Abstract and Acknowledgements


Digital games are a relatively new medium. While they have been around for over half a century, they only became a major part of the culture relatively late. Like every other medium before, games also have struggled to find an expressive language of their own. Some of the expressive styles of other media are still relevant for games, but new ones have to be created specifically for videogames.

This dissertation is a study of how ludonarrative videogames, videogames that combine game elements with narrative elements, express and convey meaning. This is done as part of game studies, a multidisciplinary approach to studying games. The purpose is twofold: to build a foundation for better understanding of meaning-making in games, and to provide game designers with tools for analyzing issues related to meaning.

This study uses philosophical tools to analyze meaning in games. The philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer is used to compare the meaning-making in games to the interpretation of works of art. The theory of the interpretive process is based on the idea of the hermeneutic circle. Wittgenstein’s concept of language-games is used in examining how games should be defined and how their relations to each other should be understood. These philosophical methods are combined with the study of procedurality, narrativity and players.

This study shows that ludonarrative games are procedural systems that are interpreted both during gameplay and as a part of the surrounding cultural context. The result of this interpretation is neither predetermined by the game designer nor fixed during gameplay, but potentially open for endless reinterpretation as players interact with the game in new ways and as the cultural context changes. In order to convey meaning, ludonarrative games can borrow expressive tools from other media, for example by using perspective in the way it is used in cinema.

Additionally, this study provides guidelines for designing meaning. It is shown how meaning can be used as a game mechanic, and how games contain unique ways of expressing things that would be hard to convey in other media.

Author’s address

  • Jonne Arjoranta
    • Department of Art and Culture Studies
    • University of Jyväskylä, Finland
    • jonne.arjoranta@jyu.fi


  • Raine Koskimaa
    • Department of Art and Culture Studies
    • University of Jyväskylä, Finland
  • J. Tuomas Harviainen
    • School of Information Sciences
    • University of Tampere, Finland


  • John Wrae Stanley, Jr.
  • Espen Aarseth


  • Espen Aarseth


Writing this dissertation required me to change departments and to learn a field of which I had very little previous knowledge. I wish to thank my original supervisors Jussi Kotkavirta and Raine Koskimaa for making that switch possible. Later, J. Tuomas Harviainen has provided invaluable advice as my supervisor. He is also to thank for pushing me to write my first paper on role-playing games. Without his advice the paper would not have been finished.

My colleagues at the University of Jyväskylä, in my department and elsewhere, have provided me with a community in which studying games is both possible and a joy. Despite the fact that we are scattered around the university, you have ensured that there is always a place to go to where games are understood. Jukka Varsaluoma and Tanja Välisalo have worked tirelessly year after year to make sure that games are taught to new students and Tero Pasanen, Marko Siitonen and Sanna-Mari Äyrämö have both collaborated with me and challenged me to see things from new perspectives. The University of Jyväskylä has provided me with funding and the support I needed to finish my work.

There have been others in game studies and outside of it who have provided me with feedback, help and food for thought: Antti Heikinheimo, Veli-Matti Karhulahti, Markus Montola and many others have commented on my work in conferences, lectures and emails. The people who have informed and inspired me through playing are too numerous to name.

I have been lucky in having been encouraged by my family to continue, despite working in a field they have not always entirely grasped. I am grateful for their support. Finally, I wish to thank Sanna for the support, the countless hours shared playing and the discussions those hours evoked.

Jyväskylä 30.3.2015

Jonne Arjoranta