112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Cheat Code Criticism: Unlocking Easter Eggs in Ludonarratological Debates

Lisa Brown Jaloza, University of California, Riverside

Drawing upon theorists/scholars including Henry Jenkins, Jane McGonigal, and Colin Milburn, this paper explores video games as a storytelling medium and the ways in which they remain distinct from their oral and text-based counterparts. Games to be examined include Gone Home, L.A. Noire, and The Wolf Among Us.


With the 2011 publication of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, even those in academia most concerned about the corporatization of education surely found the OASIS far-fetched at best. Yet given Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VRand the company’s (admittedly lofty) goal of launching an MMO with in excess of one billion users, it certainly feels we’ve drawn eerily close to at least an instance of presque (if not entirely déjà) vu. Yet this is hardly the first instance in which the worlds of video games and narrative have collided—Tron (1982), War Games (1984 (and, not coincidentally, referenced itself in Ready Player One)), The Last Starfighter (1984), and The Wizard (1989) all immediately spring to mind. Moreover, visual novels (as distinct from more interactive adventure games) have proven popular in Japan since the early 1980s, and even such ostensibly non-narrative puzzle-based games as Tetris have been argued to adhere to at least a basic plot structure. Why is it, then, that the debates between ludologists and narratologists continue to rage? Drawing upon media theorists including Marshall McLuhan, Henry Jenkins, and Gregory Ulmer as well as such scholars as Jane McGonigal and Colin Milburn, this paper will explore the potential of video games as a powerful storytelling medium while paying particular attention to the ways in which they remain distinct from their oral and text-based counterparts in order to posit a compromise (or cheat code, so to speak) that might serve to reconcile what at first blush appear to be diametrically opposed viewpoints. Far from alienating video games from the realm of storytelling as it has traditionally been understood, the use of ludic interfaces opens up the possibility for increasingly haptic narrative encounters, thus paving the way for new avenues of critical and theoretical inquiry. Specific games to be examined include, but are not necessarily limited to, Gone Home, L.A. Noire, and The Wolf Among Us.