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Lecture Library

Ludology and Mise en Scene
by Survey of Interactive Media

Attempting to find the ludology of films, looking at "Blade Runner" and "Firefly." How fans create their own ludos rewatching media and examining the mise en scene, a process similar to some adventure games. by Talia Squires

            As critical theories have grown up around games, there has been an attempt to define games in terms other than narrative. Ludology attempts to create a more appropriate framework for examining games. Yet Gonzala Frasca argues that “Just like narratology, ludology should also be independent from the medium that supports the activity.” Frasca mapped both ludus and narraive onto videogames illustrating how both can expand our understanding of videogames. But, as games become more filmic and we keep talking about “game films”, it only seems appropriate that we look for the ludus in films.

            Many adventure games popular in the 90s such the King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, or Monkey Island series. All of these games had a fairly strong narrative of a hero on a quest and featured many puzzles. These games encourage players to try everything imaginable. Players are meant to poke, sniff, rub, pick up, kick many objects on screen. In a non-interactive film environment these things would be considered a part of mise en scene and thus untouchable.

            Frequently in games, the result of this exploration would be furthering the quest, but sometimes the reward would be minor. A character could “win” the game without beating or even discovering all of the side quests. Beyond the sub-quests there are also many hidden jokes. The richness of the game came from exploration rather than a linear progression through escalating missions. Yet it is frequently only through exploring everything that the player can win the game.

            In his attempt to define a game, Jesper Juul states that “Attachment of the player to the outcome is a less formal category than the previous ones in that it depends on the player’s attitude towards the game; it is part of what we may term the ‘game contract’ or lusory attitude that the player agrees to be playing. The spoilsport is one who refuses to seek enjoyment in winning, or refuses to become unhappy in loosing.” Although he seems to be allowing for self-made goals, there is still an idea that without the desire to win there is no longer a game. Thus The Sims is in limbo, even more so when people attempt to kill their sims off in as many ways as possible. There are many players who create their own goals. I would argue that adventure games that encourage exploration are very open to the idea of player created goals. I’ve had many people express to me that they are less interested in beating the game than finding everything in the game, which as a side effect means that they will also win.

            Frasca’s idea of paidea video games is probably more applicable to exploratory adventure games, but can also be applied to film. Frasca argues that a paidea game has no predetermined goal, but that the player defines the goal. In defining that goal, they once again meet Juul’s conditions for a game, and can create ludus.

            The existence of fan culture and DVD players has made ludology a useful lens through which to examine certain films. Fan culture has made new goals for viewers that exist outside of the narrative. Whereas once the pleasure of a film or television series was simply to watch it, now there is an entire community out there designed to extend that pleasure. New, fan created goals, would be the endless attempts to definitively prove that Deckard is or is not a replicant. Even if there is a definitive answer, the debates in themselves are pleasurable. In order to conduct these debates fans go back to the movie and watch is closely. The film encourages viewers to look into the shadowy backgrounds and rooms to find clues as to everyone’s identity. If you are good, then the movie rewards you with things like the statue from the Maltese Falcon.

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                         This impulse to explore is reinforced by Deckard’s own searching. His looking into the photograph to discover the replicant allows the viewers know that there is always more to be seen. The origami animals that Gaff leaves around also draw attention to the inner lives of the characters. By leaving these clues the film is implying that there are answers, you just have to look closely enough. In fact it encourages all of use to be detectives.

            Films and television shows made after the appearance of online fan communities and DVD players with freeze frame abilities make even more use of this. Keeping in mind that these fans have already been trained by the adventure games we all played growing up. The two things that you learn from adventure games are that there is always and answer and nothing is two silly to try.

             Firefly, in its very limited run, managed to inspire many fans to speculate as to who or what “Blue Sun” might be. In the series “Blue Sun” is nothing more than a very pervasive logo found on shipping containers, T-shirts, food cans and I’m sure many other places. The ability to pause, rewind, and compare notes has made these “games” more rewarding than watching the show in some cases, at the very least they reward close re-watching.

Clip 2
Clip 3

            In the first clip the can that the transmitter is taped to has a blue sun logo. In the second clip the shipping containers in the back have the logo. Once again Blue Sun isn’t mentioned in the series, so this is something that is meant to reward people who watch closely. In the case of Firefly the unexplained pervasiveness created a mystery that had many fans guessing. Due to cancellation of the series, this speculation continues past the life of the show.

            This dense mise en scene full of references to other film, meant to reveal more meaning about the world, or create a mystery for the viewer to solve add a game to a seemingly passive viewing experience. In these cases the ludology of the film, as separate from the narrative, allows us to better understand how fans are watching films and television today.


Jesper Juul: "The Game, the Player, the World: Looking for a Heart of Gameness". In Level Up: Digital Games Research Conference Proceedings, edited by Marinka Copier and Joost Raessens, 30-45. Utrecht: Utrecht University, 2003.


Gonzalo Frasca. “Ludology Meets Narratology: Similitude and differences between (video)games and narrative.” Finnish version originally published in Parnasso#3, Helsinki, 1999.

(I apologize, I don't know why everything is getting huge and bold everytime I save this lecture.)

Blade Runner 3D photo scene by Ridley Scott (1982) A photograph acts as interface to a 3D space
Firefly Cry Baby by Joss Whedon (2002) From Episode 1 "Serenity" featuring cry baby device with Blue Sun logo. DVDs and fan communities encourage searching out formally irrelevant details in film and television.
Firefly Blue Sun by Joss Whedon (2002) Firefly episode 1 "Serenity" featuring everyone walking by Blue Sun logos. The importance of mise en scene in the era of DVDs.