers, scholarly and otherwise, were keenly and immediately aware that games are rule-sets and narratives, virtual places and interactive fiction. If you’re having a hard time figuring out whether your favorite games writer is a narratologist or a ludologist, that’s probably because most writers are now comfortable being a bit of both. But if games convey meaning in these two different ways—or at the very least, if we use two different kinds of language to describe how games convey meaning—then what happens when the two don’t align? What if a game’s narrative means something different than its play does?

Or to put it another way, think of a game you like. Now describe its plot, its characters, its purported themes. Now describe what you’re actually doing when you play the game, minute to minute. If you’re playing Mega Man X or something, those two descriptions probably sound pretty similar. But you’ll often find that your two different descriptions sound suspiciously like two different games.

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Clint Hocking wasn’t the first to tangle with this problem, but he was the one who decided to call it “ludonarrative dissonance” in his 2007 essay on Bioshock. Hate the word if you like, but do understand that Hocking was tapping into a foundational debate about game criticism (as opposed to pulling some smart-sounding portmanteau, as well as its two component parts, out of his ass).

Hocking’s argument was that the game’s “ludic contract” (get stronger, decide where you stand on Objectivism) conflicts with its “narrative contract” (help Atlas and he’ll help you, too). Atlas is this doofus with a broad, put-on accent, and it’s not clear why you’re working with him after the first five minutes or so, Hocking argues—but hey, sometimes games have stilted premises and bad voice acting, and that doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, so you, as a player, go with it.

Then there’s that part where Atlas makes fun of you for being so easily fooled, and for believing that such a stupid voice could actually have been his voice. Hocking sees this as a dick move. As he puts it, “The game openly mocks us for having willingly suspended our disbelief in order to enjoy it.”

(Incidentally, this is the same problem that I had with Mass Effect 2’s “Arrival” DLC. If the player-character is going to make a disastrous, plot-important mistake because he’s been deceived, but the player is never deceived, then that’s cheating. It makes the plot seem flimsy, the protagonist lunkheaded).

That’s ludonarrative dissonance. When the Uncharted games frame Nathan Drake as a charming good guy hero even while the-player-as-Nathan-Drake murders hundreds of people, that is also ludonarrative dissonance. Ditto when a game tells the player to hurry up and do something right away—it’s urgent!—but then offers up hours of consequence-free side-quests to do first. Or when you can do magic in front of a guy who’s hunting mages and he doesn’t notice. Or the way that the last few Grand Theft Auto games oscillate between Scorsese-aping gravitas and nihilistic tomfoolery.

Important and often-ignored point: ludonarrative dissonance is not a blanket term for all things weird and videogamey. When Link tromps into someone’s house and smashes their pots and steals their stuff in A Link to the Past, that’s not ludonarrative dissonance. It’s counter-intuitive that a hero would do that, but the game never establishes that a hero in Hyrule, in the game’s own world, wouldn’t or shouldn’t do that.

Maybe it doesn’t even count as stealing, diegetically. After all, there are thieves in the game, and they don’t break into people’s houses; they forcibly knock items out of Link in the street, or in the forest. Maybe home invasions are merely rude in Hyrule, because everyone keeps their most valued valuables on them at all times, as Link himself does. Now of course, I’m retconning, and doing so in a way that’s neither realistic nor naturalistic, nor am I sure what (if anything) my little theory about Hyrule really means—but it’s internally consistent, so it isn’t cheating.

The concept of ludonarrative dissonance is a diagnostic tool. It helps us to notice when games aren’t internally consistent, or when they’re cheating. We intuitively know the difference between consistency and inconsistency, and if we want to understand how games mean what they mean, then it’s useful to keep that difference in mind. That’s all.

If drawing a firm line between narrative and play seems musty and unnecessary to you, then ditch the distinction and ask whether games are “whyproof” instead—or else come up with some other, clearer way of isolating and analyzing the parts of a game that work and the parts that don’t. Help give games a descriptive language all their own. And by all means, make fun of jargon for its jargony airs, and continue to call people out when they use terminology lazily or incorrectly.

But don’t roll your eyes at a useful core concept, or at the history surrounding it. That leads us nowhere. Context is king.

14 comments

  1. Except Hocking makes a bevy of assumptions, and so do you (as well as stating that audience knowledge and player knowledge can’t be separate, which dramatic irony and theater have proved wrong for over three thousand years). One among many assumptions is that we’re to find a position on Objectivism. This isn’t necessarily the case — Rapture could just be an example of an Objectivist system and the impulses of such a society. Fontaine, for example, is the perfect citizen. So much so, in fact, that he turns into Ayn Rand’s Ubermensch by the end of the game (a little heavy-handed, that, but apparently not heavy handed enough). He assumes that the purpose of the twist is to mock you rather than providing commentary on what the society has become (Splicers have no free will and neither do you, so that a city founded on free will has become its greatest antithesis). Additionally, he has trouble keeping ludic and narrative contracts straight. Bad voice acting (even if it was bad, which is dubious) isn’t ludic in nature, it’s a narratological move. If you were to use theater as the medium, you’d be able to employ the same twist (although sans the FPS commentary). Under his Lucy Goosey rules, you could easily declare that Zelda breaks narratological contracts by having its savior and hero smash pots and arguably terrorize the same people he’s supposed to protect, which is laid out by the narrative (and you don’t see anybody mimicking Link’s behavior either, so it becomes a case of negative proof; Link could turn into a chicken every two seconds and supposedly not break your ludic or narratological contract).

    As an aside, your Bioshock Infinite post stated the point of Bioshock Infinite and then proceeded to say that this point didn’t matter in a rather ill-conceived praeteritio. You’re ignoring the fact that changing the past and revisionist alternate history are two of the infamous trademarks of that period (Henry Dyer’s still on iTunes, so you can give him a look), that this has a lot to do with that society’s urge to “cover up” indecencies, that the fin-de-siecle or “Gilded Age” was marked by many of the themes that Infinite traded on — denial, repression, abuse (Booker and Comstock are both abusive parents), and the possibility of redemption by not trying to forget the truth. Confrontation with the past, even if it’s a past that revolts.

    Overall, it seems like all this talk of systems and systematic behavior ignores fifty years of literary theory. Deconstruction: if we break systems, we can get more meaning from them. Instead we have a chorus of Hockings shouting, “It’s not fair! You broke the contract!” Structuralist. Prescriptivist. Reductionist thought. Neither Bioshock nor Infinite talked in the matter erroneously demanded from them. Interpretation turns into condescension. This ain’t ‘Nam, Smokey, there are rules.

    Bioshock didn’t follow those rules. Neither did Waiting for Godot, Finnegan’s Wake, or Left Hand of Darkness (which had about the same neutral, unjudging/judging tone Infinite did). I’m not saying these are equivalent works, but I am saying that you shouldn’t expect others to refrain from rolling eyes when someone tries to make up all the rules and prescribe them. Interpret away, but don’t count all the ways something can be “rightly” interpreted. Sterling’s not necessarily arguing that these ideas don’t have merit, but he’s right in pointing out that they’re being prescriptive. Maybe it’s because gamers or people who play games are drawn into systemic thought. I don’t know.

    Again, interpret away. I’m just suggesting that you think less in a ruleset way and more in a “this is a name I’m giving to an effect I perceive” way.

    A well-written article. I’m sorry I had to take so much issue with it. I’m also sorry that you’ll take issue with my comment, which is fair. Hope you’re doing well.

    • *take issue with my comment, and that’s a fair reaction.

      Late night posts and touchscreen keyboards. I now see a number of clumsy sentences. Est quid est.

    • So first and foremost, thanks for taking the time to read, and to respond, and all of that. I in turn will take the time to reply at length (like, seriously at length), if that’s alright.

      In short, the only issue I take with your comment is that you’re making some incorrect assumptions about my, um, assumptions.

      Second and almost foremost, then: I’m pretty much always in the “this is a name I’m giving to an effect I perceive” camp—or more specifically, the “What the fuck is even going on?” camp—rather than the prescriptivist camp (which sounds like a profoundly unfun place to spend a summer, incidentally). Some of the writers I cite have prescriptivist aims, but I don’t share those aims. Hocking just offers one interesting answer to the question, Why does the Atlas reveal in Bioshock feel kind of off? It’s a question about what the fuck is even going on, not about What Games Should Do.

      I’m not sure where I would have argued “that audience knowledge and player knowledge can’t be separate,” but let’s roll with that idea for a moment. If I understand you correctly, you’re talking about when what the player knows is different from what the player-character is supposed to know. You’re absolutely right that the player can know things that the player-character doesn’t, and that fundamentally that’s just dramatic irony. It’s a tried and true technique, as you point out.

      But it’s a technique that’s much harder to pull off in a game than it is in a play or a movie. In a movie, the viewer says, “Get out of the room! The killer’s in there!” and then watches the character realize just in time (or not) that the killer is in the room. In a game, after the player yells “Get out of the room!” the game then has to contrive some reason for the player to HOLD X TO STAY IN THE ROOM ANYWAY.

      Which is not to say that games can’t pull that off. You could argue, for example, that Shadow of the Colossus has the player-character uncritically diving into feat after feat of derring-do, even though his quest is probably ill-advised, and even though the player knows that. And I guess you could argue that Bioshock is doing something similar, where you the player knows not to trust Atlas. but Jack the floating gun doesn’t, because obeying disembodied voices is what the heroes of first person shooters do, plan and simple.

      But I don’t think the text supports that interpretation. I think we’re supposed to be surprised, horrified, vengeful, and so on right along with the player-character in Bioshock. We’re supposed to be outraged that we’ve been blindly obeying Atlas, that we as players don’t have the agency we assumed we did. The game seems to want you to know only what the protagonist knows (which is standard operating procedure in videogames, hence the ubiquity of amnesiac heroes).

      In other words, it doesn’t much matter whether or not Bioshock (or any game) is obeying rules, but it does matter whether or not it’s internally consistent. Link could absolutely turn into a chicken without introducing any inconsistency into the Zelda universe—he already turns into a wolf, not to mention a Deku and a Goron and a Zora—because we have no reason to believe that he shouldn’t be able to turn into a chicken, just like we have no reason to believe that he shouldn’t be allowed to smash people’s pots.

      I don’t buy that Link is terrorizing people by smashing their infinitely regenerating pots in A Link to the Past. Again, the text doesn’t support that. We know what it looks like when somebody is scared of Link—a man runs away from Link, a woman goes back into her house and locks her door after Link talks to her—and none of that stuff happens when Link smashes pots. (I’m talking specifically about A Link to the Past here, because of course there’s that great moment in Wind Waker where the rich guy makes you pay for the pots you’ve smashed, which is the game’s way of telling you that this new world might have some different social rules than the ones you’re used to).

      As for Bioshock Infinite… you’re absolutely right that I didn’t take the game very seriously vis a vis the theme of rewriting history. But as I said in the piece, the game itself didn’t seem to take those themes very seriously. I think that MovieBob was right on the money when he said that all that stuff was a big old red herring, and that the game was really just about Booker/Comstock’s self-destructive impulses. I personally could not give less of a fuck about Booker—Comstock seemed interesting, but there just wasn’t that much of him there—so the more the game became about Booker and the less it became about Gilded Age futurism and whatnot, the less invested I was and the less worthwhile it seemed to peruse the political/religious/philosophical angle.

      Which again comes down to the issue of internal consistency, of those times when the parts don’t add up to a coherent whole. That’s going to happen a lot in games—which, after all, are not just a medium in their own right, but also a combination of all previous media. Games contain multitudes. Sometimes, not everything will gel. “Ludonarrative dissonance”—which, holy shit, is what we were talking about here, paragraphs ago—is simply one term among many to describe what happens when not everything gels.

      It shouldn’t be prescriptive, but rather (as I said above) diagnostic. It’s not a rule-set, but simply a tool to help us figure out what the fuck is even going on.

  2. I’m glad you’re not in the prescriptivist camp. You seem to be in a third camp situated somewhere in the Himalayas: the “what the fuck is going on?” camp really only counts if you’re one who was wondering “what the fuck is going on.”

    In other words, you’re still kinda leaving out the third layer of what happens when story occurs. The writer writes a story, the story gets transmitted from the page to the reader’s head, and then the reader interprets it. Each process is active and each is something that takes place, but it’s not something that takes place outside our heads. In other words, we shouldn’t be getting Twitter tantrums (http://www.nuclearfridge.com/2013/12/petchulant-leading-by-example.html) talking about how someone who didn’t interpret something as not gelling should have really interpreted it as not gelling and so on. This is something you perceive, not something that “the fuck is going on.” It always is. It’s fine to talk about these things, but the discussion is entirely the point and not adjacent to it.

    Secondly and still on that point, proponents of a word’s use have to take ownership for cleansing it should it get “hijacked” by others. This is why we have political correctness. Ludonarrative dissonance has been hijacked in a move Hal Duncan called “bootstrapping authority.” Some eye-rolling is understandable, and it can’t be treated as just another tool any longer. If others are using it to shut down discussion (and I can point you to a dozen articles in which that’s the case), then you have to be aware.

    Coming down to hard tacks, there’s always an assumption that what’s happening to the protagonist the player’s inhabiting is happening or directed at the player entity himself/herself/itself. That’s a little erroneous. In Bioshock’s case, for example, there’s an assumption that the player’s supposed to feel horror/shock/rage at being tricked because they’ve been tricked and not because they feel empathy with the protagonist (or shock at how the character’s/cipher’s agency has been taken away from him). In part, I think videogames have dug themselves into this hole with offers to place the player behind the protagonist’s seat when player’s are really only co-habiting space within a narrative framework. Sure, the player’s meant to be feeling shock, but he’s not necessarily asked to have ownership — he’s supposed to offer sympathy. Videogames are roleplay, not total absorption of the protagonist role. That’s partly necessary because verbs have to be limited, the player has to be forced to imitate rather than impose, etc.

    That’s my interpretation of game’s framework, anyway. I suppose I’ve never felt ludonarrative dissonance because I’ve always seen it as roleplay; like with most roleplay, some strict narrative elements are broken in order to allow for improvisation. The musical analogy seems more apt than ever before.

    Bioshock Infinite: I actually think the game didn’t lose interest in its sociopolitical themes so much as resolve them in order to fold them into the characters. In almost every story I’ve seen, the politics are placed ahead of the story and the characters are a means of getting at the politics, so that the characters fall by the wayside in order to press a political advantage. I liked that Infinite used its politics as a way of providing characterization rather than the other way around. Politics are human and full of human frailty and people tend to be enmeshed in them, and in that regard Bioshock was more interested in the ideologue than his idealism. Refreshing, in my mind. Because people tend to get character-politics rather than politics-character, it also meant that it felt like putting the cart ahead of the horse to a lot of people. Which is valid. On the other hand, Ursula K. Le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness (a lot of similarities between the two) folded away its communalism vs. individualism theme in order to define Estraven, so it’s hardly unheard of. Left Hand of Darkness is also one of my favorites and pisses others off.

    In my opinion, there’s a lot to support such a mechanic (turning into a chicken every two seconds without explanation) in Link to the Past being a similar problem by Hocking’s logic: every example of transformation you listed had a story wrapper behind it or some method of introduction. Remember that gameplay mechanics (smashing items like pots to get money to use to get other items, for example) are often given semiotics that bear weight in a real-world context. Game mechanics are borrowing the meaning of outside objects in order to represent inside mechanics. As such, game mechanics (in order to be internally consistent) must respect the semiotics of the real-world counterparts. I personally had a lot of trouble with shattering domesticity along with the pots in Link to the Past. That was “dissonant” to me because it was breaking a semiotic contract with what a character’s home (what turned out to be a mindless NPC’s home) supposedly represented. To this day, countless scores of people find breaking pots in Link to the Past funny because it IS dissonant to them — it’s a subversion of the semiotics of a home or the mechanic’s “story” wrapper.

    I might be a little frustrated because all this discussion of ludonarrative dissonance backseats the dissonance I’ve been feeling for years: for most games, the game/real-world semiotics wrapper for gameplay elements tends to be shattered and never noticed. I certainly don’t feel frustrated, but I could see how my text could come off that way.

    Some of this may sound like gibberish. Kind of is. I’m a student of literary semiotics, and applying it to game theory tends to twist my mind around. Phrases like “I suppose” or “seems” tend to crop up in my language when things get squirrely.

    • So I’m not sure where you’re coming from with the “third camp” bit. You seem to be saying that my mode of analysis is too steeped in my own interpretation—that there’s what an author meant to write, and then there’s what people get out of it when they read, but then there’s also The Thing Itself.

      And of course, The Thing Itself does indeed exist outside of intent or interpretation. But we can’t access it, talk about it, or interact with it in any way without interpreting it. There is no mode of analysis that gets directly to The Thing Itself, unmediated. The Thing Itself exists between what the writer wrote and what the reader reads, and it’s never a perfect reflection of either.

      What I like about the “What the fuck is even going on?” phrase is that it outlines why we bother trying to interpret things: that (a) we want to know what the thing really is, and (b) we can only figure that out via frequently disorderly and inevitably subjective processes. It means a state of striving to know but being willing to be confused on the way there instead of digging in our heels prematurely.

      The rest of this has gotten a little fragmented, so here are some specific responses:

      • If Bioshock wanted me to feel sympathy (as distinct from identification) for its protagonist, then it could have gone ahead and characterized him in some way. By contrast, Bioshock Infinite does characterize Booker. He has a name and a voice and all, sure, but he also has a history, and motivations, and so on. Jack-I-think-his-name-was simply doesn’t, at least not until very late in the game.

      • I’m not sure you really want to go down the road of trying to read coherent political philosophies into the characters in Bioshock Infinite. Here’s why that’s only going to make the game look worse, in seven words: Daisy Fitzroy. Holy fucking shit, Daisy Fitzroy.

      • Your point about A Link to the Past is well taken. The fact that the game doesn’t answer back when you break pots definitely makes the world less believable and less complete (which isn’t quite the same things as being internally inconsistent, but does create pretty much all of the same problems). This may in fact be the heart of the issue. People talk about dissonance in games way, way too narrowly—saying it’s all about violence, like Jim Sterling was kvetching about, or saying that it’s all about the line between play and plot. Neither of those is anything close to the complete picture. Both are just starting points.

      • I more or less agree that the term “ludonarrative dissonance” now has way too much baggage attached for us to just use it casually. My point in this post is just that it would be a shame to lose the history attached—and/or the notion of interrogating a game for internal consistency, regardless of naturalistic logic—as we throw away the phrase.

      • Following on that point, dissonance is a good word and we should probably keep using it. Ludonarrative, on the other hand, should go. It’s graceless, it’s silly, and its etymology refers to a debate that, in retrospect, was also kind of graceless and silly.

    • As a graduate in Classics, I vomit at the word ludonarrative. I’ll be glad to see it go and its proponents chastise. A little chagrin at my mean-spiritedness at the last bit. I’ll try to excise that in future.

      I never said Jack wasn’t a cipher. I just think there’s a difference between shapeless and the player. I don’t sympathize with Jack per se, but I do sympathize with the situation, the point made (which I think has gotten too loaded down with meta-narrative and been led away from what it does for the plot), and the way my state of play described how Rapture worked. The characterization isn’t on Jack, in my mind, and the shock isn’t loaded against me. But that’s my mind.

      Which brings me to the third camp bit. “What the fuck is going on . . . with how I’m feeling about this game” is more of the attitude I adopt. You seem to agree with that sentiment, so I’ll let it drop.

      Speaking of kvetching, I’m a socialist and yet I was disappointed by the way the community interpreted Fitzroy. It’s their interpretation, though, so we’re back to the last point. I have gone down there (so have others, I might add) and seen more nuance than others have. I won’t go into it here because, quite honestly, it’s a minefield. There are different sociopolitical interpretations of cultural objects. The problem is that the gaming community falls into echo chambers at every turn: from the progressive part of it, there are ostensibly gamers who are having better, “intelligent” discourse and gamers who are having worse, “less intelligent” discourse and by purging the latter gaming discourse can improve. But that’s just not the way gaming discourse works. There are no sacred cows or assured stances in sociopolitical discussions of our fiction. Not even the brash offensiveness of Ursula K. Le Guin . . . I mean Fitzroy (credit for the former accusation goes to brilliant writer Samuel R. Delany). Sorry. Had to fit the book in one last time.

      This has been a great discussion. Like most, it probably didn’t convince anyone . . . yet. A friend in my graduate fiction workshop said last Tuesday that the reason why writers don’t respond to criticism during workshop isn’t because they don’t have a perfect defense, but because criticism should be like a worm under the skin: one night you might — and I stress that this is highly unlikely — wake up in a cold sweat and give in to that nagging thought. I don’t believe I’ve managed that here or that it’s been successfully performed on me.

      Good discussion. Thank you.

      • *proponents chastised
        *shapeless and the player-as-character-entire

        I hate when I don’t have an edit function. I work on paper and my eyes are weak, so I tend to miss typos when they’re on a screen. Sorry.

      • Thank you as well!

        And by the by, I’m open to the idea that there’s more to Fitzroy than I noticed on my first playthrough—though I’m skeptical, both because she gets about five minutes of screen time (so how much was there to miss?) and because “I’m gonna kill this white child therefore moral relativism is OK” is frankly a pretty hard plot beat to nuance. Write up your view sometime, though, and link me! I would love for her story not to be as stupid and problematic as I think is.

        And your references have been appreciated throughout. I’ve just avoided batting those balls back, since we were already discoursing at book-length and all.

        Thanks again! This talk helped me to refine my thinking on all sorts of stuff.

      • And apparently I can’t let anybody edit their comments. That’s annoying. I feel like a bad host.

  3. Last thing: you said that my interpretation isn’t supported by the text. I’d argue (of course) that it absolutely is: Jack (and kinda you by experiencing it by sympathy/empathy/co-habitation) has been given the illusion of free will only to have it taken away from him. This is kind of a parallel between Jack and the Splicers, monsters you’ve been pitying and destroying the whole game. It’s the shock that in a City of a Free, only a few titans of industry have freedom. It’s the question of “what does this say about the city or the setting?” It’s not what it says about you.

    Yes, the text doesn’t serve my point about Link terrorizing citizens. But I used that example to point out how Hocking didn’t really have his gameplay and story wrappers straight. It was an extension of his logic, not mine.

  4. The above replies to all your comments so far, I think, even though WordPress is getting weird with the sort order and the nesting and whatnot.

  5. […] One of the most interesting challenges in teaching with games is making sure the learning aims line up with the game mechanics. For example, it would be unhelpful to create a simulation of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in which students can botch together a simple solution in half an hour. (This kind of conflict between gameplay and setting/content has been observed in games studies, and splendidly dubbed ‘ludonarrative dissonance’.) […]

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