Ludonarrative Discodance: a livegame I actually ran

Ludonarrative Discodance is both a very silly game and a play on words, and those words are Ludonarrative Dissonance.

Ludonarrative Dissonance is a phrase used in games critic circles (although less these days as it’s seen as a bit naff) – a catchy description for when the actions performed by the players (the ludo, or “game”) don’t properly mesh with the story being told by the game (the narrative). Max Payne 3 has it in spades; it’s a story about a washed-up, useless junkie alcoholic ex-cop making mistake after mistake who just so happens to be the greatest slow-motion gunfighter the world has ever seen.

But it has nothing – nothing – to do with Ludonarrative Discodance apart from the fact that their names are similar. Ludonarrative Discodance is, in essence, simultaneous 20-man charades performed in a dark room to the backdrop of thumping 70’s disco music. I made a pun on Twitter about three months ago, and that situation got out of hand to such an extent that I found myself dancing around in a pink light-up afro wig and disco-ball earrings in a dark room in Melbourne last weekend.


Players each take a card at the start of the round, a card with details of a certain dance move on them: the hip-thrust, the Saturday Night Fever hand-on-hip-point-to-the-sky, various flavours of hand-jive, several where you just wiggle your arse about. Each player then has to find the other player (or players) who hold their card, but they can only communicate through the medium of dancing; find them, and win a point or two and collect a new card from the Glamorous Disco Admin Staff before being shoved back out into the arena to begin dancing again. Once the song’s over, the round ends.

Constant dancing is mandatory and enforced by me, the Disco King, as I continually groove around the peripheries of the game. I hand out penalty stickers to anyone I catch not dancing. (I handed out perhaps three stickers in six games. Dancing is not arduous or unfun.)

There are three rounds to the game and they increase in difficulty; round two involves interpretive dance moves around a theme, like “The Catwalk Model” or “The High-Noon Shootout” or “The Lost My Keys Samba” or, my personal favourite, “The My-Hands-Are-On-Fire-Boogie.”

Round three is straight charades, generally focusing around films because iconic visual elements are important for such a game; we needed to include it to cash in on the “narrative” part of “Ludonarrative,” in that – according to the name – this is a game where you relay a story through the medium of disco-dancing. We have cards like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” and “The Matrix” and, deliciously, “Pride and Prejudice.”

(Pride and Prejudice was, in retrospect, perhaps a bit hard to do.)

Photo by Sayraphim Lothian


But unlike normal charades, there is no straight audience/performer relationship; everyone is performing, and everyone is guessing. If you’re not very good at dancing, or you’re not confident, you can simply watch the crowd because someone out there will probably have your card; and if a particular card is challenging, odds are someone is looking for that very specific thing which should make performing it easier.

LD was a bit of a shot in the dark, a silly idea that got out of control, but it worked. The core of the game is performing a silly dance and, across a crowded room, seeing the person who’s performing your dance too – then running up to them, confirming it, and smiling broadly before running off to collect another card. It’s clubbing rendered down into shorthand: a breaking-down of boundaries, feeling more comfortable with our own bodies and the bodies of other people, a game of connections and performance and acceptance. People told me it recreated the poor impulse control of being drunk, too, which I like.

Despite the daftness of it, it is a game which lets you say – “Do you want to dance with me?” and for the answer to be yes more often than no. Which is pretty neat for a lot of people, including me, who are used to the opposite. And for it to be a safe question to ask, too.

We couldn’t have done it without the support of Pop-Up Playground who provided not only a space to play in and a variety of disco supplies – including the disco-ball necklaces handed out to the winners of each game to the tune of Dancing Queen, regardless of the winner’s gender – but an incredible lighting and SFX rig that helped our players bypass the weirdness of dancing sober with complete strangers at half five on a Sunday afternoon. That helped a lot, I reckon.

We’re looking to refine LD a little more – fine-tune the type and distribution of cards, write up some different editions, have a variant where all the cards are “My Hands Are On Fire,” etc – and then run it again. Possibly at Wild Rumpus? Who knows. If you know of any events that would be livened up by disco-charades, get in touch.


7 responses to “Ludonarrative Discodance: a livegame I actually ran”

  1. Scott Vandervalk Avatar
    Scott Vandervalk

    Despite my initial reluctance and cluelessness to disco dance, the game was rather fantastic to play on the weekend! I would have loved the third round to have gone on a bit longer too.

    1. grant Avatar

      Aces! I’m surprised to hear that you wanted more time, if anything I felt that the individual rounds were going on a little too long… but I guess I wasn’t playing. Glad you had fun, dude.

  2. Dlicia Avatar

    If this comes to Sydney, I am so down.

    1. Benj Avatar

      I do believe I am also up for getting down.

  3. Sean Avatar

    Other than seeing all the prep-photos, this is actually the first I’ve read of this. AND IT’S AMAZING.

  4. RoJ Avatar

    Are the rules/card sets for this available somewhere? Am I allowed to show those bastards down at Contra [dance] Night what a good time really is using this game, or would I be violating some sort of actionable copyright?

    Or, less crazy:
    I would like to run this in my hometown. If this is possible, is there game literature available?

    1. grant Avatar

      Sure! Here’s a link to the cards:

      You’ll want to stack the deck to make sure that people get matches early on, and not run games for longer than three minutes apiece. Round 1 gets 1 point for a match, Round 2 gets 2, Round 3 gets 3. If you run this, for the love of god take pictures and send them to me

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