LudoCrit’s bottom line is to analyze the formal elements of a game’s design, and particularly its narrative design (i.e. elements of the game design that support its narrative themes), to better understand how they inform our interpretation of a game’s meaning as we interact with its interface, systems, and mechanics during gameplay.
Our writings will not include reviews meant to evaluate the merits and flaws of particular games from a standpoint that measures fun factor as its own end, nor expository reports on gaming news. Rather, they will be analyses and reflections that either interpret philosophical meaning from a particular game’s design based on the writer’s own gameplay experience (relegated to our Game Studies category), or ruminate on a trend or concept that applies to gaming and the player experience more generally (relegated to our Theory category). New releases will have no precedence over older ones. This is done in the interest of overcoming the game industry’s obsession with technological progress in favor of a more historically attentive canonization of thematically ambitious games.
We hold the belief that strictly formal analysis can only go so far in reading meaning into a game. Because a game is only ever actualized through a player, and therefore every playthrough of a game is a unique and personal experience, we contend that a complete and honest reading of a game’s meaning must reflectively reconcile the player’s interpretation of their own experience with a more formal analysis of its design. Unlike with books or movies, a game never exists as a fixed product that can be examined separately from its player; it is only ever realized dynamically through a player’s interaction. One must only observe a select number of playthroughs of a single game on Twitch to see this essential co-determination between a game and its player.
So, you might ask: what games will we examine? Videogames today exist for such a wide range of purposes (sports, simulation, storytelling etc.) that examining them under a focused lens requires a demarcation of relevant genres. Most of the games selected for analysis on this website will likely be primarily single-player and involve the opportunity for some degree of role-playing. We use “role-playing” rather loosely here, as most single player games that strive for any level of narrative or thematic depth involve playing a role – that is, requiring the player to embody the position of a fictional avatar.
Due to our specific interest in games that provoke some sort of philosophical reflection, games that are conceptually interesting will take priority over games that are mechanically polished. Ideally, of course, a great game will be able to balance these two components in a complementary manner, but in the interest of our selected scope a game that thrives in the former is preferable for study over one that thrives in the latter. In short, LudoCrit’s pool of games will focus on experiences that strive to immerse players into their virtual world through facilitating a connection between player and avatar, and that consciously or unconsciously communicate some degree of narrative or thematic depth through this immersion.
Immersion is the philosophical tenet of LudoCrit’s method, and it therefore requires some unpacking. In the interest of creating explicit terminology, immersion is conceived here as the core aesthetic of the videogame medium: the phenomenal extension of the player’s subjectivity from real into virtual space. Much of the popular discourse surrounding immersion has focused heavily on the medium’s continual technological advancements rather than on the encoded worldbuilding of narrative design. Effective narrative design facilitates the essential connection between a player and their avatar through meaningful interaction and integration of game mechanics, which invites the player to imagine their experiences in the game as narratively coherent.
Contrary to the idealized form of immersion, where it is conceptualized as a sort of portal into another world or another life, we understand the immersed player as one that occupies a liminal (in-between) space in which they both will themselves into a game’s virtual world (as avatar), yet recognize their detachment enough to engage constructively with its formal elements (as player). In this sense, game narrative is an interpretive process that is in a perpetual state of becoming through the act of play. An immersed player must therefore derive meaning from a synthesized perspective that accounts for their in-game manifestation as such and their in-person reception to that beheld virtuality. Moreover, game ‘narrative’ generally transcends the traditional mode of storytelling into the more expansive mode of worldbuilding: a format where emergent narrative (linear storytelling and progression), embedded narrative (lore and environmental storytelling) and the rhetoric of a game’s design itself (the interaction derived from its systems and mechanics) converge as the totality of gameplay. It is in this convergence that a player can begin to interpret a game philosophically.
While it’s crucial to remain cognisant of how our selected games are always still games at their core, and to acknowledge the imperfections in their design, our particular focus is to come to understand how these games can potentially transcend mere pleasure and become contemplative experiences.