Ludonarrative Dissonance in Enslaved

Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -

Ludonarrative dissonance is a big phrase for when game mechanics and systems interfere or clash with the storytelling in a game. I think Enslaved suffers from this in a rather unfortunate capacity, which is one of the reasons it did not resonate for me much.  
 
Two Examples 
 
1. The Shiny Bits 
 
Ninja Theory strives to explain every bit of gameyness--health bars, RPG advancement, even menus--with in-game reasons. Monkey can only see all this stuff, including helpful objective markers and enemy weaknesses, because Trip's slave crown is broadcasting it into his brain.  
 
But, when the game begins, Monkey is free of this device. Yet every pipe, every metal crag he can jump to is shining like the dickens. There is no explanation for this. It's pure, obvious, THIS IS A GODDAMN VIDEO GAME in your face. That kinda sucks.  
 
2. The Experience Bits 
 
Throughout Enslaved, Monkey acquires energy that he can use to upgrade. Sometimes it's sprinkled in the environment; all the time it's coming from enemies.  
 
But it is never explained. There isn't even a throwaway line, like the mundane, "oh, looks like the energy of former mechs is floating about because that's just what energy does nowadays," or the tragic, "every floating energy sphere is where a person died in the war." Nothing.  
 
Worse, the experience bits make you actively look at environments for WHERE'S THE SHIT? instead of a more Half-Life 2, what happened here? how did it happen? what kind of stories can this place tell me? 
 
That is poor, lazy, destructive design.  
 
The Ending 

#1 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -

Ludonarrative dissonance is a big phrase for when game mechanics and systems interfere or clash with the storytelling in a game. I think Enslaved suffers from this in a rather unfortunate capacity, which is one of the reasons it did not resonate for me much.  
 
Two Examples 
 
1. The Shiny Bits 
 
Ninja Theory strives to explain every bit of gameyness--health bars, RPG advancement, even menus--with in-game reasons. Monkey can only see all this stuff, including helpful objective markers and enemy weaknesses, because Trip's slave crown is broadcasting it into his brain.  
 
But, when the game begins, Monkey is free of this device. Yet every pipe, every metal crag he can jump to is shining like the dickens. There is no explanation for this. It's pure, obvious, THIS IS A GODDAMN VIDEO GAME in your face. That kinda sucks.  
 
2. The Experience Bits 
 
Throughout Enslaved, Monkey acquires energy that he can use to upgrade. Sometimes it's sprinkled in the environment; all the time it's coming from enemies.  
 
But it is never explained. There isn't even a throwaway line, like the mundane, "oh, looks like the energy of former mechs is floating about because that's just what energy does nowadays," or the tragic, "every floating energy sphere is where a person died in the war." Nothing.  
 
Worse, the experience bits make you actively look at environments for WHERE'S THE SHIT? instead of a more Half-Life 2, what happened here? how did it happen? what kind of stories can this place tell me? 
 
That is poor, lazy, destructive design.  
 
The Ending 

#2 Posted by DeathByWaffle (641 posts) -

Video games, yo.

#3 Posted by Kieran_ES (258 posts) -

That's not really ludonarrative dissonance. I mean, it's vaguely like it but not really.

#4 Posted by Scapegoat (131 posts) -

These are the reasons it did not resonate with you? They seem like trivial issues, particularly as the main reason people love the game is for the portrayal of the characters and their relationship through the game.

#5 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -
@EndSarcasm: Dang, looks like I misinterpreted Hocking's point a little bit. He was speaking more to how we view the character than how the game mechanics change the narrative, but I think my points still stand.  
 
1. Monkey is supposed to be this amazing, iconoclastic loner who has learned how to best survive in the wastes. He's called Monkey due to his acrobatic prowess. Yet he needs his next jumping bit to be all shiny. That's dumb.  
 
2. Monkey and Trip are on a character-driven mission to return Trip home, and then some rank shit. While it's kinda sensical for Monkey to want to grow stronger to fight the mechs in the way, at no point do we learn why the hell these floating things help him become a healthier, better fighter. The experience orbs are a distraction. You as the game want them. Thus, you make Monkey seem greedy and uncaring when he is shown to be a relatively sympathetic character. Especially in moments of extreme drama, Monkey looking for the moolah feels dissonant. 
#6 Posted by RYNO9881 (625 posts) -

I thought the game was awesome up until the ending; it just left so many loose ends and stuff that wasn't explained like Monkey's motives right before the credits rolled. 
To be fair about what you said about Trip; she wasn't exactly useless and powerless, she had her gadget thang remember! And I've been thinking, not every female character has to be empowering or "badass". She sort of leaned on the damsel side but she had more depth to her character and I think it worked great. 

#7 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -
@Scapegoat: Just one of them. Didn't want to talk too broadly. Others: 
 
Fighting becomes boring, then becomes something you dread.  
 
Pigsy is a terrible character in this; his DLC is somewhat redeeming.  
 
Trip has potential to be interesting, but just plays the Emotional Needy Woman role. At the end, she kinda saves Monkey, but it feels like a cheap turn.  
 
Monkey is basically a loner character who has no interesting backstory or motivations.  
 
The subtle change from Slaver-Enslaved to Friends is poorly done.  
 
Nice animation and good writing do not fix these problems. 
#8 Posted by FourWude (2261 posts) -

The only bit that grates somewhat is the experience orbs. The game doesn't do a fantastic job of assimilating that into the game world narrative. It also fails to explain how Trip (although a computer whiz) is able to repair and upgrade you on the fly. Effectively she acts as the 'shop' in the game and it doesn't sit well.

Apart from that the story is exemplary. The ending is minimalistic, completely open to interpretation whilst at the same time helping to explain much of the story up to that point and at once expanding the game universe with possibilities. It's extremely clever in how it at once completes the story and yet opens up enough questions within the wider game world without necessarily leaving loose ends. It also does a pretty decent job in explaining the cost of freedom, without being moralistic. 

#9 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -
@RYNO9881 said:
" I thought the game was awesome up until the ending; it just left so many loose ends and stuff that wasn't explained like Monkey's motives right before the credits rolled. To be fair about what you said about Trip; she wasn't exactly useless and powerless, she had her gadget thang remember! And I've been thinking, not every female character has to be empowering or "badass". She sort of leaned on the damsel side but she had more depth to her character and I think it worked great.  "
I was okay that the ending was ambiguous--was this right? But, yeah, totally agree about wanting to know more about Monkey.  
 
Trip is tricky. I don't think all female characters need to be feminist badasses. And Trip is from a green commune where peace and reason reign. She's a scared kid who captures Monkey because she cannot fight for herself--she just has this nifty bracelet. However, she's kinda stagnant. Even after her vengeful turn, she still just runs support. Her hacking at the end is laughable in execution and language. As the player, you don't feel her contribution--you're just told about it. I just didn't find her depth engaging. To each his own, though. 
#10 Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff (5441 posts) -

I think of the shiny bits like they're the color red in Mirror's Edge. Monkey is a master of acrobatics and knows where he needs to go next, so objects being highlighted in the environment is him focusing on his next target. He doesn't see it as a shiny object, of course (that is for the player), but the object in the environment stands out to him, and the shine is a way of conveying that to the player so they know where to go next. Faith doesn't actually see red when she's running about, but those things stick out to her, and the red color is a way to convey that to the player, as well, though you can turn it off if you wish. 
 
I'm not sure if I am explaining this properly, but I am super tired and not editing this!

#11 Posted by SteamPunkJin (1286 posts) -

Nitpicking is fun, my turn!
 
1. Monkey is supposed to be this amazing, iconoclastic loner who has learned how to best survive in the wastes. He's even called Monkey due to his acrobatic prowess. His eyes can very quickly hone in on climbable areas, to help pass this information on to the player (who is not Monkey, and does not posses Monkey's innate or learned abilities.), the ledges glow. 
 
I'd love to rewrite the second point, but I feel that it requires a slightly different angle of approach.

  2. Monkey and Trip are on a character-driven mission to return Trip home, and then some rank shit. While it's kinda sensical for Monkey to want to grow stronger to fight the mechs in the way, at no point do we learn why the hell these floating things help him become a healthier, better fighter.

Your abilities would become arbitrary Deus Ex Machinas without the orbs bestowed upon you at random when the designers felt like doing so. There is never any mention of Monkey -wanting- to grow stronger to survive the journey or protect Trip, rather the experience orbs that drop from Mechs represent the inherent increase to physical strength that comes from a physical activity (crushing robot skulls), the ones scattered around the areas could easily be explained by the fact that pulling himself up and along ledges, Monkey's muscles would rip and rebuild themselves even stronger. The Orbs are there to make the progression of Monkey seem more gradual rather than just dumping abilities and stat boost on you randomly between levels, which at least in my opinion, would be even more 'gamey' than the Orbs.
#12 Posted by Kieran_ES (258 posts) -
@Kierkegaard: Hocking's thing, and this is boiling it down way too simply, is that in Bioshock the gameplay seemed to promote selfishness through its gameplay whilst the narrative and its interpretation promoted selflessness. It's a conflict in what each narrative is saying. For instance in Braid the narrative tells of a lament on mistakes and erasing them. The mechanic of time reversal supports this by evoking the same emotions in the player, and to go further it becomes more specific with the different themes Blow tries to deal with in each different level.  
 
As for Enslaved, I think there is always going to be a level of "gamey-ness". I think it's how that game uses it that counts more. Your complaints are definitely legitimate, but since the elements you pointed out don't contribute too much to the overall ludonarrative I wouldn't be worried too much myself. 
 
Also, it's awesome that more people are reading stuff like Hocking's blog and discussing things like this. 
#13 Posted by Scapegoat (131 posts) -
@Kierkegaard said:

" @Scapegoat: Just one of them. Didn't want to talk too broadly. Others:  Fighting becomes boring, then becomes something you dread.   Pigsy is a terrible character in this; his DLC is somewhat redeeming.   Trip has potential to be interesting, but just plays the Emotional Needy Woman role. At the end, she kinda saves Monkey, but it feels like a cheap turn.   Monkey is basically a loner character who has no interesting backstory or motivations.   The subtle change from Slaver-Enslaved to Friends is poorly done.   Nice animation and good writing do not fix these problems.  "

I thought Pigsy was an awesome character - halarious and dirty to boot. The hitting on Trip and knocking horns with Monkey (when he showed no interest) was halarious. It makes sense that the design for Trip be a young and hot girl, but it's awesome how they acknowledge that in the world in a funny way.

I thought the transition from enslaved to friend was awesome - Monkey to me was sufficiantly angry and pissed off when first imprisoned (screaming and giving death threats) but once he had calmed down and had time to think he realised that she was doing what she needed to survive: something he obviously understands. Their building relationship seemed organic and natural to me, both of them taking that really tense awkward first encounter and turning it into an equally awkward joke.
 
I do agree that the combat and exploration were the weakest parts of the game (or, they were the "game" portion), however I don't think the shiny environmental cues really are at conflict with how the character would see the world. It could easily be explained as Monkeys "intuition", being adept and experienced at climbing and jumping about the place, he sees routes of travel instinctively/automatically. Similar to the red coloured objects used in Mirrors Edge. I will say that I thought the shiny effect didn't look particularly cool and I think they could come up with something cooler (I feel the same way about how objects of interest light up in Assassins Creed 2/Brotherhood, surely theres a more subtle solution that looks cooler.
#14 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -
@SteamPunkJin said:
" Nitpicking is fun, my turn!
 
1. Monkey is supposed to be this amazing, iconoclastic loner who has learned how to best survive in the wastes. He's even called Monkey due to his acrobatic prowess. His eyes can very quickly hone in on climbable areas, to help pass this information on to the player (who is not Monkey, and does not posses Monkey's innate or learned abilities.), the ledges glow. 
 
I'd love to rewrite the second point, but I feel that it requires a slightly different angle of approach.

  2. Monkey and Trip are on a character-driven mission to return Trip home, and then some rank shit. While it's kinda sensical for Monkey to want to grow stronger to fight the mechs in the way, at no point do we learn why the hell these floating things help him become a healthier, better fighter.

Your abilities would become arbitrary Deus Ex Machinas without the orbs bestowed upon you at random when the designers felt like doing so. There is never any mention of Monkey -wanting- to grow stronger to survive the journey or protect Trip, rather the experience orbs that drop from Mechs represent the inherent increase to physical strength that comes from a physical activity (crushing robot skulls), the ones scattered around the areas could easily be explained by the fact that pulling himself up and along ledges, Monkey's muscles would rip and rebuild themselves even stronger. The Orbs are there to make the progression of Monkey seem more gradual rather than just dumping abilities and stat boost on you randomly between levels, which at least in my opinion, would be even more 'gamey' than the Orbs. "
That's a really interesting approach to these qualms. I tend to look at the visuals of games as exactly that--the visual representation of what is happening in the game world. In God of War, the experience orbs just the spirit of your enemy going into you, which totally works in terms of greek mysticism. In Ratchet and Clank, the bolts and nuts fly into ratchet's utility belt through nanotechnology, as we are told. I don't expect experience to be a metphorical representation of the character's increasing strength. Those things cast shadows. Those things are in the world. What they hell are they? 
#15 Posted by Kierkegaard (603 posts) -
@EndSarcasm: Yeah, I've heard the term a lot since I read too many game criticism blogs, but I never read the original speech. I like thinking deeply about games, at least when they deserve it.  
 
Those complaints certainly aren't as damning as how I feel about the characters (little bland, little uninspired), but I guess part of the reason I find them so annoying is that they are so easily avoidable. Most games manage to justify their level designs and experience systems. Enslaved seems like an outlier for how clumsily it does so.  
 
@Scapegoat: Pigsy just came off as, well, a misogynistic pig. He's completely heteronormative. And his strengths are that he knows where you send you on Fetch quests, he can kinda snipe, and he can control the giant mech at the end.  
 
I felt like Monkey and Trip become friends because the story progresses, not because they are learning about each other as people and thus caring for each other. It's not handled incredibly poorly, but I was disappointed.  
 
I wish the game parts were better. By the end, when you're essentially aiming at weakpoints and fighting endless waves, it feels so uninspired and anticlimactic. The stark environments and ability to plan out when you activate the mechs are ingenious ideas, but the execution falters as time goes on. Scenes like the Windmill are pretty cool. 
#16 Posted by LiquidPrince (16016 posts) -

No... All games have forms of currency that are never explained...

#17 Posted by HandsomeDead (11863 posts) -

Has it ever matched? I need to rescue my wife from a supernatural force, I need to explore this vast underwater metropolis, I need to hunt down a former ally across two countries; All of them are achieved by shooting fools in the head.

#18 Posted by Enigma777 (6078 posts) -

Yea, the ending really sucked. Felt like a hard slap to the face tbh.  
 
I also agree about the shiny pipes. I hate when games are that obvious. At least do it like Uncharted does it and use color and contrast instead of giant flashing signs that scream "CLIMB ME!"

#19 Posted by ch3burashka (5112 posts) -

I know big words, too.

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