Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

"If I see anyone flip gravity again, I'm gonna fucking freak out."

Have you read A Theoretical War that was posted on 24 April 2012?

“Story’s not important, what counts is interactivity!”

“Without stories, games are just toys and will never replace movies as the most powerful medium!”

I’m sure you must have heard about the fight-to-the-death between “ludology” and “narratology”? There didn’t seem to be a comprehensive, approachable overview of this theoretical war between two academic camps, so I wrote about it to launch a series which would attempt to fight the game academics’ corner. I also wanted to point out that this war, assumed to be over, had exploded into the gamer streets.

A well-rounded reading diet will always give you useful, multiple viewpoints. RPS found The Curious Expedition a fun game. Kill Screen and podcast Twenty Dollar Gaming found the implications of the game’s mechanics uncomfortable. Here’s a question: who is right? Here’s a better question: does someone have to be right?

And to my surprise, the debate emerged again in a brief conflagration involving critics and academics in 2015 complete with brand new alt labelling: now the ludologists were formalists. This recent resurrection wasn’t something I could enjoy with a bag of popcorn but the debate blew over. It always does.

Still, I’ve learned something. Something I can share with new developers. Here is my hard-won critical insight:

  • If you’d like to make a game about systems, go right ahead.
  • If you’d like to make a game about stories, go right ahead.
  • If you’d like to make a game that tries to fuse systems and stories together, go right ahead.

That’s it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

No, seriously, that’s really it, this is the final Christmas Countdown entry. I hope you found at least one piece you might have previously missed. Of course, there’ll be one more bit of Electron Dance before the year is out as the December newsletter will be published next week.

And don’t forget you can go read A Theoretical War right now for zero pennies.

From the comments:

  • George Buckenham: “Games should be everything.”
  • Nicolau: “There’s so much I think reading this.”
  • David Kanaga: “I think of games as pieces of music, which feels to me closely related to ludological approaches.”
  • Raph Koster: “I do not see why an act of definition is considered destructive.”
  • James Patton: “I approve of taking a phenomenological approach to the player’s moment-to-moment experience.”
  • Amanda Lange: “We do have tools, but sometimes those tools lead down a particular design path”
  • Steerpike: “The study of a medium leads to understanding, but not necessarily mastery.”
  • CdrJameson: “I used to be quite dismissive of the pictures (not the story, of course) but then I played Knights of the Old Republic.”
  • Alex: “I’ve never really understood the idea that narrative and gameplay are two separate, irreconcilable entities.”
  • Ava: “I think one should in part look beyond what people are saying, in most discussions, and see what feelings they are actually expressing.”
  • gotohaneda: “It all points to a fragmentation of the field of Game Studies.”

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