There has been an endless debate on the field of videogame studies between ludology vs narratology, and doesn’t seem like it is going to end anytime soon. The conflict is basically a lack of consensus if video games should be analyzed as a narrative, as defended by narratologists, or in accordance with the ludologists aspects of gameplay and structure. A new feature is now being implemented in the videogame industry that will warm up this debate, and that is virtual reality.
Narratologists argue that every game is connected to a storyline, therefore they can be easily analyzed through similar techniques as the ones used to analyze literature or movies. A good example of this idea is seen in games such L.A Noire, where the player takes the role of a police officer solving crimes in Los Angeles. It is easy to relate this narrative to a movie or a novel, although narratologists believes that every game has a storyline aspect to it. Games such as pac man or even board chess are interpreted within a story.
Ludologists, on the other hand, minimize the importance of the narrative and state that games should be analyzed based on elements such as gameplay, game world, rules and objectives. One of the biggest examples to support this theory is the Mario Bros series. Accross its 30 years of existence, Mario Bros has always followed a very similar plot. The main character, Mario, has to go after a kidnaped person, usually the princess. According to ludologists, what makes this series successfull after so many years is the inventive and dynamic game mechanics. The story is irrelevant, and the same happen with many cellphone games such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, where the mechanics is what draws the player attention.
Technology has thrown a curveball on the video game studies field when introduced virtual reality into play. Now, players do not only commands a character through narratives, they actually became the characters and become part of the narrative. After trying out Playstation VR in class, I was impressed with how different is the feeling of being immersed inside the game world and “live” by its rules. It felt a combination of a ludologist perspective, coming from a game mechanic (VR) which brings a different feeling of how to play a game, and a kind of narrative that is different from movies and books but similar to life.
How do you feel about it? Which one of these theories is more appealing to you? And when it comes to virtual reality, do you still analyze it the same way?