Ludology and Narratology?
“The views between ludologists and narratologists are always contradictory”
But are they really?
I argue that the differences between Ludology and Narratology are more subtle than you may think and as a result have caused the debate between Ludology and Narratology.
I will argue this by first giving definitions of Ludology and Narratology. I argue that games cannot be truly studied if only narratology is used. I will argue that games do contain Narrative elements and that since Ludology is a study of games, therefore Ludology must also be a study of narrative elements in games.
Frasca defines a narratologist in the so-called debate between Narratology and Ludology, to be a scholar that either claims that games are closely connected to Narrative and/or that they should be analyzed, at least in part, through narratology. However Frasca goes on to state that this is not the humanities definition of what a narratologist is (a person who studies a set of theories of narrative in all mediums) and thus is a source of confusion in our debate. For this reason Michael Mateas proposed the term “narrativist” in order to refer to a scholar who uses “narrative and literary theory as the foundation upon which to build a theory of interactive media”.
Game-Research.com gives two definitions of Ludology. The first one states that Ludology is “The study of games, particularly computer games”. The second is different though and states “Ludology is most often defined as the study of game structure (or gameplay) as opposed to the study of games as narratives or games as a visual medium”. This seems to be the de facto definition of Ludology in the debate between Ludology and Narratology as it rejects the study of games as narratives. So why are there two contradictory definitions? Well, the term Ludology was originally proposed by Frasca to describe a yet non-existent discipline that would focus on the study of games in general and videogames in particular. “It was a call for a set of theoretical tools
that would be for gaming what narratology was for narrative.” He even goes on to state that his main goal was “to show how basic concepts of ludology could be used along with narratology to better understand videogames”.
Aarseth claims that to truly study a game, Narratology cannot be used because it’s focus of study is not on the rules of the game. Narratology is only a study of it’s narrative.
“The focus of such study should be on the rules of the
game, not on the representational or mimetic elements which are only incidental. That
metaphorical royalty of the chess king, the arcade player’s sense of himself as an
outnumbered but valiant fighter, the elaborate shared fantasy of a dungeons and dragons
group are all irrelevant to a critical understanding of the game” (Aarseth 2004).
Aarseth claims that the study of games should not be on the representational elements which are only incidental. He defends this point but also states that there is considerable overlap between games and narrative.
“[…] to claim that there is no difference between games and narratives
is to ignore essential qualities of both categories. And yet, as this study
tries to show, the difference is not clear-cut, and there is significant
overlap between the two.”
In Juul’s “Games Telling Stories?” Juul claims that, regardless of them being incidental or not, games do contain a narrative.
“I would like to repeat that I believe that: 1) The player can tell stories
of a game session. 2) Many computer games contain narrative
elements, and in many cases the player may play to see a cut-scene or
realise a narrative sequence. 3) Games and narratives share some
Frasca states that
“One thing is not favoring narratology as a preferred tool for understanding games and a
whole different one is to completely discard it.”
Aarseth claims that games should be studied on there own terms
“Of course, games should also be studied within existing fields and
departments, such as Media Studies, Sociology, and English, to name a
few. But games are too important to be left to these fields. (And they
did have thirty years in which they did nothing!)”
So in order to properly study games, we need to study their rules and there narrative elements. Using Narratology to study a game would only lead us to a better understanding of the narrative of a game but not the game itself. In my opinion Aarseth claims that the important aspects of a game that should be studied are there rules, which cannot be studied through Narratology. However he, along with Juul, believes that games and narrative do share some structural traits and elements, but rather then treat them as traditional narratives to be studied traditionally they should be studied for what they are, they should be studied on there own terms.
It is in my opinion that the main causes for the confusion between the debate between Narratology and Ludology are firstly, the differing definitions of what Ludology and Narratology actually are and secondly that, in seeking to study more then just the narrative elements of games Ludologists have rejected the narratological approach to studying games. I believe Ludologists think games do have narrative elements but believe that those elements should be studied in their own context, as a part of a game. They reject the idea that a games narrative should only be studied as if it where narrative from other narrative mediums like cinema and literature. As a result they have been misinterpreted as rejecting the study of narrative in games. For instance Frasca wrote about a colleague of his “he thought that, since I am known as a ludologist, there was no way I could accept any role for narrative in games. Of course, I told him he was wrong and that such idea of ludology is totally erroneous.”. So with that cleared up, I am a Ludologist! And a bit of a Narratologist too, I happen to like traditional story telling like cinema and literature.