Ludology v. Narratology

Clive Thompson on why it is not proper to think of gaming as narratives.

I simply don’t think narrative — as it’s traditionally defined — applies. On the other hand, an interactive environment like an evening of improv might have a lot more to tell us! Rather than trying to take the theory of narrative or film and use them to understand games, we ought to be looking further afield to entire other areas of theory: Architecture, drama, city planning, sports, economic game theory, psychology, mythology. All of these fields, and many others, are infinitely more useful at explaining why we play games — and, perhaps more importantly, why game-makers create them.

Let me hammer that latter point home more directly: I do not think any successful game designer sits down and intends to tell a story. If they honestly wanted to do that, they’d shoot a movie or write a play or a novel, places where stories are most suitably told. No, they want to create a *game*, and designing a successful game requires an enormous bouquet of skills, of which “telling a story” is either a rather minor one, and sometimes a completely irrelevant one.

By the way, Thompson was responding to Sarusa’s slashdot book review on interactive storytelling.

I see several goals of gaming here: 1)fun (engagement), 2)education/experience (see Prensky’s Digital Game-Based Learning and my book review of it) and 3)creative self-expression within a larger gaming environment. Actually though, I don’t see many video game designers or players striving toward a sense of the sublime. Also, although massively multiplayers are creating objects and mods, the possibilities are finite, and I don’t see players creating enduring objects that can outlive a gaming environment or the company that controls it. (Machinima is the worthy exception).

The reason I never have gotten into games as much as would want to is that I feel that my movement is too controlled, that my play is not amounting to much. Ok, so I pass the 20th level and find the sceptre of Genius. So what? What have I accomplished? What can I share with the rest of the world as a result of the hours I have spent in this world?

Rather than putting the dichotomy between narratology and ludology, I would put it between fun and education.







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