Ludology vs. Narratology

Just a short note to set out my position.

In my reading I’ve again and again come across an academic division in the study of games, between ludology and narratology. (Ludology being a word I hadn’t heard before, meaning “game studies”.) For the most part, its seems to me, the debate consists mostly of ludologists saying “Hey, games are our thing! You narratologists can clear off back to your novels and your TV and your films and the like, we don’t want you round here,” but that may be my own prejudice in reading. So for the benefit of balance, I’ll quote from what wikipedia says (today).

This disagreement has been called the ludology vs. narratology debates. The narratological view is that games should be understood as novel forms of narrative and can thus be studied using theories of narrative. The ludological position is that games should be understood on their own terms. Ludologists have proposed that the study of games should concern the analysis of the abstract and formal systems they describe. In other words, the focus of game studies should be on the rules of a game, not on the representational elements which are only incidental.

Earlier this week I found this very gentlemanly exchange of emails, which was for me the most enlightening version of the debate that I’ve read so far.

For my studies of course, wherein I’m looking to learn about how a particular sort of “open world” games use narrative, I tend towards the narrativist viewpoint. Which isn’t to say the ludic approach isn’t valid, its just that I’m not trying to turn cultural heritage interpretation into a game.

Edit: my views on Ludology vs. Narratology are getting better informed, check out this post too.

15 thoughts on “Ludology vs. Narratology

  1. Although I was considering citing this exchange of correspondence between a narratologist and a ludologist in my circle on Google+, I was turned off by the following portion in Tom Bissell’s letter:

    > The basic complaint, as I take it, is: Who gives a shit about what one dude feels like when he plays video games? I get that critique. While I very much hope that my vigorous use of language and anecdote is proof enough that you should *very much* give a shit about how games make me feel, I realize that not every one’s going to follow me down that path.

    While I understand that Bissell was most likely attempting to portray a colloquial image, this language is embarrassing to present in a semi-academic circle (such as mine). My circle tends to include a number of mathematicians and scientists, who might be offended by such language.

    If Bissell had been more careful to use less vulgar language in his correspondence, I might have been able to share the exchange in my circle.

  2. Is there a complementary term for the unseen ‘homo ludens’? Games as isolated constructs, diversions? Games are social covers (and learning tools), so I as barely understand this, I’m in the narratology camp. Or maybe a follower..

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