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The nature of an infodump

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Clephas

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In plotge of all types, whether they are chuunige, kinetic novels, horror suspense, or mysteries, infodumps are ubiquitous throughout the VN world.  Infodumping in and of itself isn't a horrible thing to do to the reader (as some people claim), but it is a tool that is often abused by writers who want to expound on their beloved world and its characters.  

First, the definition of an infodump is a scene with little or no dialogue where background information is provided without directly proceeding with the story.  Infodumps can vary in size from as small as forty lines of narration to up to a thousand, depending on the writer and the subject matter involved.  There are even multiple types, which I will describe here.

The Lump of Infodump

The Lump of Infodump (as I put it) is the most common type of infodump in VNs.  In the 'Lump, a great amount of information, sometimes with brief bits and pieces of dialogue or character stream of thought, is provided in a single scene, interrupting the story.  The 'Lump is the type of infodump most likely to drive people crazy, due to its tendency to create walls of uninterrupted text.  When abused, it tends to interrupt and/or destroy the flow of the story, and I've encountered a number of games where a more measured approach to presenting the setting or explanations of the particulars of an event or the 'why' of an action would have been less monotonous.  In fact, that is the big flaw of this type of infodump.  It is almost impossible to avoid monotony with this kind of infodump, because all it is doing is literally dropping information on you.  That said, infodumps often have a reason for existing that becomes clear in coming scenes, so it is not necessarily always a bad thing.

The Scattered Infodump

'Scattered Infodumps' are a technique where the writer provides the information in smaller, more digestible asides throughout the story, as it becomes relevant.  This technique tends to be received with less irritation and often goes almost unnoticed by the reader, because it doesn't go on long enough to disrupt the flow of the story.  Unlike the 'Lump, it is less likely to be abused, though many writers who use it get into the habit of always using it, which can be problematic for those with an allergy to non-dialogue text, lol.  

The Flashback Infodump

The Flashback Infodump is just that, an infodump provided in the form of a flashback instead of an aside.  These often fill in the gaps in the motivations of characters or their upbringing, and their purpose is, 90% of the time, to reveal something that would have made things less interesting if it were revealed earlier.  Flashbacks are often abused, though.  They are common throughout VNs, with roughly 90% of plotge having at least one and 30% of all charage (in my experience) having one.  They are a convenient method of revealing a character's past, so many games also use them for character development, particularly in heroine paths.

The Prologue Infodump

This is probably the least annoying of the 'obvious' infodumping and is a sub-category of the 'Lump.  Some games, rather than dumping setting and character information on you mid-story, will instead infodump immediately after you start.  This has the advantage of getting around the disruption of the game's flow that is inevitable with mid-game 'Lumps and providing background information without the writer having to remember to include it strategically throughout the story.  This technique is, however, rarely used.  Games that use it are rare mostly because if the first thing you see when starting a VN is a wall of text, most people will drop the game right then and there.  Because of this, most games that use this are directed to a very specific fanbase or niche of the VN community that already has an established interest in the game in question.  

A few thoughts

The reason I decided to make this post was because of a conversation I had with @fun2novel  regarding infodumping in Bradyon Veda.  In Bradyon Veda, infodumping is integral to the game's battle scenes (incidentally the discussion began with me giving examples of good battle scenes to him).  Because the science-fantasy techniques being used by the characters manipulate matter and physical laws, there are infodumps built into the battle scenes, explaining what they are doing.  Because of this, I noted that Bradyon Veda's battle scenes were an example of positive infodumping, because it was done in such a way that it enhanced rather than disrupted the telling of the story.

Conclusion

What am I trying to get at?  Nothing, really.  I just thought that people give infodumps a bad rap, when they have probably been infodumped without even noticing it.  

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If it flaws properly with the story, I wouldn't even call it an infodump. I think when people talk about those, they mostly mean the first kind you mentioned: just walls of information bringing the story to a hold for a significant amount of time. But for this reason, I kind of feel an infodumping prologue is underutilized in VNs. You can quite easily avoid putting clunky exposition in the middle of your game by explaining the basics of the universe at the beginning. Maybe devs avoid it because it's cliched to do a narrated introductions like that, but particularly in EVNs, I feel like a lot of storytelling issues and confusion could be avoided that way... 

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2 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

I think when people talk about those, they mostly mean the first kind you mentioned: just walls of information bringing the story to a hold for a significant amount of time.

As you had previously mentioned, Arcane City: Lyn;Lin used an infodump at the end of the story. There's a specific reason behind it though and it's setting up a future project. Prologue Infodumping seems weird to me though as it would sort of spoil the universe from the get-go :blink:

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3 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

If it flaws properly with the story, I wouldn't even call it an infodump. I think when people talk about those, they mostly mean the first kind you mentioned: just walls of information bringing the story to a hold for a significant amount of time. But for this reason, I kind of feel an infodumping prologue is underutilized in VNs. You can quite easily avoid putting clunky exposition in the middle of your game by explaining the basics of the universe at the beginning. Maybe devs avoid it because it's cliched to do a narrated introductions like that, but particularly in EVNs, I feel like a lot of storytelling issues and confusion could be avoided that way... 

I think infodumps at the beginning are rarely employed because there is no in-story-conflict yet readers can connect it to. At least to me they feel more like homework than useful information most of the time and I tend to get bored before the actual story even begins.

A way of infodumping that's rather unique to VNs that can be rather effective is adding opportunities for expositioning outside of the actual story. For example an encyclopedia can be a good way of explaining things characters in-universe wouldn't talk about normally without taking you out of the story for too long. 428 utilizes this feature brilliantly, adding funny side stories to its exposition and even secretly setting up plot devices. VA-11 also has an approach I really like where you read news stories and internet boards inbetween story-sections (although admittedly it's used more for world building than infodumping).

Edited by alpacaman

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We've been doing that with worldbuilding, though it's taken the form of a big A.R.G. with cryptic/disturbing videos, a webpage with cryptic messages and links, and connected itch.io accounts to other 'partners' spread around the internet, all of which give hints to the metaplot of the bigger story that is coming up in the next few VN's.

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1 hour ago, Arcane City Game Studios said:

As you had previously mentioned, Arcane City: Lyn;Lin used an infodump at the end of the story. There's a specific reason behind it though and it's setting up a future project. Prologue Infodumping seems weird to me though as it would sort of spoil the universe from the get-go :blink:

Well, of course a prologue wouldn't work in a mystery horror story, but that's not what I was talking about. It's particularly meaningful for high-concept fantasy and sci-fi world that can be confusing to the player if it's not explained properly. Giving just enough context to make it comprehensible at the beginning, and minimize the need for infodumps when the action picks up pace is pretty optimal. In the case of your story, I simply think it could've done with a lot less info in general. I'd like it more being vague than just explaining the lore this way. :)

48 minutes ago, alpacaman said:

I think infodumps at the beginning are rarely employed because there is no in-story-conflict yet readers can connect it to. At least to me they feel more like homework than useful information most of the time and I tend to get bored before the actual story even begins.

A way of infodumping that's rather unique to VNs that can be rather effective is adding opportunities for expositioning outside of the actual story. For example an encyclopedia can be a good way of explaining things characters in-universe wouldn't talk about normally without taking you out of the story for too long. 428 utilizes this feature brilliantly, adding funny side stories to its exposition and even secretly setting up plot devices. VA-11 also has an approach I really like where you read news stories and internet boards inbetween story-sections (although admittedly it's used more for world building than infodumping).

That is a good point, but if you think of it as another method of "scattering" the infodumps to keep the complexity of the world without creating the walls of info in the middle of the story it should still be worth it. I also don't like encyclopedias if they contain information actually crucial to understanding the story – as you said, it can be cool for fleshing out your world, but it can't be a primary method.

...I might also be speaking from one specific trauma of an EVN with a world that was pretty much incomprehensible because of lack of proper exposition, and with encyclopedia which created more questions than it answered. A good prologue could've done miracles for that game. :P

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3 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

Well, of course a prologue wouldn't work in a mystery horror story, but that's not what I was talking about. It's particularly meaningful for high-concept fantasy and sci-fi world that can be confusing to the player if it's not explained properly. Giving just enough context to make it comprehensible at the beginning, and minimize the need for infodumps when the action picks up pace is pretty optimal. In the case of your story, I simply think it could've done with a lot less info in general. I'd like it more being vague than just explaining the lore this way. :)

That is a good point, but if you think of it as another method of "scattering" the infodumps to keep the complexity of the world without creating the walls of info in the middle of the story it should still be worth it. I also don't like encyclopedias if they contain information actually crucial to understanding the story – as you said, it can be cool for fleshing out your world, but it can't be a primary method.

...I might also be speaking from one specific trauma of an EVN with a world that was pretty much incomprehensible because of lack of proper exposition, and with encyclopedia which created more questions than it answered. A good prologue could've done miracles for that game. :P

That infodump really wasn't that critical, it sort of set up the mythos in general. The deeper stuff is found through the pieces of the ARG that we've sprinkled around the internet and the various micro-vn's. 

Check out big.mozello.com to peek in the rabbit hole ;-)

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20 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

That is a good point, but if you think of it as another method of "scattering" the infodumps to keep the complexity of the world without creating the walls of info in the middle of the story it should still be worth it. I also don't like encyclopedias if they contain information actually crucial to understanding the story – as you said, it can be cool for fleshing out your world, but it can't be a primary method.

Yeah, I think there are worse ways to do exposition than dumping it right at the start, and I know quite a few TV shows and movies that do this and are still quite good. It's just very hard to do in a way that keeps the reader invested enough that they remember the important information. As for the encyclopedia thing, I don't think reading an encyclopedia entry is worse than a wall-of-text dump or some character monologueing exposition, at least as long as it's not information that's new to the protagonist. Of course none of these options should be the primary way of expositioning, as imo a story should always try to tie every important piece of information to its characters' motivations or its themes or whatever makes sense through a scene where something actually happens imo, but if that's not possible or highly inconvenient, putting it outside the main text often is a better choice imo.

1 hour ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

...I might also be speaking from one specific trauma of an EVN with a world that was pretty much incomprehensible because of lack of proper exposition, and with encyclopedia which created more questions than it answered. A good prologue could've done miracles for that game. :P

Do you think this particular VN could have gotten a good prologue when the writers weren't able to write an encyclopedia that actually explains things?:P

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If the world/setting is sufficiently different enough to warrant some explanation; I don't mind infodumps. I experienced this more with book, but I was sometimes annoyed with piecing together how this worlds works over I don't know how many pages. Compared to that I would prefer a infodump in the beginning. But I like reading such world building if I am interested in the setting, so I honestly never understood the hate for infodumps.

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12 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

If it flaws properly with the story, I wouldn't even call it an infodump. I think when people talk about those, they mostly mean the first kind you mentioned: just walls of information bringing the story to a hold for a significant amount of time. But for this reason, I kind of feel an infodumping prologue is underutilized in VNs. You can quite easily avoid putting clunky exposition in the middle of your game by explaining the basics of the universe at the beginning. Maybe devs avoid it because it's cliched to do a narrated introductions like that, but particularly in EVNs, I feel like a lot of storytelling issues and confusion could be avoided that way... 

Most of Light's games include scattered infodumps that pop up as they become needed.  Part of the reason is that most of Light's chuunige deliberately obfuscate certain aspects until revealing them will have the most impact.  Dies Irae is a good case in point...  

Propeller gave the most important infodumps in the prologue in most cases (the prologue of Bullet Butlers is a case in point, as is the one in the first chapter of Tokyo Babel) including smaller scattered ones as necessary later on.  

Tiny Dungeon gets the basic infodump about the setting done with in the prologue of Black and White (what happened before and why humans are distrusted by the other races).  

One case of a 'Lump - in an anime in this case - that I hated was Tenjou Tenge.  They essentially wasted half the episodes on a massive flashback infodump on past events.  In a VN... I've actually never come across an infodump I hated, though I did criticize some for the way they disrupted the flow of the story.  Whether a 'Lump becomes a problem is entirely dependent on timing, in my experience...

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