Notes for Gonzalo Frasca “Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology”

Key concepts: advergames, authorship, gaming literacy, ludology, ludus, manipulation rules, meta-rules, narrative, paidia, representation, simulation.

The games study manifesto. Electronic texts as cybernetic systems, language machines. Defines simulation with emphasis on behavior, to differentiate from representation. Simulation may alter subjectivity; alternative to literary mind. Advergames example of ideological content embedded in games that can be revealed by gaming literacy. Relate to Software Studies. Forum theater as simulation, escaping narrative coherence of the stage play, yielding gratification of child at play (ludus versus paidia). Ideology often subtly built into manipulations rules and meta-rules as well as explicit goals, the sort of things software studies may reveal. Apply the account of Lucasfilm's Habitat by Morningstar and Farmer in NMR to these ideological levels.

Related theorists: Aarseth, Boal, Bogost, Farmer, Hayles, Morningstar.


Uniquely new, with distinct rhetorical possibilities therefore ethical implications (Maner) seems to be the main point of this work, that it points toward future forms of humanities scholarship based on ludology and other hybrid disciplines by researchers inspired by growing up with not only playing games but other forms of interaction with computers.

(221) Probably the most promising change comes from a new generation of researchers who grew up with computer games and now are bringing to this new field both their passion and expertise on this form of entertainment.

Compare the seriousness of his concepts to silly Ulmer terms.

(221-222) The central argument I will explore is that, unlike traditional media, video games are not just based on representation but on an alternative semiotical structure known as simulation. . . . More importantly, they offer distinct rhetorical possibilities. . . . I will explore how the concept of authorship fits within two different genres of simulation, paidia and ludus. In order to accomplish this, it will be necessary to introduce some concepts of ludology, the still nascent formal discipline of game studies.

What is Ludology?

Does the advance of Bogost unit operations represent outgrowing formal approaches, or crystallizing them?

(222) Ludology can be defined as a discipline that studies games in general, and video games in particular. . . . Certainly, formal approaches are limited – and ludologists should always keep that in mind – but they are probably the easiest way to uncover the structural differences between stories and games. I personally see this structural approach as a fist, necessary step in game studies, which we will definitively outgrow once it helps to better graps the basic characteristics of games.

Simulation versus Representation
(223) It is because of its omnipresence that it is usually difficult to accept that there is an alternative to representation and narrative: simulation.

Electronic texts as cybernetic systems, language machines (Aarseth).

(223) In the late 1990s, Espen Aarseth revolutionized electronic text studies with the following observation: electronic texts can be better understood if they are analyzed as cybernetic systems.

Defines simulation with emphasis on behavior, to differentiate from representation.

(223) Therefore: “to simulate is to model a (source) system through a different system which maintains to somebody some of the behaviors of the original system.” The key term here is “behavior.” Simulation does not simply retain the – generally audiovisual – characteristics of the object but it also includes a model of its behaviors. This model reacts to certain stimuli (input data, pushing buttons, joystick movements), according to a set of conditions.
(224) games are just a particular way of structuring simulation, just like narrative is a form of structuring representation.

Mind changing influence of programmable simulation, decentralized thinking, comparable to Hayles MSA.

(224) To an external observer, the sequence of signs produced by both the film and the simulation could look exactly the same. This is what many supporters of the narrative paradigm fail to understand: their semiotic sequences might be identical, but simulation cannot be understood just through its output. . . . Video games imply an enormous paradigm shift for our culture because they represent the first complex simulational media for the masses. . . . One of the most interesting cognitive consequences of simulation is its encouragement for decentralized thinking – which may in the long-term contest Mark Turner's claim of a “literary mind” by introducing the possibility of an alternative “simulational” way of thinking.

Advergames example of ideological content embedded in games that can be revealed by gaming literacy; relate to Software Studies.

(225) According to Wired's Jargon Watch, an advergame is “A downloadable or Web-based game created solely to enable product placements.” . . . this genre's key lays in modeling – not simply representing – the product or a related experience in the form of a toy or game. . . . Gaming literacy will some day make players aware that games are not free of ideological content and certainly advergames will play a role in this education because they have a clear agenda.

Game Rhetoric: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Play?

Suggestion by Friedman of simulating Marx Capital joined by my ideas for simulating of the Symposium and life of Socrates the flaneur.

(226) It would not be surprising that in the near future politicians tried to explain their plans on tax or health reform through simulation. As Ted Friedman has pointed out, Marx's Capital would make a much better simulator than a film.
(227) Narrative authors (or “narrauthors”) only have one shot in their gun – a fixed sequence of events. . . . But traditional narrative media lacks the “feature” of allowing modifications to the stories, even if exceptions happen in oral storytelling and drama performances. . . . Games are not isolated experiences: we recognize them as games because we know we can always start over.
(227) Games always carry a certain degree of indeterminacy that prevents players to now beforehand the final outcome.
(228) Simulations provide simauthors with a technique that narrauthors lack. They are not only able to state if social change is possible or not, but they have the change of expressing how likely they think it may be. This is not just by stating info (93% chance of winning) but rather by modeling difficulty. This technique is also transparent: it is well hidden inside the model not as a piece of information but as a rule. Narrative may excel at taking snapshots at particular events but simulation provides us with a rhetorical tool for understanding the big picture.

Aristotle on the Holodeck

Forum theater as simulation, escaping narrative coherence of the stage play, yielding gratification of child at play.

(228) Boal's answer to this problem can be found in his corpus of drama techniques – the Theater of the Oppressed – which combines theater with games in order to encourage critical debate over social, political and personal issues. . . . Forum theater perfectly fits the definition of simulation: it models a system (the oppressive situation) through another system (the play).
(229) The biggest fallacy of “interactive narrative” is that it pretends to give freedom to the player while maintaining narrative coherence. . . . The gratification for Boalian actors is not the one of the professional actor but rather the one of the child who plays make believe. . . . The key trait of simulational media is that it relies on rules: rules that can be manipulated, accepted, rejected and even contested. Narrauthors have executive power: they deal with particular issues. On the other hand, simauthors behave more like legislators: they are the ones who craft laws.

Paidia versus ludus: Bogost on Grand Theft Auto.

(229-230) Paidia refers to the form of play present in early children (construction kits, games of make-believe, kinetic play) while ludus represents games with social rules (chess, soccer, poker). . . . In a previous essay I have suggested that the difference between paidia and ludus is that the latter incorporate rules that define a winner and a loser, while the former does not.
(230) In both drama and games, the Aristotelian/
ludus approaches are definitively the most widely popular and perfected. . . . In other words, the ludus' binary logic stands out when delivering games set in fairly-tale-like environments, where things are generally black and white. When you move onto other topics such as human relationships, suddenly distinctions are not so clear-cut. Only paidia, with its fuzzier logic and its scope beyond winners and losers, can provide an environment for games to grow in their scope and artistry.

Ideology often subtly built into manipulations rules, the sort of things software studies may reveal.

(231) However, even if the designer left out a winning scenario (or a desirable urban structure) ideology is not just conveyed through goal rules. A more subtle – and therefore more persuasive – way to accomplish this is through what I will call “manipualtion rules.” These rules are opposed to goal rules on the fact that they do not state a winning scenario. . . . In the Sim City example, the designer could convey his ideology by adding or leaving out manipulation rules that deal with, say, public transportation, racial issues or ecology.
(232) The third level [that simulations convey ideology] is the one of goal rules: what the player must do in order to win. . . . On this third level, simauthors funnel through all the available actions and encourage some that will lead to the winning scenario.

Apply the account of Lucasfilm Habitat by Morningstar and Farmer in NMR to these four ideological levels: representation of events, manipulation rules, goal rules, meta-rules.

(232) The fourth ideological level is the one that deals with meta-rules. . . . Many games include editors that allow players to build “mods” or modified versions of the original games. Other games are open-source and can be changed on their source code level.
(233 I have just suggested a typology of simulation rules (manipulation rules, goal rules and meta-rules) that can help us to better understand how the designer's agenda can slip into the game's inner laws.

In the Rules of the Rose is the Rose

Various panels at the typical PCA conference showcase subversive and critical games.

(233) For the first time in history, humanity has found in the computer the natural medium for modeling reality and fiction. . . . simulation is the form of future. It does not deal with what happened or is happening, but with what may happen. . . . It is up to both game designers and game players to keep simulation as a form of entertainment or to turn it into a subversive way of contesting the inalterability of our lives.


Frasca, Ganzalo, “Simulation versus Narrative.” The Video Game Theory Reader. Eds. Mark Wolf and Bernard Perron. New York: Routledge, 2003. 221-233. Print.