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Dishonored’s Chaos Mechanic Addresses a Common Video Game Issue

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Ludonarrative dissonance is a major issue in many video games. It refers to the disconnect between the way a game’s story is told through its cutscenes and overarching narrative compared to how it’s told through its gameplay. For example, protagonists are often framed as heroes in cutscenes, while at the same time the gameplay sees them killing or injuring untold numbers of enemies to reach their goal. Many video games have tried to address this issue by offering non-lethal takedown mechanics or encouraging stealth, but one franchise contains a feature that goes a step further.

Dishonored is a highly acclaimed stealth-focused action title that is well worth playing even in 2022. As an immersive sim, it encourages players to experiment and get creative with the way they use their powers, weapons and the environment. The games give players a variety of both lethal and non-lethal ways to achieve their objectives while encouraging a more stealthy approach to missions. They also introduce a chaos system, which helps the franchise actively and more compellingly address the issue of ludonarrative dissonance.

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How Dishonored’s Chaos System Works

Chaos in Dishonored is measured by how many fatalities the player builds up throughout each mission and playthrough. High chaos signals a significant number of deaths, whereas low chaos indicates a more peaceful run. It’s effective at combating ludonarrative dissonance as not only does it encourage stealth, but it also actively changes the story to match the player’s playstyle, ensuring there is less of a disconnect.

Those who take the more violent path will find themselves playing a far darker narrative compared to those who choose predominantly non-lethal approaches. For example, in the first game, if players take the high chaos route, Princess Emily makes many dark comments to her father about how she’s going to make people fear her and rule with violence. The endings are also directly impacted as a result of how players choose to play the games, and other primary characters are more scathing of Corvo’s actions if he inflicts more fatalities than they deem necessary. These changes also make sense in the context of the games, where players are supposedly fighting on behalf of the Empire of the Isles and its people and should be their protectors, rather than their destroyers.

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Dishonored’s Non-lethal Gameplay Is Just as Fun as Its Violent Options

Of course, the chaos system would fall flat on its face if players felt the non-lethal gameplay options were comparatively limited or boring. Combat is a hugely fun aspect of many video games, so asking players to ignore it is a big ask. However, Dishonored addresses this issue brilliantly by adding many satisfying and rewarding options for non-lethal playthroughs that still make full use of the game’s many enjoyable gameplay mechanics. The games’ protagonists usually have a host of magical powers or a variety of weaponry to call upon, and each can be adjusted to be used non-lethally. Therefore, players who want to avoid bloodshed aren’t missing out. In fact, these options often feel far more creative and rewarding than simply stabbing and shooting through a mission.

Figuring out how to successfully take down a target non-lethally feels like a satisfying puzzle and is incredibly rewarding to watch unfold. For example, during Dishonored 2‘s iconic The Clockwork Mansion level, players are tasked with eliminating the evil inventor, Kirin Jindosh. Upon exploring his laboratory, players can uncover one of his cruelest creations — an electroshock chair that drains the brainpower from its victims. Players who render Jindosh unconscious can use his own device against him. After first solving how to power it, players can watch as it reduces Jindosh to a drooling dimwit.

This impactful chaos system, coupled with the games’ excellent options for non-lethal playthroughs, should be held up as an example for other game franchises as it brilliantly demonstrates how to address the common video game issue of ludonarrative dissonance.

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