Created By: Abnaxis on September 24, 2013 Last Edited By: Abnaxis on May 28, 2016

Gameplay Dissonance

A game section/mode where the themes/mood conveyed by gameplay mechanics don't match everything else

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This occurs when the mood or the themes conveyed by the gameplay conflict with one or more other design elements (audio, visual, or narrative) in a video game. This can happen inadvertently, especially in big budget games with a high level of Gameplay and Story Segregation due to the communication wall between the writing team and the design team. However, it can also be deliberately invoked for laughs or in order to make a statement.

Sometimes called "ludonarrative dissonance" by scholars and critics, but many people equate ludonarrative dissonance with Gameplay and Story Segregation, whereas this trope can be present without segregation or even an explicit story.

In order to qualify for this trope, the actions a player must take to advance (gain score, advance the story, or obtain objectives) must contradict the mood or theme established by other elements in the work. If a player uses mods or Sequence Breaking to subvert other design elements, or flat-out ignores the objectives given to them by the game, that's Off the Rails. If an abstraction used by the game detracts from immersion, that's Acceptable Break from Reality gone too far. If the player has to do something overly-complicated to progress but the activity doesn't conflict with mood or theme, that's a Plot Lock.

This trope is a sub-trope of Mood Dissonance.


  • Surgery Simulator 2013—You have a patient on the operating table, whose life depends on your deft execution of his open-heart surgery. Problem is, the (deliberately) awkward control scheme makes even the best players look about as coordinated as a one-armed Frankenstein monster doped out on morphine. Hilarity Ensues.

  • Spec Ops: The Line—This game deliberately works to satirize modern First-Person Shooter cliches by pairing mechanics that play straight with FPS tropes alongside a gritty War Is Hell story

  • Grand Theft Auto IV—The modern GTA series is (in)famous for its anarchy-encouraging gameplay, often attacked by watchdogs for their inclusion of violence against police, prostitutes, and innocent passers-by. GTA IV is no different, but the narrative focuses on a character who is wracked with guilt over sins that the average player joyfully surpasses within five minutes of being unleashed on the world.

  • Team Fortress 2—The Pyro weapon Rainblower modifies the view of the player using it, showing them blowing rainbows and bubbles, showering the other side in rainbow sparks as the player actively tries to immolate their enemy via flamethrower. This serves to make the pyro look very, very psychotic.
Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • September 24, 2013
    I dunno, to me this sounds like an overtly specific variation of Gameplay And Story Segregation.
  • September 24, 2013
  • September 25, 2013
    ^, ^^ - I guess it's pretty much clear that we're talking about mood here.

    Title needs to change, though.
  • September 25, 2013
    ^ - Yeah, I'm terrible with names. Since it seems like a parallel sort of trope, I modeled the title after Soundtrack Dissonance and Lyrical Dissonance.

    I did my best to provide specific counter-examples as to why this is none of the above alternatives:

    ^^ - I think Surgeon Simulator 2013 exemplifies why this isn't an Unexpected Gameplay Change—the gameplay never changes in Surgeon Simulator, yet it is still dissonant. The same argument could be made for Spec Ops: The Line

    ^^^ - Team Fortress 2 is my go-to example for why this isn't Gameplay And Story Segregation—there isn't a story to speak of unless you count the "Meet the X" Spin-Off Youtube videos, yet there is dissonance in the fact that when you are armed with the Rainblower your goals are to immolate all who stand against you like a good Pyro Maniac, yet you run around shooting bubbles and rainbows and sparkles.
  • September 25, 2013
    A commonly accepted term for this for several years has been "Ludonarrative Dissonance," coined by Clint Hocking, a former creative director at Lucas Arts in 2007. There's actually a discussion about it right now in the forums

  • September 25, 2013
    Indeed. I came here from the discussion on the forums, confident that there wasn't already a trope for Gameplay Dissonance

    There are a few problems with "Ludonarrative Dissonance" that make it inappropriate for a title. First, nobody can agree on what it means. To some, it simply means the same thing as Gameplay And Story Segregation, where to others it goes farther than that, saying that the gameplay and story aren't simply separated, they're intrinsically at odds with one another.

    Still another view is that the term is about conflict not just between the story and the gameplay, but between the theme and the gameplay. This is the view of blog Errant signal, covered in this video and this post

    I'm a fan of the latter idea. However, "Ludonarrative Dissonance" is a terrible word for it. First of all, it's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness to a fault. Second of all, it is interpreted differently by many different people. Worse, regardless of interpretation "Ludonarrative Dissonance" is always considered bad in context; it should be thought of more in terms of Tropes Are Tools. Finally, and most importantly, theme is not the same thing as narrative, and mood is not the same thing as narrative, whereas "ludonarrative" literally means "play and narrative."

    So yeah, "Ludonarrative Dissonance" is bad, though we might want to put an aside in the text that says "Also called ludonarrative dissonance by some critics," but I didn't really know if that was a can of worms since that would put it into conflict with the Gameplay And Story Segregation page that already equated LND with segregation.
  • September 30, 2013
  • October 1, 2013
    There is nothing wrong with the name proposed.

    In cutscenes Devil May Cry's Dante is nigh invulnerable. In game play...well there is a reason the games are Nintendo Hard.

    Infamous in the NES game Silver Surfer. You are supposed to be a cosmic being and yet one hit from a rubber duck will kill you.

    In Pokemon main series games the champion is said to be among the strongest trainers in the region. The player probably has a significantly harder time with trainers from the various battle facilities though.
  • October 2, 2013
  • October 2, 2013
    ^: That's hard to judge without having actually played the game, but can you clarify on where the dissonance is coming from? Mechanical difficulty is only really dissonant if it's Nintendo Hard to do something that should commonplace easy for the character presented, but "cute" and "difficult" don't inherently contrast one another.

    ^^: I think I rented the first DMC once, many many years ago. I don't remember anything about the cut-scenes. Is Dante invulnerable because he's Made Of Iron, or because of Super Reflexes? I would say the former would be dissonant, because gameplay discourages being hit while cutscenes downplay it, but the latter is not dissonant, because the only way to advance in the game is to exhibit the same super reflexes Dante has in the FMV.
  • October 2, 2013
    Dante is invulnerable because he has a crazy healing factor and does not seem to be hurt by much of anything cut scenes.
  • October 2, 2013
    • In Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3, a devastating unlockable weapon is...a foam glove, with Isaac going "pew!" or "bang!" when he shoots it. In the third game, he'll put it over his head and headbang to a short metal riff if there's a pause after using it.
  • May 27, 2016
    Bump, maybe?
  • May 28, 2016
    Related is Surprise Difficulty - the game would look like it'd be easy (art style and simple controls tend to factor) but when you actually play it, it demands your utmost dexterity.