Breaking the fourth wall in video games  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Breaking the fourth wall in video games is very common, mostly due to the fact that the players play an active role within the game. It's usually done as a comic relief, as a part of the game, or to increase the player's awareness of the game's fictional nature. Some game series are known to use this technique very often, such as Crash Bandicoot, Ape Escape 2, EarthBound, Banjo-Kazooie, Final Fantasy V, Donkey Kong Country, Paper Mario, the Metal Gear series, Contact, Spyro The Dragon, Destroy All Humans 2 Monkey Island, and No More Heroes.

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Tutorial method

The most common way to break the fourth wall in video games is in a tutorial fashion. A character in the game instructs the player’s avatar (or in some cases, directly instructs the player) how to perform a specific action within the game world.

In the game Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, when the player gets the item 'Running Shoes', their 'mom' says "Here, let me read the instructions. Press B and blaze new trails of adventure!". Notable instances occur in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid as the character must input a radio-frequency which is never given in-game, but instead printed on the video-game's manual (in Metal Gear 2) or back CD cover (in Metal Gear Solid). This particular kind of phenomenon was also seen in the NES game Startropics, where the user is asked to enter coordinates that are found in the game manual. (An alternative interpretation of this technique is to prevent software piracy, with the assumption that pirated game owners will not have access to the original packaging.)

Story-driven

The fourth wall can also be broken simply through story-driven elements within the game. In the game Tak and the Power of Juju, the Shaman addresses the player directly as an omniscient being throughout the story. During the dream sequences in Max Payne, you can sometimes see messages that say something like "Wake up! You are in a computer game!"

The narrative of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty breaks the fourth wall a number of times, by communicating to the player indirectly through the protagonist Raiden. For example, during a codec conversation, Raiden (and by extension, the player) is told to "Turn the game console off now!" Later on, the message "Fission mailed" appears on the game screen (instead of "Mission failed") as the artificial intelligence of the GW program in the narrative (and by extension, the game itself) begin malfunctioning.

The game Super Smash Bros. Brawl is greatly known for its great music. The main theme is sung in Latin, and the lyrics translate to a story of a great adventurer out to save his home land. The lyrics are indefinite (since the song wouldn't make sense if one played as a character and the song talked about another, for example one could play as Mario the entire time and the song would be written about Sonic), so it is presumed to be talking about the player himself.

Physical interaction with the Player

The advent of force-feedback and controller vibration gave a new way for a game to reach out for the player. In Metal Gear Solid, during an encounter with Psycho Mantis, the player is asked to place the console controller in the ground so Psycho Mantis himself might move it with the powers of his mind. Later, after the torture scene, the player is asked by Naomi Hunter to press the controller against the arm, then the controller vibrates as a kind of massage to compensate for the stress done on the arm during the torture. All this enhances the player's interaction with not only the game but also the story of the game. This physical interaction between the player and the protagonist is further employed in its sequels Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

Unusual player actions

Another common method employed by video games is to address the player when he does something unusual while playing (e.g, clicking numerous times on a character in a Real-time strategy game, such as the Warcraft Universe, or waiting a long time without moving their avatar). An example of this would be in the video game Bubsy where, if left idle for some time, Bubsy will knock on the TV screen, trying to get the player's attention), or the video game The Bard's Tale where, if left idle for some time, the narrator of the game will state that "there was a long period where nothing much happened". The series of "Sonic the Hedgehog" games take this to an extreme where, in one game, if left idle for too long, Sonic tells off the player and leaves, resulting in a game over.

Character awareness

The fourth wall is broken by the game Pathologic. During the last day of events, the player can visit the Theater (which is somewhat a metafictional entity throughout the entire gameplay). In a dialogue taking place there the player will be presented with a choice to answer the question "Who is saying this?" either as "It is me, Bachelor" (or another playable character) or as "It is me, the player". In the latter case the NPC will show the full awareness that he is "merely a bunch of triangles on your monitor". In Shadow Hearts, the character Roger Bacon will tell the player, after having chosen a name for Bacon, that that one isn't his name. The main character, Yuri, asks him who is he talking to.

Easter eggs

Easter eggs are another way to break the fourth wall. Easter eggs in video games are objects, quotes, characters (either avatars or NPCs), levels, or any other element of the game that makes a reference to the exterior world. The references may be to a picture of the programmer, a reference to another game of the same or affiliated company, an element created by a rumor circulating about the game or a previous one in the same series, or any other entity which does not exist directly within the game world. This breaks the fourth wall by introducing an element that is superfluous to gameplay, reminding the player of the virtual nature of the game. One such example is in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. After finishing the game as on both the light and dark sides, Atton Rand will say this quote when you find him:

"I'm Atton. I actually wasn't supposed to make it into the final game, but I was created at the last minute. Blame my agent. I was actually slated for a spin-off to Jedi Knight, but I don't want to talk about what happened there."

Another example of this is the Konami Eyes models in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, posters of the magazine models appear on the inside of lockers and on the backs of doors, even in a codec transmission. Not to mention, a toy figure of Vulcan Raven (from the original Metal Gear Solid) scares Solid Snake during his original sweep of the tanker.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Breaking the fourth wall in video games" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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