Why I Actually Really Like Jesper Juul

So, in my Games in Culture class, we just read Jesper Juul’s Half-Real, and I fired this tidbit out to Twitter when I finished the book:

Just finished Half-Real by Jesper Juul. Enjoyed the book. Makes me feel ten times less antagonistic towards him.[link]

Now, for those of you who know me and Jesper Juul’s work, you would find that a bit of a strange thing to say.  I’ll get to why I would say something like that, but first, a tiny story.  You see, I made that statement and went to bed, and it was quietly ignored for a few days (apparently).  Then I received the following reply:

@incobalt Do you miss the old antagonism?[link]

The reply was from Juul himself.  I follow Juul on Twitter, and he rarely responds to people.  He only follows some 48 people and does not, himself post much.  I can’t say that I post all the time (I’m more of an aggregator with Twitter).  When I woke up this morning to see that reply, it was a bit of an unsettling moment.  First, I thought I’d angered him.  Second, I thought it so strange that he would actually respond to my one-off comment.

Ok, so I’ll get into that curious statement about it being strange that I would say that I feel less antagonistic towards Juul.  See, for those who don’t know me, I believe that games are comprised of three things: rules, one or more players, and a narrative.  By narrative, I usually take Marie-Laure Ryan’s definition, but I’m open to other concepts.  Juul very often writes very negatively about narrative in games.  He is from the “narrative is dressing that can be ignored” camp (generally, the ludologist camp).  What I tend to get from Juul is that games have rules and project a world, but that the story doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change how the game is played.

This is a generalization.  I’m not saying this is what Juul thinks (I have no clue to that) but instead, it is what I get from his writing.  To put it another way, Juul tends to come from the ludologist perspective of the ludology vs. narratology debate (a debate generally considered dead).  To contrast, the narratologists believe that a game can be examined like a story can be examined, that the narrative is the most important part of it, and the actual playing isn’t quite so important.  Like I said, this is generally considered a dead debate.  No one really seems to have won or lost.  My point here is that, if I were to be placed on a scale in this debate, then I would probably be right between them.  I feel that narrative and play are equally important to a game (that doesn’t mean that they are treated with equal weight by game designers in every game, though).

So Juul and I tend to disagree about a lot of things when I read something he has written.  That being said, how can I feel less antagonistic towards him?  How can I actually really like Jesper Juul?  Jesper Juul is someone who can ignite in me a passionate disagreement.  He makes me want to engage in critical thinking and make an argument.  And Juul has some great points when it comes to rules and systems in games (my preferred definition of game, when I need to use one, comes from his “The Game, the Player, the World: Searching for a Heart of Gameness”).  I don’t disagree with everything he says, but some things I just grate against.  Disagreeing with people has, probably, allowed me to form more and better opinions about games than agreeing with someone.

In his chapter in The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (“Fear of Failing”)  Juul talks about people getting more enjoyment out of games they fail at, by their own accord, before succeeding.  People who fail totally and cannot succeed find no fun in the game and people who succeed without failure don’t enjoy the game as much as those who fail before succeeding.  I think that this is what I get from Jesper Juul.  This is definitely what I get from Half-Real.  After reading it, was I angry?  Sure as hell!  But I enjoyed some of it too.  I didn’t hate the whole thing (that is, I didn’t throw the whole thing out), and I didn’t agree totally with it.  Instead I failed before I succeeded, in a way.  Failure was disagreement, and success was agreement.  And what is probably more valuable to me, is those failures.

And so my response to Jesper Juul was this:

@jesperjuul It’s still sparking hot debate so maybe not. I’ve told people that you make people *want* to disagree. That’s not a bad thing.[link]

So why do I actually really like Jesper Juul?  Because he moves me, even if it is sometimes to anger.

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