Games & Literary Theory | Montreal


How dissonant is ludonarrative dissonance?


Here, I wish to try a different approach and examine the dissonant experience itself: examine the effect of dissonance more generally without necessarily attributing that dissonance to any specific properties of game or narrative.

To this end, I will conceive dissonance as a generic phenomenon associated with human information processing:  a consequence of processing information from two disparate sources. This assumption assumes ludonarrative dissonance is a subset of other, more broadly conceived and potentially generic human dissonant experiences, and that classifying ludonarrative dissonance as similar (or at least analogous) to these other experiences may be enlightening in ways that detailing differences between game and narrative has not yet been.


In this more radical interpretation of ludonarrative dissonance, the incompatibility is not in two disparate informational channels, but rather in two interpretive frameworks — two disparate cognitive mechanisms (or “paradigms” in the Kuhnian sense) — that are required to interpret and experience game and narrative.

These two distinct modes — liminality and narrativity — originate within the natural history of our species and continue to influence us much in the same manner as did their original forms:  one fundamentally experiential and expressive, the other fundamentally social and communicative.

Myers, 2017, p. 64

Which of these two competing scenarios is most likely could then be suggested — if not determined — with reference to the nature of ludonarrative dissonance. Does this dissonance recede as knowledge and skill is applied toward its resolution, or does it persist?  The intractable persistence of ludonarrative dissonance is at least one indicator of the intractability of two disparate interpretive frames.

..the most likely conclusion to draw from this persistent failure is that game-playing and storytelling originate in two distinct human aesthetic sensibilities.  Though neither is made lesser through its incompatibility with the other, neither is made greater or more enjoyable as a reluctant partner in an interminably dissonant pairing.

Myers, 2017, p. 43

Preliminary slides.

Link to draft paper inside slides.