ludonarrative dissonance

Infamous: Second Son, black-and-white morality, and the awkwardness of being an evil “hero” by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In Infamous: Second Son, you play a mass murderer named Delsin. You can play as a not-mass-murderer, but then you’re not playing the game right (it is called “Infamous,” after all). This is a game about a guy who gets super powers that allow him to kill pretty much every human he comes across with fire missiles that he shoots from his hands. It’s a totally awesome feeling, and the game is basically the epitome of a power fantasy, but there’s a problem with that, because the narrative tries to paint Delsin as something of an antihero when he is a straight up villain. The actual “villain” in the game is a woman (which is rare and kind of cool, in and of itself) who tortures people using her own superpowers. Sure, that isn’t cool, but the thing is, she’s not the one wantonly launching herself up into the air and killing dozens of civilians at a time. Delsin's doing that. And while it’s super cool looking and uses all sorts of fancy particle effects that show people why they should buy into the current generation of video game consoles, that’s you, the player, killing dozens of civilians (there’s a combo counter in the upper left hand corner that tells you for sure) at a time.

But you’re still the good guy.

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Ludonarrative dissonance and ludonarrative interference: An introduction by Alec Kubas-Meyer

It’s time for me to finally explain two topics that I have offhandedly mentioned on multiple occasions (and will talk about a whole lot more in the future): ludonarrative dissonance and ludonarrative interference. But before we talk about them, let’s talk about BioshockBioshock’s release in 2007 was a milestone for video game narratives. It was a console shooter that said things and made points.  It had choices (even if the black and white nature of the Little Sister harvesting decisions wasn’t all that compelling) and it commented on the nature of player interaction with a game. Plus, it was basically the sequel to Atlas Shrugged (if John Galt’s weird pure-capitalist society hidden in the mountain was a modern-ish Atlantis). And since it was critiquing Ayn Rand’s philosophies, it had to be smart. (I mean, not really. A monkey pointing to 2008 on a calendar would be making a pretty compelling argument for some regulation of industry, although Bioshock was released before the economy blew up but that’s not the point. I digress.) It also received some serious academic-style criticism in a way that few games before (or after, to be honest) had.

And I find it ironic that one of the most enduring critical analyses of the game also missed the game’s most interesting hook.

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The Last of Us, the WGA awards, and thoughts on poor video game writing by Alec Kubas-Meyer

As I’m writing this, The Last of Us has just been given yet another award, this time from the Writer’s Guild of America. The last award on the list is the “Videogame Winner” for “Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing.” Impressive, right? Not really.

The problem with the WGA awards is that they can only be given to scripts written under the jurisdiction of the WGA. With film, this isn’t a major problem since there are a lot of fantastic written works being produced under that umbrella, and even if Before Midnight should have crushed the “Adapted Screenplay” category, Her was as well written as anything that came out in 2013.

Not so in the land of video games. The Last of Us was up against four other games, each of them well into their respective franchises:

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