No, you silly goose, not that kind of breaking and entering! I’m talking about something legal. Something unobtrusive. More so, something emotional and impactful from an entertainment perspective. That something is called breaking the “Fourth Wall”.


Well, for those unaware of what the Fourth Wall is in the first place, here’s a quick little rundown to help you out:


The "Fourth Wall" is a term often invoked by the game player, reviewer, designer, critic and scholar to describe instances when the video game medium consciously blurs the boundaries between the fictional and real world, either drawing something into the fictional world from outside, or expelling something out of the fictional into the non-fictional (the narrative mused upon by a self-aware protagonist, a character monologue directed at the user, and so on).


Yes, in common societal terms, that means that the game, play, or any entertainment performance in question took the jump to mention you, or something in the real world, inside their own fictional world. Or the other way around, if that floats your boat.  So, for example, Duke Nukem is in a video game. As we all know, The Duke is pretty funny with the quips. Perhaps at some point, you’re playing the game and you get shot.  All of a sudden, Duke yells “D@*#! That really hurt! What are you doing out there on that couch, anyway! Help me out here”.


Oh Deadpool, you filly


He talked to you, essentially breaking the boundary between the fictional world and the real world.


But here’s the thing; there’s so much more that you can do with this so-called “Fourth Wall”. Sure, you can have the character reference the player, talk about how they are in a video game and know it, and can create little funny lines every so often.  However, what if this could be used to go beyond the occasional jest?  The Fourth Wall could be broken on purpose as an effort of truly immersing the player, or even have the player more truly play a role in the game’s storyline.


As the industry continues to advance and grow in the storytelling aspect of games, it’s only natural that developers look for new ways to help the immersion factor. At this point, teams like Irrational Games and Valve are doing a great job with the atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge factor that comes into the whole “Believing what you’re seeing” thing. But could you imagine games like Bioshock and Half-Life being even more impactful by doing something so simple?


One major example that I can think of is something that happened in one game that I played recently. In it, you played through the entire game, working towards a goal that you knew had been looming over you for so long. Your interactions and decisions put so much wait on you as a player, and while you never notice the subtle hints during the game, it all makes sense once it’s pointed out. Those noises that you heard. Those people that shouldn’t have been there. Those things that don’t quite fit in reality.


A wonderful example!


Yes, that’s more atmosphere I suppose, but then it draws down to the bottom line. One final decision. You’re given several choices. One you know reaches your goal, the others may have the same effect, but you’ve never been told to try them. As you listen to the explanation and conversation, you begin to think: What if he’s telling the truth? What if, the character that you’re talking to has a point and makes you, the player, think differently?


Well, that’s what happened to me. The conversation I had had effectively caused me to choose a decision that completely contradicted what I had previously been working so hard towards. When it reached the climax, and I realized what I had done, I was blown away. The developers, by either chance writing or expertly written scenarios, directed a decision towards myself that was so morally ambiguous that I didn’t know what to do. By my own definition and feeling, they had broken the Fourth Wall, and cause me to choose something different, because there was such a blend between what I would do, and what should have been done in the game.


I don’t know about all you guys, but upon that realization, I had an entirely newfound respect, and amazement, for something so impactful like that. I think that, if other developers could really try to make that work, it could usher in a whole new level of story-telling.


Without story-telling, you have no substance. There is the skeleton, but no meat.


So, before you guys go, here’s a few questions:


What do you think really helps immerse the player?


Do you think the Fourth Wall has been implemented well before, and do you think it could be again?


What are your experiences of having the Fourth Wall broken?


~ GoldvsSilver