Theme 4: Narratology vs. Ludology in video games

Part of:
The semiotics of Video Games

What is the essence of a game? Its set of rules or the story it tells? This is, put in simple terms, the academic debate that pits ludologists against narratologists. Most video games have both rules and a narrative. But what about games like Tetris? Do they also tell a story? In his essay, Bridging the Narratology-Ludology Divide. The Tetris Case, Jack Post argues that Tetris does tell a story, on the condition that we extend the concept of the narrative. According to Roland Barthes, “Narratives of the world are numberless and distributed amongst very different substances (languages, gestures, images) and present in many genres to which we could of course add computer games.”

In Animalanima (2004), a poem game for children designed by Chris Joseph and a group of young artists, poems take many forms: textual, pictorial and rule-based. Playing the game is disturbing at first, because we are not accustomed to playing with rules the same way that we play with language, such as in poetry. But we end up allowing ourselves this pleasure, thanks to the light-hearted spirit of the game.

Animalanima, Chris Joseph and others, 2004

I would describe Ergon / Logos, an unidentified game object (2009) by Paolo Pedercini, as an interactive poem, from the experience of playing with video games. The poem makes many references to semiotics and tells us the story behind the game, in a sense, bridging narratology with ludology.

Ergon / Logos, an unidentified game object, Paolo Pedercini, 2009

And you, what do video games tell you?

Next theme: Immersion in video games

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