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Text Commentary

Ludonarrative dissonance in The Game
by Alex Beachum `

     Because The Game takes place entirely within the “real” world, it offers no excuses for the incredibly contrived and improbable events of its climax. In fact, these back-to-back revelations highlight the problem of ludonarrative dissonance present in most story-driven video games.

      Immediately before the first narrative twist, Christine tells Nicholas that they have been firing squibs, “like in the movies.” Ironically, since The Game is in fact a film, we know the bullets must be squibs regardless of whether they are supposed to be real in the context of the narrative. This draws attention to the intricate level of planning required to set up and film a fake gunfight – a level of planning that is simply too complicated to fake on the spot as Christine claims. The CRS would have had to correctly predict every surface or person that Nicholas planned to shoot at in order to plant the squibs in advance (to say nothing of the timing). This inability to anticipate the actions of its players is the very problem that plagues many modern video games, where the solution is often to constrain player actions to the path of the narrative.

     This hidden constraint is particularly apparent in Nicholas' decision to commit suicide exactly above the stunt mat prepared by CRS. If the climax of The Game were to be presented in a truly gamic form, the level design of the rooftop would have to force the player to jump off the building from that specific point. The film is acutely aware of this, as evidenced by Jim's comment that he was supposed to throw Nicholas off the roof had he decided not to jump. In this sense (and perhaps it's a bit of a stretch), The Game's resolution becomes a critique of gaming within our increasingly informatic society (as detailed in Galloway's essay on allegories of control). After all, only within game systems are complex topics like guilt and suicide translated into binary if statements.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
The Game revelation by David Fincher (1997) The narrative climax of The Game represents the culmination of an elaborate series of events, resulting in an impossibly precise outcome and catharsis