Episode 2 – Descent into Dissonance

April 27th, 2009 | Posted by D. Murray in Critical Distance Confab:

This week on the CDC Podcast we discuss Bioshock and narrative dissonance. Join us as we attempt to wrap our heads around the subject and come up with the definitive answer to the question “How do we define narrative dissonance?” You don’t need to go to GameFAQS or Youtube to discover the ending of this conundrum; we don’t end up coming up with a consensus on the subject! My apologies to Roger Travis who become disconnected midway through the podcast and could not return due to prior obligations.

Direct Download (32MB, 42min)

D. Murray, Denis Farr, Travis Megill, Alex Myers, Eric Swain, Roger Travis.

Show notes:
Iroquois Pliskin on Bioshock,
Clint Hocking on Bioshock
Michael Abbott on Theater and Videogames
Corvus Elrod on Fabula

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4 Responses

  • Brian says:

    It could be said that the dissonance between the (explicit) narrative and the little sister mechanic “choice” is an implicit “if you’re patient and don’t act selfishly, you will be given everything you need – others will look out for you if you look out for them” theme. Rather simplistic, yes, but that’s a side effect of boiling morality down to a black/white choice.

    Another Bioshock issue: After you “break free” from Fontaine’s control, the gameplay stays essentially the same. Two possible readings (and their problems):

    “Agency in a linear game is, at best, an illusion; there is no difference for the player whether your avatar is being mind-controlled or not.” (Not very interesting.)

    “Agency is a myth. There is no free will.” (If this is what the game is saying about the real world, it’s not very nuanced and it doesn’t really add anything to a philosophical discussion that’s been going on for quite some time.)

    There’s a “nowness” to most games’ narratives that attempts to align itself with the “nowness” of the ludological experience of playing the game. There’s a kind of dissonance between that approach and the fact that these narratives (linear or not) are being plotted out beforehand. You see some narratives trying to work out this issue by indicating the character has a DESTINY!

    A somewhat more elegant structural approach to this problem is the (admittedly linear) Prince of Persia: Sands of Time game, which structures the majority of the gameplay as a flashback; a story being told by the protagonist after it’s already happened.

  • Hey guys,

    Just a quick note to congratulate you on the new podcast and wish you well with future episodes. It’s nice to hear voices attached to the names of people I know and enjoy from their online writing [Denis, have we met before? ;-)]. It’s a shame Roger went missing, but I’m sure one of us will have him on another podcast again soon.

    Here’s to continued success with Critical Distance. Thanks for all your good work.

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