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Clarifying Incoherence in Games

Hugo Dirk Hogenbirk, Marries van de Hoef, John-Jules Charles Meyer


In this paper we will analyze the concept of incoherency that has been put forward by Jesper Juul in Half-Real (2005). Juul provides a paradigmatic example of an incoherency in the game Donkey Kong. The main character of the narrative, Mario, can die and subsequently reappear at the beginning of the level. However, when pressed to describe the narrative of the game, most players would not say that Mario ever died. The respawn is attributed to the game rules instead. Juul calls this phenomenon an incoherency of the game’s fictional world. We claim that the precise nature of the concept of incoherency is unclear, and that Juul's connection between incoherency and contradictions is incorrect. Furthermore, we argue that Wesp incorrectly identifies the concept with 'incompleteness' in his response to Juul (Wesp, 2014). Our clarification argues that what is noteworthy in 'incoherency' is not some aspect of the fictional world, like it being contradictory or incomplete, but how the player interprets the fiction. Subsequently, we provide an explanation for what underlies an incoherency by adopting the principle of charity (Davidson 1973). Lastly we discuss how a proper understanding of incoherency can help game designers and how it relates to ludonarrative dissonance (Hocking, 2009).

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