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Ludonarrative Dissonance is not a thing in The Last of Us Part II

I know that's quite an audacious statement to make on my behalf, but hopefully my argument is strong enough to support the claim.

As Frédéric Seraphine puts it with respect to Clint Hocking's blogpost on Ludonarrative Dissonance, It is the opposition between gameplay incentives and narrative directives/incentives. As i understand it, the idea is that the opposition between incentives shatters the player's immersion when the gameplay says one thing and the narrative tells the player something else. It compromises their ability to feel connected to the story or the gameplay, ultimately forcing the player to abandon the experience or leaving them massively dissatisfied even if they do complete it.

Hocking uses Bioshock as his example, but since I have no experience with it, I will use the Uncharted series as my example instead. In It, the games believe one thing and the narrative tells the player something else. Nathan Drake is characterised as a remorseless killing machine in-game but as a sane and relenting killer in the narrative cutscenes. The important difference here between Part 2 is that the gameplay actually believes something about the violence, where as The Last of Us Part 2 does not. I know that's a seemingly preposterous judgement to make, but let me explain.

As Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross have expressed, they aren't trying to be prescriptive with what the player should feel. You can completely like Abby or hate her, you can sympathise with her or not, you can eventually hate Ellie or not and the game doesn't tell you do any of those things. But more relevant to my point on Ludonarrative Dissonance, you can enjoy the violence or not because It's your choice to make, It just so happens that most people's inherent understanding of revenge and violence causes them to feel bad about it – especially given how graphic it is. The game doesn't believe anything about the violence – the narrative does – It's simply trying to be grounded in realism, so their is nothing for it to oppose or be opposed by.

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Yes, you obviously have the same choice in Uncharted but the difference in those games is that it in-game it believes that Nate's actions of violence are righteous, otherwise being a treasure hunter isn't all that exciting or rewarding. It doesn't matter If the player feels bad or good about the violence, because the in-game fiction already has a perspective on things and that's what opposes the narrative.

Now, the main criticisms that some use as evidence of the Ludonarrative Dissonance is to first point to the fact that Ellie acts one way in cutscenses and a different way during gameplay. In-game she's seemingly a murdering sociopath at one moment and then in narrative cutscenes she's apparently sensitive and remorseful.

Contradiction can be a critical and effective part of creating interesting and complex characters. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle is unpredictable. He's well acquainted with violence, often obsessive and brutal in his usage of it, but he's equally sympathetic and understanding. In one scene he's gunning down gangsters without a second thought and In another he's compassionate and deeply sympathetic towards a 12 year old girl.

As an audience we don't call the result of these contrasting actions represented by Travis Cinemanarrative Dissonance or whatever, because that's not what it is – what is happening to Ellie, Abby Is being confused with cognitive dissonance instead because that's precisely what the characters are experiencing as a result of their CPTSD.

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The other is that the game forces the player to commit actions of extreme violence and then chastises them for it. This seems a bit preposterous to me. How can an individual who is completely conscious of their own actions be ever morally responsible for an action they did not only not commit but also one they morally disagree with too?

If the idea is that by virtue of hitting a few buttons on a controller we automatically become the responsible party for whoever dies by Abby or Ellie's hands during gameplay, then it stands to reason that Laura Bailey brutalized a 50 year old man with a golf club or that Ashley Johnson killed a mother and her unborn baby by virtue of them acting in the cutscenes.


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