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Gaming Definitions (Ludonarrative Dissonance)

Ludonarrative Dissonance is a term coined by Clint Hocking, former Creative Director at Ubisoft, to describe when aspects of critical gameplay are in direct conflict with a video game's story.

"The world has to afford interesting, compelling ways for the player to figure out [solutions] -- and that's a lot of what games are. We have to put players in a position to be engaged with overcoming obstacles, which means the core mechanics have to avail us enough opportunity to figure out a solution." - Bruce Straley, Director of Last of Us.

As you may imagine this conflict greatly impacts the game and can lead to some serious design flaws in the end. In this post we look at some specific examples of ludonarrative dissonance and some best practices in avoiding it.


1 | Bioshock: In this game the designers encourage self-interest through the gameplay, while promoting selflessness in the story design.

2 | Unchartered Series: Nathan Drake kills pirates unnecessarily in spite of being seen as an ethical protagonist.

3 | Tomb Raider: Laura Croft story lines have on multiple occasions been in direct conflict with the overall gameplay.

Best Practices:

Dexter is a classic television series that is able, like Last of Us, to find ways to ensure there is limited dissonance between the action of the experience and the story. Dexter by riding the world of other serial killers, creates a viable ethical space in which the action may occur, similarly, Joel and Ellie in Last of Us work together to fight zombies, as father and daughter, in order to stop a global plague.

Of course nuance in characterisation is important for overall game dimension-ality and relate-ability. Characters not ought to be perfect and squeaky clean, but the bones of these characters must align with the realities of their environments, other characters, and overall story arches for believe-ability and reasonable immersion. This is where Dexter for example uses an anti-hero to fight a seemingly just battle, but not without tension and ethical ambiguity at times.

In the end, great games challenge players to work out complex solutions to emerging, surprising, and progressively more difficult challenges.

For more on ludonarrative dissonance get in touch with our design team.

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