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What Our Games Need More Of: Dissonance?

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Michael Abbott of the Brainy Gamer has a post up on the issue of dissonance in games; like a lot of these things, it's more interesting if you take it alongside the comments.

Abbott's contention is that we quite possibly need more dissonance in our games, not less — the all important suspension of belief, 'seamless immersion' need not be the only option for games. Dissonance can be good for you!:

... Fallout 3 is loaded with dissonance, and the only reason that's a problem is because Fallout 3 tries so incredibly hard to convince us otherwise.

There's a handy solution to all this, and it's our old friend "suspension of disbelief." We're willing to overlook miles of dissonance if the thing provoking us is sufficiently engaging or entertaining. Once I accept the idea that my avatar miraculously transforms her gate from a Quasimodo limp to a sturdy run by dropping one small item in her enormous inventory, I'm good to go. I needn't worry about it anymore. Give in. Let go. Have fun. There's so much game to dig into, why quibble about dissonant moments?

Which leads me back to my thesis. If our old pal "suspension of disbelief" is such a resourceful friend, couldn't he help us accept even more dissonance? In fact, if the game makes it worth doing, might we even choose to embrace dissonance? I say yes...and so does Aristotle, by the way. We are capable of tremendous leaps of faith, even when the mechanics of what we are being asked to ignore are laid bare before us. And sometimes the mechanics are just as interesting as the story itself.


I'd agree that 'seamless immersion' doesn't have to be the be all, end all goal for games — and the issue is often trying to convince us (unsuccessfully) that dissonance doesn't exist. A commenter notes that perhaps 'abstraction' — being at one with incongruities instead of trying to paint over them — is perhaps a better word for this than 'dissonance.' Semantics, semantics ...

Dissonance [The Brainy Gamer]