Ludonarrative dissonance

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If you didn't already know, we're huge nerds on this site, and that means that we like to discuss the things we nerd out at, a lot. One of the things that often comes up is ludonarrative dissonance.

What is "Ludonarrative Dissonance"? A really stupid term from video-game discourse that has very little to do with /v/, "Ludonarrative dissonance" is just a highfallutin' way of saying that a vidya game is not about what its story claims to be about. ("Ludo" is a Latin word meaning "game", btw.)

Originally misused for a perceived problem in Bioshock, where the actual intended message actually melds fairly well with its gameplay: "The Randian Superman is not who Ayn Rand thought he is", "Player agency in video games is weird" and "Superpowers are awesome, but real world problematic". The other game series usually associated with the word, Uncharted, involves the lead character killing loads and loads of guys in self defense in gameplay and being a charming rogue in cutscenes, which might be dissonant if not for that whole "self-defense" thing.[1]

For some actual cases of Ludonarrative dissonance, go look up our frienemies TVTropes list on the matter, "Gameplay and Story Segregation", which covers many of the more noticeable situations.

You want an actual example?[edit]

You want an example that's probably not arguable? Alright. Let's say the story of the game or campaign is that you're the Chosen Heros of the Kingdom of Flobersnock, who will defeat the Generic Evil Overlord Who Seeks To Take Over The Known World With His Vast Army Of Evil Dragons.

And then it turns out that 90% of what you do is petty fetch quests digging around in sewers fighting rats. No, not giant ones, nor large packs of them. Just plain ol' rats. The Generic Evil yadda yadda is mainly fought in non-interactive cutscenes, except maybe for a brief final boss fight that only barely counts as interactive.

That would probably be a good case of Ludonarrative Dissonance.

Okay, but why on this wiki tho?[edit]

That being said: What's this got to do with /tg/? Well, the problem of "not actually being about what it claims to be about" can be a problem in roleplaying. D&D, in particular, is usually held to be "claims to be about playing a role in a story" but actually "killing loads and loads of monsters".

Board games also occasionally lie about what they're about as well: Monopoly isn't a game about real-estate development, it's a game about boredom, paying rent, and low-key stabbing your fellow players in the back to get it to end quicker.

"Ludonarrative dissonance" is still usually not a valid accusation, but there are some actual cases, so be careful.

More specific /tg/ Examples[edit]

  • In Warhammer 40k, the vast power-level of armies and soldiers in the lore makes the actual battles a bit weird for some people. Space Marines in particular are often presented as nigh-unstoppable in the lore, but can be defeated by a laser pointer on the tabletop. 40k is a game first and foremost so of course each faction has to be balanced with the rest, but that doesn't stop certain grognards from loudly claiming five Space Marines should be able to kill thirty-strong mobs of Ork Boyz or the game just doesn't work for them.
    • Warhammer Fantasy solved this problem by not sucking the dick of any one faction in particular and accept that sometimes the cool Chaos Warrior will die to an errant, bent arrow fired by some peasant archer with polio and no teeth.


  1. That being said, the accusation is probably fairly applied to violent games with the main intended moral of "Violence is bad, 'mmkay?". Such a message is usually going to ring hollow if the only tools the game provides the player are violence in a linear corridor. The only ways that sort of message works in a violent game is if the player had a choice in the matter besides "turn off the console", the hypocrisy is acknowledged, or the anti-violence theme is secondary to another, less hypocritical one.