Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ludens Is a Cough Drop.

One of the first things I learned about writing was that if you can’t write, if you feel stilted and blocked, then write about feeling stilted and blocked.  Another is that writing is like a muscle that atrophies five-hundred times more quickly.

I’ve been reading an argument about ‘Ludonarrative Dissonance” in games, and since I had never heard of the term before, it was pretty interesting.  I’m amazed at how much a single game has helped push forward critical thinking about games.  I thought Bioshock was stupid the first time I saw it.  But, that was also in an apartment watching someone on an XBox, completely wigged on coke.

In the first few pages of “Beyond Good and Evil”, Nietzsche taught me the most important lesson of my life.  Everything that has ever been written was written by a person with their own mind, their own thoughts and prejudices, their own opinions.  This colors everything, almost always unintentionally.

This is why I hate people who reject the notion that games can be art.  If they believe this, then games really can’t be art; in their minds, at least.  But to the people who believe otherwise, and who actively develop their skills in making games that art artistic in different levels, they are.  That is the end of the argument.

Then there are the people who try to put a ceiling bracket on discussion, declaring this or that to impose their own boundaries.  This specifically comes into view with the term, ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, because I guess it’s kind of a buzz-word now, and people like to use it to sound smart sometimes.  But this doesn’t mean it isn’t a real term.

But, when someone tries to put a subject in their own box, and decry anyone who says that there is more to it than they think, it makes me think of amateur philosophers who think they understand Nietzsche because they heard he influenced the Nazis and was in love with his sister.  To me, it’s laughable and ironic.

So some idiot says something like, “Gameplay and story are the same thing because games have been around since the dawn of time and have always been used as a means to convey story”.  It was written better than that, but that’s what I got from it.  Therefore, something like ludonarrative dissonance isn’t a real thing, because narrative can’t conceptually go against gameplay, because narrative –is- gameplay.

Well, I’m willing to be that the ancient romans didn’t write plays in which the actors played “throw the rock” while the narrator told a story.  To say that gameplay and narrative are the same thing is like saying that, in a movie, cinematography and narrative are the same.  It’s just not true.  They compliment each other in fundamental ways, but they are not the same.  There is a sense of cinematic narration, as there is a sense of ludonic (gameplay) narration.  But they are not the exact same thing.

The word was kind of pieced together to describe something that someone observed about Bioshock.  And I thought it was a good point.  But even if there weren’t Bioshock, and weren’t ‘ludonarrative’, there would still be a small fissure between narration and gameplay.  They simply are not the same thing.

In a game, I am playing an actor in a story.  While the game’s narrative slowly paces on with me, I am not ‘playing’ the narration.  I am experiencing it through the actions of the actor.  Just as in a book, a story’s narrative and its writing style are two separate things; just because they are inextricably intertwined does not mean they are one.  And, if someone wrote a novel that had a writing style that seemed to contradict the essence or spirit of the narrative, I would say it suffered from… scriptonarrative dissonance?  or something like that.

But it really bothers me when people try to say that you can’t progress further in analyzing something because it isn’t there.  It happens all the time in philosophy, and that is why a lot of people don’t understand philosophy properly.  They think there are right answers and wrong answers, and there is a level where you cannot reach another ‘meta’.  But that is wrong, and only shows the person’s lack of understanding in the depth of a medium.

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