A Para-causal Ludonarrative Dissonance

Ludonarrative dissonance – When the non-interactive elements and the narrative told through the game mechanics are at odds with each other.


The Titan stops sifting through their Vault and looks over to the Hunter in their fireteam also doing the same.

“You ever wonder who names all of our guns?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Chim.”

“Like, Submission, Deliverance. All of the gear we got from the Pyramid was clearly named by the Witness as a way to promote their ideology.”

“Uh huh.”

“And all of the foundry weapons and Black Armory were clearly named by their respective designers, and the stuff we salvaged from Clarity Control has Clovis Bray’s egotism baked in.”

“So, it sounds like you know who names all of the guns.”

“That’s the thing though. Some of the gun names are weird. Spoiler Alert, with a data tag of ‘Someone is going to die’? Pardon Our Dust? Whose dust? Why are we pardoning it?”

“Oh that reminds me, can we stop by Xur’s Treasure Hoard for a second? I need to turn in some keys…”

The Illusion of Choice

Video games are a unique medium because of their intrinsically interactive nature. Movies, television series, books, theater, all of these present character, setting, and story to the watcher/reader/consumer. Different people may have different takeaways from the experience, but their experience will be relatively consistent to one another. Or at the very least, the same set of elements are readily available to the consumer.

This does not hold true for games. Two different people can have drastically different experiences because of the choices that they make and the resultant consequences. And game developers try to account for this. We see in visual novels and point and click adventures. We see it in the expansive linear sandbox that is Baldur’s Gate III. Developers plan for a wide range of possibilities and do their best to make sure that the narrative unfolding is consistent with the gameplay that the player experiences, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Darkest Days

“Sweet, a red box. I think I can craft a BXR now.”

“You mean you are able to see the Deepsight Resonance intrinsic to this paracausally gifted weapon at the mysterious machine that manipulates time?”

“Oh, you’re still on this.”

“Yes, I’m still on this. We’re currently in a treasure hoard connected to a pocket dimension of sentient space dust talking to their envoy who previously only shows up between Friday and Monday like clockwork. We’ve been going to this tentacle faced husk for the better part of a decade, and we’ve just never questioned it.”

“…This is about Crow isn’t it?”

The Titan sighs.

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is.”

Traveler’s Chosen

The Destiny franchise in many ways is built around trying to resolve one of the most common examples of ludonarrative dissonance: infinite respawns. In many games, we take it for granted that we manage to pop back into existence. Destiny has the impetus baked into the narrative.

The Traveler gave us Ghosts, and Ghosts are able to bring back to life, again and again and again. True deaths are hard to come by, although not impossible. But the game is structured around this loop and the fact that we are constantly in a loop of activities. Sometimes, there is a narrative justification for the repetition like how the Leviathan raid had us beating up Calus’s robots on a weekly basis until we ran the stock out by the time Spire of Stars came around. Sometimes, it’s calling the activities Meditations and saying the repetition is because we are reliving our myth to hone our skills. Sometimes, it’s because we have to tithe to our friend turned into Hive god for a good three months in order to engineer a complex gambit to figure out a solution to get access to the triangle shaped portal in the Traveler.

That’s not to say the game is perfectly aligned from a narrative and mechanical process. We have been told not to kill a Techun (Tech witches, us Guardians call them), but to cleanse them… with bullets and explosives. Our powers suddenly change without a clear narrative reason due to balance passes. Weapons that are clearly meant to bespoke are available en masse (although it’s fun when the weapon is specifically said to be produced en masse).

Which brings us to the titular paracausal ludonarrative dissonance that inspired this article: the delay of The Final Shape, the conclusion to the decade sprawl of the Light and Dark Saga.

An Inscrutable Amygdaloid Eigenstate

“Every Tuesday for seven weeks or so, we got news of some Ahamkara egg in the leyline and were tasked to find it and every week we did. And made the pact with the Wish Dragon and Crow went through the portal, and I don’t know… it feels like we should have gone in by now y’know?”

Delayed and/or Deferred Gratification

Destiny as a live service game has relied on a steady cadence of content. Content is what brings the players back day to day, reset to reset, season to season. The player base feels disruptions in that cadence even though we understand it. Guardians are familiar with delays. Beyond Light was delayed because of the pandemic. Witch Queen was delayed in order to ensure a specific standard of quality, and Bungie managed to compensate with a special 30th Anniversary DLC which got wonderfully meta with Xur and the Loot Cave dungeon. Lightfall came out at the announced February date which was great because the year of the Witch Queen had ended with one of the most hype cinematics in the franchise’s history.

Whether or not Lightfall lived up to the expectations (we’d argue that from a narrative it didn’t, even if from a mechanical perspective it brought many good toys), it did set the stage for the final confrontation, and the announcement that we’d see the end of the Saga come February 2024 was exciting-ish. But then, the worst possible news came when Bungie laid off a bunch of their staff in what was apparently a prelude to the rest of the game industry participating in mass layoffs, and after an uncomfortably long silence, the news broke that the conclusion to the game was delayed until June.

Four months. Fourteen weeks. A lot of downtime for the biggest big bad in the franchise to apparently just meander in the Pale Heart of the Traveler while we twiddle our thumbs.

Shigeru Miyamoto is reported to have said “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad,” which we can argue about the origins of the quote and the various examples and counterexamples, but the point stands. If Bungie felt like they needed to delay the game, it probably was in the best interest of making the best experience possible.

However, this does put in the weird situation where all narrative momentum has been lost. We were supposed to be engaging in one final confrontation with the Witness. And now we are just meandering in the Dreaming City, doing odds and ends, collecting trinkets where it’s becoming increasingly harder to justify using new gear over old reliables. To say nothing of the content creator cycle becoming a desolate wasteland of rehashed rehashes as they desperately try to keep afloat during a non-existence news cycle.

And yes, there is new content on the horizon. Into the Light may help smooth over this disconnect of narrative and… non-ludology as it were. But until that arrives, we are left waiting and wanting. And it’s not the first time this has happened, but it’s definitely the most impactful time for the franchise.

Prophetic Visionary

A Titan sits on the derelict looking at a holographic Ahamkara skull. They go on comms, “is anyone else coming to see the rumors of the refurbished gear the Nine apparently tucked away in Unknown Space” and wait.

It’s something to do to pass the time. It’s not like they actually want to race to the end of the story. They mostly just want to have reasons to spend time with their fellow Guardian.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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