Exhuming the Dead Part II: Ludonarrative Harmony
Alright, you’re back! (Or at least I hope you’re back. If you haven’t read Exhuming the Dead Part I then do it now!)
As we all know, ludonarrative dissonance (LD) has been quite the pickle for game designers and ludologists alike. Such a hackneyed and misinterpreted term deserved some love and understanding after the abuse its suffered over the years. We came to understand the ACTUAL definition of LD as intended by Clint Hocking. And after doing so we realized an unanswered question had been begged the entire time. If there is ludonarrative dissonance (and it IS, in fact, useful language) then there must be ludonarrative harmony(LH)!
There are only two things concerning LH. The question HAD been answered already by several different sources it turns out. Quickly googling “ludonarrative dissonance” will bring up a neogaf forum where the original poster (OP), “Remachinate”, why and how Dishonored (Arkane Studios), FTL (Subset Games), and Fez (Polytron Corporation) are ludonarratively harmonic. There are only two problems with this discussion. It hails all the way back to 2013 and later on when someone tries to point out how Uncharted (Naughty Dog) is an example of ludonarrative harmony, the notion was quickly dismissed as pure folly. Thread member “Bedlam” even says “[Uncharted] games are actually the best examples of ludonarrative dissonance. How many guys does Indy ‘kill.’ Like, 5? Drake? At least 500…”.
There is a more recent discussion on LH by youtube channel “Games As Literature” discusses the nature of ludonarrative harmony. Samuel Gronseth (writer and host of the channel’s show, “Games as Lit. 101”) does a good job of conveying the difficulty of addressing what ludonarrative harmony and dissonance are for the most part. While talking rather effectively about LH, this and other discussions of LH or LD talk around the issue and bring up examples as opposed to outright talking about the definition.
We can’t understand the nature of LH if we don’t understand the definition of LD that is the term in which LH is derived.
If ludonarrative dissonance is a contradiction between a game’s themes (as the game presents them) and its mechanical content, then ludonarrative harmony is an example of an agreement between the themes and the mechanical content.
And if that heady nonsense has bored you reading it as much as it bored me writing it. Let’s instead bring ourselves to a game that is NOT as boring…
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)
This game (that came out in October of 2017) is, I feel, an absolute embodiment of ludonarrative harmony.
From beginning to end Super Mario Odyssey (SMO) displays themes of exuberance, expression, heroism and, well… fun and capitalizes on these themes. The way Mario jumps and moves are simple enough to be accessible and fun while having a depth hat account for depth and mastery. The locales and enemies are good at reinforcing the ways in which you can express yourself and the capture mechanic (Mario’s new ability that allows him to possess enemies and use their abilities) emphasizes the variety in which you can express yourself in different situations. SMO doesn’t have a complicated plot, complicated mechanics or very “deep” themes. However, it is undeniable that virtually every portion of this Nintendo game goes to forward its bright and animated themes.
With discussions concerning narrative and plot, it can be hard to remember that the ludonarrative have everything to do with the theme rather than the story. So while a Nintendo title might not be the first game to think about when discussing LH. It is without a doubt a perfect example of this characteristic.
So that concludes the exhuming of ludonarrative dissonance. And it’s a good thing we did it too. it turns out that it wasn’t dead, just simply tired, overused, and under-appreciated.