The Dissonance of Gameplay and Narrative: The Year of Horrible Video Game Endings

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Adaptation, Video game
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☞ Although often taken together, narrative and gameplay do not always work together perfectly. One possible dissonant relationship between the two may result in narratives with bad endings, which, according to this article from the International Business Times, was especially noticeable in the year 2012.

“A thriving indie scene produced stunning and challenging works. Games like “Spec Ops: The Line,” “Dishonored,” and “Mass Effect 3” told their players breathtaking stories. And “The Walking Dead” broke new ground in interactive fiction and episodic content, showing zombie fans that a game adaption of a popular comic book and TV series could actually be a good thing.

The narrative pieces of video games still have an uncomfortable relationship with their more game-like properties, however. As the game critic Tom Bissell wryly noted, its hard to believe that Max Payne is an “incompetent failure” when, moments after drinking himself into a stupor, he starts “leaping in slow motion from a speedboat while shooting an incoming RPG out of the sky and then single-handedly massacring an entire army of Kevlar-encased Brazilian commandos.” The technical term for this is “ludonarrative dissonance,” and it’s rarely more glaring than in the final moments of a game’s story. Game designers, or at least the marketers and PR managers around them, often tell players they are the true owners of the stories that unfold before them. As players, we want to believe them. And we can, for the most part, until that final moment when the narrative designer has to step back in and remind us of their vision for the direction the story was meant to take.”

“I don’t mean to fault games like “Mass Effect” for having sloppy endings. Many of the games that had the worst endings I could think of were also the best games that came out this year. But as games become more self-consciously cinematic, and as CGI inches ever closer to the uncanny valley, their so-called “ludonarrative dissonance” is only going to become all the more glaring in turn. With that in mind, I present for your consideration some of the silliest moments where story and gameplay butted heads in 2012. …”

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