“Ludonarrative” Is Not a Noun: Is Wikipedia… Wrong?!

“Ludonarrative” Is Not a Noun: Is Wikipedia… Wrong?!

Videogame critical theory is a bit of a mess, lexically. I try to avoid fancy words because they’re often used inconsistently and can be a bit exclusionary. But then I just end up with my own private glossary, which is hardly going to help matters.

Nonetheless, “ludonarrative dissonance” is a really nice little term. Ludo is an ancient Greek board game, which is a bit like a computer game, so “ludo-” means “about games” (troll troll troll), and “narrative” is narrative and “dissonance” is dissonance. So ludonarrative dissonance is the dissonance between gamey stuff and narrative in a game. I’ve discussed this in terms of “a misalignment of system and metaphor”, or of ”procedural rhetoric and narrative rhetoric”. Ludonarrative dissonance is a pretty compact little phrase and directly picks out a real concept in videogame criticism — the number-one artistic fumble for the whole medium, I would say.

However, Wikipedia lists the term under “Ludonarrative”, which it says is:

“the aspects of video game storytelling that are controlled by the player.”

Oh dear. First of all, this completely confuses “ludonarrative dissonance”, because if “ludonarrative” is a thing in itself then what is it dissonant with? What a mess. Secondly, as I have argued elsewhere, “the aspects of video game storytelling that are controlled by the player” are not the narrative. They are not the narrative as a matter of fact, and it may even be impossible for them to be the narrative. (Chris Crawford keeps trying to disprove that one, and good luck to him.)

So, in the hope that maybe fewer people will be put off videogame critical theory, I’m going to do my bit for the discipline as a visiting Wikipedian. For posterity, here’s the old, bad version as of today:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ludonarrative, a compound of ludology and narrative, refers to the aspects of video game storytelling that are controlled by the player. It is contrasted with fixed or embedded narrative which are the purely narrative, non-interactive aspects of the game that are determined by the game's designers and told through cutscenes or other related devices. Ludonarrative is considered an essential concept in videogame theory.


Two notes

  1. Here’s the Wikipedia page, hopefully still showing my edits.
  2. Thanks to @TheGameCritique on Twitter, who was cited as a source for the erroneous definition, but agrees it was off. He remains the source for the correct version.


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