BONUS CONTENT: Ludo-Narrative Dissonance: Saying One Thing, Doing Another

Lets start with a definition for those who aren’t aware. Ludo-Narrative Dissonance was coined by the game designer Clint Hocking in a blog post in 2007. The term is used to describe the difference between the narrative told by a games story and the narrative of it’s gameplay. In his post Hocking singled out Bioshock where he explained that the narrated story demands the player be selfless but all the while the gameplay mechanics enforce a selfishness and the pursuit of power.

This was something I was thinking about as I wrote up my review for The Last of Us Part II. How Ellie would stab, shoot and blow up several people just so she could kill one person for killing another. Any kind of self-reflection would tell her that if it wasn’t for the camera crew following her around she would be the bad guy in this story. Abby by contrast is on a mission to kill someone who slaughtered her father as well as many others and succeeds in doing so without anyone else dying. This in contrast to the Ludo-Narrative consistency of the first game was one of the few things that rubbed me the wrong way about the game.

Another example that comes to me is that of the Tomb Raider remake. Again this was a game that I thoroughly enjoyed and had it not been for The Last of Us would have been my Game of the Year. There was a moment in the game where Lara kills her first person. You can see the terror in her and see the very moment that a piece of her soul breaks. This as a scene in isolation really brought depth to Lara’s character, However from that point on she starts gunning, stabbing, exploding people like it’s going out of fashion rendering her early breakdown almost meaningless.

The use of Ludo-Narrative Dissonance isn’t always something to avoid and if used properly can be a powerful story telling tool. To illustrate this lets look at Spec Ops: The Line where the use of ludo-narrative dissonance was a conscious choice. The actions of Walker are seen as a horrible warning to enforce the games message of “War is bad and you should feel ashamed for enjoying this game”. The game uses the hypocrisy of the playable character to reinforce the message of the story. This is how the Ludo-Narrative Dissonance differs from that in Spec Ops then it does in both The Last of Us Part II & Tomb Raider. Ellie & Lara never get that revelation that what they are doing is a bad thing, Walker on the other hand gets to the end of the game and it’s brought to light everything he’s done in the game and he realises his actions cannot be justified.

So to sum everything up, if your game is show signs of Ludo-Narrative Dissonance you can do one of 2 things. 1) Fix the inconsistencies by either adjusting the narrative or gameplay elements so that both elements go hand in hand; or 2) Highlight these difference in such a way that the contract makes the player question their in game choices and actions. The latter is more difficult to pull of but if managed successfully can make for a deeper gaming experience and give the player something to ponder once the gaming is done.

BONUS CONTENT: 5 Cult Games Worth Playing

We all get that once and a while. We find a gem of a game that we think is absolutely brilliant only for it not to get the recognition it deserves among the wider audience, be it due to mainstream critics who have missed the point of the game or the narrow demographic of the game itself. These are 5 games that I believe never got the credit they deserved, in no particular order.

Spec Ops: The Line:

This was a game that surprised me in a very good way. I originally went into it expecting a traditional modern 3rd person shooter, never to give the game a second thought after putting it do. Instead I’m still talking about it 8 years after it’s release. It’s story is nothing short of sublime and has yet to be topped by any shooter since. It’s obvious playing the game that the developers went into this game with a message to say, that war is not as black and white as previous games make it out to be. The game was let down a bit by it’s generic 3rd person gameplay style and it’s needlessly added bland multiplayer game but the strength of this game and one that gives it it’s cult following is it’s ability to put the gun in our hands then hold up the mirror to show us that there are no heroes in this story, just a different shade of grey.

Valkyria Chronicles:

Valkyria Chronicles was one of the first games I’d reviewed and it is one that has stuck with me since. The art style, the soundtrack, the gameplay, the story, there wasn’t all that many aspect of the game I didn’t enjoy. The lack of auto-save and the overabundance of unskipable cut scenes being the main two I can think of. Despite it’s mainly positive reviews the game never got the sales figures befitting of said reviews. I personally feel that this was because Sega didn’t have much faith in the game to be a success. With little to no marketing and being released within days of Fallout 3 and other major AAA titles doomed the game to be overlooked which given the quality of the game is more than a little unfair.

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors:

I spoke about this briefly in my Zero Escape trilogy review. The game itself felt a little stop-start and the gameplay felt very one dimensional, but the solid story, well rounded characters and the fun and interesting puzzles kept the game from becoming stale. Since it’s initial release on the DS, the game has now been released on PS4 & PC making more accessible to new players.

Hogs of War:

If you can find a copy of this game I strongly suggest you play it. If I were to describe it in a couple of words it would be “absolutely nuts”. The voice acting as well as the voice over from the dearly departed Rik Mayall are absolutely side-splitting and adds to it’s endearing antics. The game is over 20 years old and sadly it shows it, feeling particularly out dated when compared to games from the time.

Grim Fandango:

I’m finding it hard to find the words to accurately describe Grim Fandango. It was a brilliant written, brilliantly executed story wrapped up in moments of drama and ludicrousness. Despite critical acclaim and a number of awards the game’s sales suffered due to the rise in popularity of more action based games at it’s time of release. This shift in the market meant that adventure games such as Grim Fandango & Monkey Island wouldn’t get the popularity I felt they deserved. A re-mastered version was released a few years ago to bring the experience to a new generation of gamers.