Game Studies: Narratology v. Ludology

Over the course of the coming week, I'll post my reflections and notes from my literature review in preparation for my upcoming conference. The posts during this week will be focused on how we can understand videogames as stories, how those stories are told, and what value those stories have in the lives of our students.

Konzack, L. (2007). The Players’ Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming. In J. P. Williams & J. H. Smith (Eds..), Rhetorics of Computer and Video Game Research (p. 110-130). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Narratology is storytelling rhetoric; a game from this point of view analyzes it as a narrative format. The closer the game narrative gets to a film or book narrative the higher quality it is. For games that want to tell a story, this comparison is useful and important. If designers are modeling the conventions after other media, should games be analyzed in the same fashion? Are there unique criteria to games?

I would argue that yes, there are unique criteria. Narrative games are important and can be compelling. While they can use the same conventions of movies and books there are additional ones as well. Games have the ability to emotionally engage and invest a player based on their decisions in addition to the decisions of the author/designer/creator. Using a narratological framework is very useful, but it cannot be the only framework applied.

Konzack also describes the ludology field of game studies, which was created as a response to the narratology framework. Ludology holds that games do not need to have any narrative to be a good game. They operate on a rule set, not story elements. Ludologists also feel that in a game, the story is always a second to the gameplay. The story may help hold the game progression together, but the gameplay is the reason to continue to move forward.

The ludology prospective is useful and directly applies to some games. Players do not play Tetris for the story. Even popular games like the Mario franchise by Nintendo are better suited as game and criticized on gameplay rather than story. Has anyone tried to finish a Mario game just to see if he will rescue Princess Peach? Players play because of the level design and other gameplay elements.

But limiting videogame analysis to an either / or is short sighted. Videogames can and should be both. Movies exist both as spectacle and drama. No one worries if Spider-man, the Transformers, or Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow will save the day. People flock to the theaters to see how it will happen. The action drives the movie forward.

Videogames can and should, as a maturing medium, take on a variety of purposes and formats. Books have always existed for a variety of purposes. Fiction and non-fiction serve different purposes for the reader. Videogames have to potential and should be analyzed with such concerns in mind.

Images from:

Sibera from Gamespot

Tetris from Neoseeker


Anonymous said...

It seems that the article title and book title in the citation is reversed.