Ludo-what?

Apologies in advance for sounding like a pessimist…I do love gaming. But one cannot ignore the hard facts which suggest that videogames are still light years away from being considered truly realistic… now, this doesn’t take away from drastic advances since their creation, or suggest that existing videogames aren’t immersive, however until the disparity between the narrative offered by game creators, and the play acted out is eliminated, videogames will still be perceived by some, as unrealistic.

Ludonarrative dissonance (LD) is what is at play here. The concept refers to the aspects of videogames storytelling that are controlled by the player. LD is the idea that when a game tells a player to do X through its story and environment, the player becomes un-immersed and disconnected due to contradictions during game play. As the player becomes more aware of gaps in logic and presentation this continues to undermine the overall gaming experience.

Examples of LD at play:

Bioshock: The game gives the player the ability to exercise this free will by choosing whether to rescue or harvest Little Sisters. If the player chose an objectivist approach to playing by harvesting the Little Sisters, they would be acting in their own self-interest and would be perfectly aligned with the ethical thesis that the game sought to emphasize. One of the problems Bioshock has; is that there isn’t an option to not assist Atlas, or to align with Ryan. Anyone in this position has to merely accept that the game funneled them in that direction; the only other recourse would have been to quit playing.

Dead Space: Game play conveys the sense of sheer terror and loneliness that the narrative expertly strives to establish. More importantly, the game focuses its efforts in a mostly linear direction, and doesn’t really afford the player the ability to make decisions that would put this consistency at risk. Dead Space is a prime example of one of the more ludonarratively consistent games in recent memory.

To minimise or eliminate LD from their games, game developers have to create games that are continually evolving and 100% responsive to any actions the player makes. Developers have to shift focus from trying to tell a particular story to giving the player the opportunity to make a story. Considering technical and resource limitations, this is something that won’t recourse overnight.

To prevent divergence from the exact path that developers wish to take the narrative, the player would need to have little to no control over in-game decision making. Accountability would need to be taken by developers however, to ensure that no disparity existed.

We are then posed with the rhetoric… is it worth taking the freedom of decision and expansive universes offered by so many games, just to eliminate LD?

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