Since the advent of video games in popular culture, there have been those that would desire to approach the media in a scholarly and studious manner as one would a science.
The study of games is often named as ‘ludology‘ although there seems to be a little contestation as to the actual meaning.
Verboten is firmly with the camp that places ludology as an opposite counterpart to narratology — the latter being the viewpoint that video games are principally a method of storytelling: their purpose is to tell a narrative.
THEN, WHAT IS LUDOLOGY?
Ludology (according to Verboten Games) is the study of all things that encompass the interactive portion of a video game experience. That is, when the player is in control in some way, they are playing. The study of play.
The responsiveness of a player avatar to controller inputs is pure interactivity, and therefore gameplay. The knock-on causal effect of the player’s actions (within causal space) is gameplay. Any thing the game-world can do to change a player’s actions or potential thereof, is gameplay.
Most of what Verboten Gaming will focus on in its theory posts, will be centred around ludology.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED AS NARRATIVE?
Not just story.
Narrative elements in a video game are anything designed to tell the player something. Score displays are narrative elements, as they show progress. The completed line or lines in Tetris that flashes before being removed is narrative; although the removal of said line(s) is a gameplay element, this could in theory happen instantaneously – except the designer has made the (wise) choice to tell the player what they have achieved through a tiny narrative element.
Although such things aid the gameplay, they do not impact (directly or indirectly) on the interactivity of the game experience. They convey information to the player, and are as such considered by Verboten to be narratalogical elements. Said information can be part of the gameplay experience, such as a lives display or energy bar, but since these things can be presented in a myriad different ways they are narrative.
In short, a score is gameplay-related but a score display is narrative.
WHY ARE THESE THINGS CONSIDERED AS NARRATIVE?
Games create their own narrative:
Tasha was pretty tense, at level 20 with a pretty full stack of Tetris blocks save for one empty column on the far-right. The stack, although organised well, was growing thanks to an influx of T and S-shaped blocks, but the straight one was needed the most. As luck would have it, two of them were delivered in a row, and Tasha scored highly with two high-level Tetrises to ameliorate her already-impressive score.
Running from left to right and leaping over crocodiles in Pitfall! creates its own narrative. The player, through interacting with a gameworld (be it abstract or representational) is living the narrative for themselves. They do not need to be told that they are doing this, the presentational elements (graphics, sound) of a game help to do this as the game progresses.
Anything that is not gameplay is narrative to Verboten. This binary may seem unnecessarily-harsh, but a distinction is made for a reason.
SO, WHY FOCUS ON LUDOLOGY?
Video games are an exciting media, still in their relative infancy. To treat them like the other, narrative-carrying, forms of media is doing a great injustice to the form’s strengths, which lie in its interactivity. There are already fields of study dedicated to the varying forms of narrative found in film, literature, graphic novels and animation among others; and these have already discovered fire, invented the wheel, perfected three-act structure and done the narratology for us.
Ludology is still conventionally-uncharted territory. And as such, is an exciting frontier for Verboten Games to be headed into.