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Ludonarrative Dissonance - A Fallacy of Storytelling

On 04/16/2013 at 05:43 AM by Blake Turner

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Warning, this article contains some mild spoilers about Bioshock Infinite.  I will endeavor to keep these spoilers vague — the ending is not discussed at all — but if you're extremely worried about spoilers, maybe give this article a miss until you finish the game. 

Every now and then, a title comes along in the world of entertainment that is universally praised, to the point where any criticism leveled against it is apparently reason enough to justify a violent dismemberment of the critic.  It had such an impact at the time – whether that's because it spoke to people on a level that other titles in its genre/medium simply didn't, or because it was revolutionary, challenging tropes and setting a new standard – that it's almost impossible to speak ill of it.  Bioshock Infinite seems to be one of those titles.  It's understandable, as the game's narrative themes are pretty unrivaled.  However, the game has one MAJOR flaw, and we would be remiss not to talk about it, since it tends to plague gaming as a whole.  

This major flaw is ludonarrative dissonance — a rather large distance between gameplay and narrative.

 If you wish to read the rest of this article, follow this link (Damn, I sound like I'm selling you dlc... for a blog!). You won't get murdered in the process. I hope. If you do, I will send my condolences to your family. I mean it. We must stop the onset of murderous hyperlinks once and for all, even if that means we lose a few of you. It's for the greater good! Anyway, please read this article? I think it's one of the better articles I've written. You'll be surprised that I don't just rant and swear a lot.





04/16/2013 at 09:06 AM

I just started infinite last night.  I will try to remember and come back when i finish.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:31 PM

Thanks! Even if you get half way through, all of the spoilers are covered by then.


04/22/2013 at 02:22 PM

i was hoping to have something to add by the time I read your article.  I am somewhere around 1/3-1/2 of the way through the game at this point.  I can see that there is somewhat of a ludonarrative dissonance, but it is not affecting my enjoyment of the game.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/24/2013 at 06:42 AM

It's not so much that it impedes your enjoyment and more that it contradicts the narrative. If we want gaming taken seriously as a story-telling medium we need to be rid of this. I mean, these games can still be fun, but we've passed the point where games are purely "toys."


04/16/2013 at 09:39 AM

Good article. Nice to see you can do more than rant and swear lol. The disconnect between narrative and gameplay in Infinite never occurred to me while playing but you're right, it is definitely there. I guess the problem is that Irrational has refined this great shooter gameplay and they of course want to use it. Dishonored is a good example of a recent game giving the player choice to reflect the narrative in their play style, though even that game is a little heavyhanded about how you should play if you want a good ending. Yeah, the medium has a long way to go.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:34 PM

I think their intent was good. They marketed this to your average casual gamer in order to say: "Hey, this is what gaming can do!" If they didn't, it probably wouldn't have sold as many copies as it did. However (wow I use that word a lot), The problem is that it does cause that rift and breaks the immersion of the game. And this game is immersive! I spent so much time just taking in the sights and sounds when I started the game, that when the killing came I was actually disappointed.

 Yeah, but ranting and swearing when I'm tired or drunk is just so much fun! Probably not as fun for you guys though lol.


04/16/2013 at 10:25 AM

Great article Blake. I usually don't even think about stuff like that. If the whole point of the game was to shelter Elizabeth from the evil around her, and your constantly killing everybody in horrific fashion, I can see how it would cause a disconnect. I'm guessing that Tomb Raider suffers from the same kinds of problems based off everything I've read about it. Undecided

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:30 PM

Oh yeah Tomb Raider is a HUGE offender. I completely forgot about that game when I wrote this!


04/16/2013 at 10:46 AM

Great post. :)

I was thinking about exactly this throughout the game. It was one of the main reasons that it didn't hold up for me as well as Bioshock. Unlike in the first game, where you're basically just a blank slate (in more ways than one), Booker is a very distinct character with unique motivations. That he's trying to seek redemption for the death and havok he's caused in his life clashes badly with the gore-fest that you end up playing through. Both are good on their own, but don't really make much sense when put together.

There are plenty of other apsects of the game that take me out of it too:

- Why does Comstock take such a hands-off approach in raising Elizabeth when he's grooming her to be his heir? So you can gain access to her powers in battle and interact with her as soon as possible because she wants to leave.

- Why doesn't he indoctrinate her with his own racist views? Because she wouldn't be as sympathetic a companion, and she's with you almost all the time.

- Why don't more enemies abuse plasmid use to stop Booker when they're cultists who'd do whatever Comstock says? Because the fights would be a lot harder to design and program, and the game had already been delayed several times without that. 

- Why are you able to walk around Columbia with weapons and plasmids at the ready, despite killing several police officers in the middle of a raffle and having posters warning people about you? Because having to lay low and constantly stay out of sight and on the run would be harder to design around.

The game was held back in a lot of ways because it had to appeal to so many different kinds of customers to sell well. Throughout, I kept thinking about how much better it could've been if not for that.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:43 PM

Oh the vigors. The street is littered with them, and they are provided for free (which in itself seems to go against the mindset of Columbia), yet no one uses them. It would have made the game more interesting then, and we would have had more than four types of enemy...

 I think the hands foff approach is supposed to represent *SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS* you're own neglect when it comes to Elizabeth. As for not indoctrinating her with his beliefs, that does seem odd when you think about it. I think they still could have made her a sympathetic character, especially if she came to see from the other point of view eventually. That would have held more emotional weight as well.

 I get that they needed to reach out to as many different people as possible. They wanted to show people just how far games have come as a story telling experience. The problem is that the disconnect between gameplay and narrative works against that.

Super Step Contributing Writer

04/16/2013 at 05:39 PM

I'm worried about spoilers until I can at least catch a Let's Play or something (would prefer playing it myself, but in case), so I'm gonna have to sit this out, but ludonarrative dissonance is an awesome word.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:29 PM

The spoilers I mention are rather vague. I don't go into specifics and I've tried hard not to ruin anything. I mention something that happens, but it's about halfway through and it's meaningless without the context of the game. If you still want to avoid it, that's ok. I'm just saying the spoilers are kept to a minimum.


04/16/2013 at 06:15 PM

I think I'll wait for the ultimate-game-of-the-year-gold-box+dlc version of the game. When a game has universal praise, I have an urge to call out bullshit. A lot of what I read that's good about the game are the "disney" style art of the world which doesn't really explain the gory violence in most screen shots of the game. So which is it? A nice disney movie, or a splatter fest gun movie?

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/16/2013 at 06:27 PM

People are lauding the game mainly for it's themes and characterisation, and they're right, I've never played a game where the character feel more human. This is partly because of great writing, but also subtle animation techniques. Elizabeth in particular is one of the best female characters I've ever seen, and as I stated in the article, the way it deals with racism is second to none in the gaming world.


04/17/2013 at 12:21 AM

I remember enjoying the original Bioshock and having fun but much akin to yourself with Infinite, I didn't understand all the hype it got. To me System Shock 2 was marginally better. (Even if it was also ugly by modern graphical standards)

I do think the Bioshock franchise would make a better rpg with many ways of completing objectives as opposed to it simply being an fps with super powers.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/17/2013 at 12:27 AM

I don't know if System Shock 2 was better from a story standpoint, as they tell the same story, but Bioshock had more to say. Infinite has so much hype because it is one of the best narratives in gaming, and the world just really draws you in.


04/17/2013 at 12:33 AM

Which is why I think for the narrative having more varied solutions for problem solving would enhance the experience,Blake. lol. As much as I love sicking crows or bees on people or riddling them with electric charged bullets I do kind of wonder what Infinite would be like if it was also mixed with a bit of Dishonored or a bit of a Bioware rpg.

Just food for thought. I'm not judging the game as is because I haven't played it. I'm already pretty confident this one blows the original Bioshock away. Based on the reviews I read it'll probably even dethrone System Shock 2 for me.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/17/2013 at 03:18 AM

Yeah, I mentioned that in my article. I stated that it would be better if there were stealth elements, or ways to avoid conflict. If they went back to System Shock's rpg elements but streamlined them for a modern audience, that could work quite well. To be honest, that game does need conflict, and it does need it's gore in certain places, just not to the degree that it's used in the game.

 Idk, to me, both are equal. They both have elements that are either worse of better than the originals, so idk.

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