There’s this term you see a lot in gaming media, a term that’s faded in popularity in recent years but sadly serves a decent purpose: Ludonarrative Dissonance. This dissonance, derived from the cinematographical term Filmic Dissonance, is the problem that comes when a game’s systems, juxtaposed with the game’s content, seems mis-matched.
There’s a number of examples of this in games. One fairly renowned example is in the videogame Bioshock Infinite, where a narrative about racism in an opulent floating country is interrupted by the player character being induced by health-based rewards to eat cake out of trash bins. Ask any game reviewer and they’ll have an example for you, of something that stood out to them and stuck in the memory about a game because they weren’t… quite sure it fit.
This synthesis of content and systems is, for lack of any better term, the game itself. When they work together, the game feels whole; when they work against one another, it creates a strange feeling. Sometimes it doesn’t even slow things down meaningfully – players are very good at skipping over systemic bumps as they get into the fun of a game.
Dissonance is worth considering, especially when you have a dossier or a statement of intention in a game. If a game is about deprivation and debt, does it mean anything if the players are constantly rolling in the game’s currency? Does a game frame itself as being about combat, but all combats are resolved by a single, blind die roll?
In The Suits there’s no current glaring point of dissonance. In play, there are moments when the lack of information becomes a problem. Players are trying to manage hidden information, but are completely bereft of reasons why. It’s possible a player may use their nicknames, and give a player who knows all the possible nicknames an edge on knowing what gang they belong to. What’s more, memorising that table (when ambiguity about who is what allegiance) becomes a very powerful option, which seems maybe against what is a very lightweight, very small game.