4) Ludic and ergodic puzzle solving

In An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture, Frans Mäyrä classifies games as either “ludic” or “ergodic”. “Ludic” games are structured around the player reaching a certain goal and achieving objectives (e.g., shooting games). The accomplishment of “ergodic” games is reached through the creation of meaning. The goal is to move through the story world and explore different paths (e.g., Minecraft). A clear distinction. But can games be both ludic and ergodic?

Professor Layton and the Lost Future developed by Level-5 (2010).

In my favourite Nintendo DS game Professor Layton and the Lost Future, Professor Layton and his young assistant Luke receive a letter from Luke from the future. In their journey through time, Professor Layton and Luke come across various mysteries waiting to be solved. Where is Layton from the future? What has the disappearance of the prime minister to do with time travel? And why are the Londoners of the future soaking wet?

The game clearly shows ludic features. The structure, the puzzles you solve, the characters you talk to, it all leads to one goal: solving the mystery of the lost future. The storyline is even subdivided into a prologue, thirteen chapters, and an epilogue, which read like a book. Clear, linear narrative.

However, the games can be ergodic if you want them to be. There are numerous puzzles hidden in the story world that are separated from the storyline. Some of them can only be found if you actively abandon the main plot, explore the world on your own, and talk to random characters. Moreover, the Professor Layton games always include mini-games which can be played by collecting items through puzzle solving. In the first game of the series, the player could build and train a robotic dog. The mini-games can be played at any time during the game and draw players away from the main plot. You can follow the linear storyline of the game or get lost in the story world and characters that offer more than you think.

Another reason that explains my interest in the Professor Layton series may be the fact that it is based on a lot of reading: from the dialogue between characters to explanatory notes for the puzzles to actual chapters. A very literary way of gaming. Moreover, small film sequences bring the characters to life and precipitate the plot. A mix of different forms of media within the game.

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