What do we call the good type of ludonarrative?

ludonarrative-dissonance-in-papers-pleaseA long time ago (2007), one Clint Hocking coined the term Ludonarrative Dissonance when talking about Bioshock. He noted that the contract that the game made through play (be selfish, kill everything, get stronger) was a direct contradiction to the contract being made by the narrative (put yourself in peril to help Atlas). Since then the term has been used by many a critic to describe what they consider as conflicts between play and narrative in specific games, with some of the more famous instances being Tom Bissell’s criticism of Max Payne 3 and The Last of Us. Of course, the term was not loved by all, with people like Errant Signal calling it “sloganeering” and Jim Sterling criticizing those who would argue that anything violent is inherently dissonant. And all that is cool stuff. I’m just curious as to why there has been so little conversation about the opposite.

One of the best analyses of instances where all design elements line up is Harald Hagen’s analysis of “ludonarrative resonance” in Journey. Another great analysis of the concept is Ben Abraham’s discussion of Gone Home, where he calls it “ludonarrative harmony”. A friend at some point suggested “ludonarrative consonance”.

So which term is correct, resonance or harmony?

Although my first impulse is to go with resonance (because it sounds cooler and because Ressonance of Fate is cooler than Lunar: The Silver Star Harmony and consonance has no game), the truth is that to REALLY answer the question with any modicum of logic we have to revisit what Clint meant when he suggested the term ludonarrative dissonance to begin with.

Ludonarrative dissonance is when play and narrative don’t align. Ludonarrative implies “play and narrative”, while dissonance takes the meaning of disagreement between two clashing elements.

If one look at the definitions of resonance, harmony, and consonance, it will be revealed that resonance has to do with the production of loud, clear sounds of a certain quality, harmony has to do with the existence of two sounds that are in agreement, while consonance has to do with the relationship in frequencies between sounds. In other words, harmony has to do with the agreement of two entities, while resonance has to do with the quality of what is produced by the agreement of the two entities and consonance has to do with one element of the coexistence.

Because dissonance deals with when two elements – play and narrative – are (not) “in sync”, then what seems to me to be the best term to use as a counterweight would be the one that implies that the two elements are in sync, not the one that deals with the result of said combination or the one that deals with one subset of “stuff” resulting from the combination.

Besides, Castlevania told me that it was Harmony and Dissonance, and consonance still has no game.



About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on December 23, 2014, in Media Commentary, Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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