Robert Yang on Ludonarrative Dissonance

I have several interesting posts (to me) that I want to write this week, but I came home from Gameloop 2013 (which I will write about at some later period) with a serious case of airplane flu. Hopefully this isn’t full on Contagion.

So I don’t feel very well and I’m a bit grumpy and because of that here is a link to a very important post by Robert Yang where I think that he has totally put the term “ludonarrative dissonance” to bed. My takeaway is essentially “no one gives a shit about dissonance,” but you might have something else. You can read it here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Clint Hocking famously coined “ludonarrative dissonance” to describe moments when what’s happening in a single player action game doesn’t fit with what the game is telling you is happening — maybe it’s just plain wrong, maybe the tone doesn’t match, or maybe the game thinks this thing is more interesting than it is — either way, it doesn’t quite work.

It’s when you realize your sympathetic handsome male player character is a sociopathic mass murderer, or maybe when a character in an RPG “dies” despite having already died and revived dozens of times before, or maybe the brief instance when an elite soldier NPC glitches in the middle of a doorway despite all the boring game lore dumped on you. Sometimes it’s intrinsic to making a game about killing people, sometimes you hope fridge logic kicks in, and sometimes it’s a technical quirk you forgive.

But I feel like that theory doesn’t explain what actually happens out in the field: if Bioshock Infinite was forged entirely, purposefully, from solid ingots of 100% pure ludonarrative dissonance, why didn’t this annoy the shit out of everyone? Isn’t ludonarrative dissonance supposed to be jarring and horrible? Why was the unusually unified critical response to Binfinite something like, “wow this game is colossally stupid,” but the mainstream response was, “this is amazing”?

So I have a new theory — most players do not find dissonance to be dissonant, and therefore ludonarrative dissonance doesn’t really exist.

As I said before, read every glorious word here.

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5 Responses to Robert Yang on Ludonarrative Dissonance

  1. Ethan Gach says:

    “So I have a new theory — most players do not find dissonance to be dissonant, and therefore ludonarrative dissonance doesn’t really exist.”

    So this is obviously untrue. I guess that’s not meant to be the take-away though?

    • kunzelman says:

      I mean, maybe just no one cares as much about ludodudetacular maleficence as people who write and play games as part of their job or prime cultural object.

      • Ethan Gach says:

        I honestly couldn’t tell from Yang’s piece (probably poor reading comp on my end) whether he was being facetious or actually doesn’t care about or take interest in it anymore.

      • and most people don’t care about art, either, so I guess artists and critics are all wrong?

        Yang is not saying “ludonarrative dissonance” needs to be “put to bed,” he is saying video games suck. and, more specifically, their popular acolytes (like, say, Tom Bissel, who may as well stamp INSECURE APOLOGIST on his forehead) are all blind.

        • kunzelman says:

          I think artists and critics are be wrong and the objects they are making and are critical of could also be bad.

          It could be a systemic problem.

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