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Jul 01 2008
By: MGS4SolidSnake Ghost of Sparta 15381 posts
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The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

11 replies 4 views Edited Jul 1, 2008

Ever since MGS1 was released, people haven't been able to stop talking about the "fourth wall". The game was hugely prasied because it "broke" that wall. But what exactly is this fourth wall, so often talked about that the games that breach it attain legendary status? Well accoring to everyone's favorite and most reliable site, Wikipedia, the fourth wall is an imaginary wall through which audiences see an art form. It was first used to describe plays; now, it's being used in the context of videogames. It's basically a barrier that prevents the audience from participating in the art form. Consumers interact with games, like audiences watch movies; they can see them but they're never really part of them. Not till MGS1, that was. The wall was broken when Otacon told us, the gamers, to check the back of the CD case to get Meryl's Codec number. That invisible barrier? Taken down- we were directly addressed by the game, being pulled right into the experience.

 

If MGS1 broke the wall, MGS4 demolishes it completely. It does almost everything in it's power to remind us that we are playing a videogame. Otacon jokes that we don't have to change discs anymore, that the game is on a Blu Ray. There's one part in particular that hugely breaks down the wall, but I won't spoil it. All I'll say is that in the beginning of a certain act, the game does something that makes you remember that it is indeed a videogame. Even the trailers embraced the fact that it was a game- remember the whole quip about the Cell processor being the key to the console war? Yet, so many games try so hard to build up that fourth wall. So many games take themselves so seriously and never really let the consumer in. Now, MGS4 has an excellent plot and takes itself seriously. But by letting the consumers in, it's no longer just a videogame, just something you play and that's it. It sort of elevates itself because it's so self referential.

 

So how come other games refuse to break the wall? Is it that the developers just don't know how to? But Kojima pulls it off with ease. So, is it that developers don't want to break the wall? Maybe they think that breaking the wall is also breaking the flow of the story and the immersion factor

 

Well what do you guys think? Do you like the fact that the MGS series so often breaks the fourth wall? Does it add anything to the games? Does it take away anything? What does itdo for you in terms of immersion? Now that we're in a new generation, would you like to see more of this?

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Treasure Hunter
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 2, 2008
Nice.


I don't think that the MGS series is the only ones to do it...I can remember times in Ratchet and Clank where someone would make a lame joke, and then Ratchet would look into the camera with an "oh brother" look. This obviously isn't as direct as having a game tell you to look at the back of a CD case. But at any rate...


I personally don't feel the need for the fourth wall to be broken. Like in Ratchet and Clank, it can add a little humor and makes the game a little bit more relatable. But what would have it felt like if it didn't have it? It probably would have been fine without it.

I'm not saying that the wall shouldn't ever be broken, I'm just saying that it should vary for different genres of games. And to answer your sixth question, I think it adds a little bit more of the immersion factor. This would work extremely well for war games, like Rainbow Six: Vegas, or any other game where you're directing a team. If the game breaks the wall and asks you (the audience) for commands, that would take gaming to a whole new level. That's something that I think is entirely viable for next generation gaming - asking you for commands. Especially with ever-expanding worlds and levels.

In terms of other genres, I think the fourth wall should only be occasionally broken. I think that developers can obviously break the wall, since MGS did, but would rather not, since it's probably a whole lot easier for them to make games that don't rely on the player's input. I think that they think (and I don't know whether they're right or wrong, they being the developer) that players would rather play games as opposed to simulations. If you break down that fourth wall, then it becomes too real, and the developers might be afraid that people won't buy the games because they don't provide enough escapism. But, that's just my opinion on what they're thinking, and possibly wayyyy off.

And finally, as for it taking anything away: I don't really think it does. I would like to see more of this immersion, but not totally. Like I said earlier, it would be excellent to have a game that asks you for commands. But not all games should break this fourth wall. I think there should still be some games that provide mindless escapism; let the developers decide what's best every once in a while.
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 2, 2008

It's not done all the time because it doesn't work all the time.

 

Breaking the fourth wall is not some arcane trick that was used only in ancient times and only rediscovered by Kojima.  Plays, prose, television shows, movies, and comic books have all used this device.  Certainly not all of them, but it hasn't exacly been absent from all media until we looked at the back of the MGS case.

 

Sometimes it works to great effect.  Sometimes it is used as a crutch or cheat - it allows the author to get information across without needing in-character dialogue or to shift the tone or mood of a scene by breaking the scene instead of changing things naturally.

 

Yes, it is used often and to great effect in the Metal Gear series, and it has become a hallmark of that series.

 

But the real question is why.

 

Breaking the fourth wall allows the MGS games to introduce humor to lighten up what would otherwise be tense moments.  But whereas some would see this as clever, others could see this as laziness - instead of guiding the observer via the game's narrative, that narrative must be paused and the immersion broken.  Maybe this isn't true for the MGSgames, but certainly there are developers (maybe not successful ones) who resort to breaking the fourth wall out of laziness and not artistry.

 

Like any tool or device, anything used too often becomes tired and commonplace.  I, for one, appreciate the style of MGS, but I'm happy that not every game goes the same route.  There are other ways to convey a story, and we should not be limited to any of them.

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Ghost of Sparta
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 2, 2008

wrote:
Nice.


I don't think that the MGS series is the only ones to do it...I can remember times in Ratchet and Clank where someone would make a lame joke, and then Ratchet would look into the camera with an "oh brother" look. This obviously isn't as direct as having a game tell you to look at the back of a CD case. But at any rate...
 
Ha, I remember that now. That was hilarious when Ratchet would look at the camera. It's also a great example of breaking the fourth wall. 

I personally don't feel the need for the fourth wall to be broken. Like in Ratchet and Clank, it can add a little humor and makes the game a little bit more relatable. But what would have it felt like if it didn't have it? It probably would have been fine without it.

I'm not saying that the wall shouldn't ever be broken, I'm just saying that it should vary for different genres of games. And to answer your sixth question, I think it adds a little bit more of the immersion factor. This would work extremely well for war games, like Rainbow Six: Vegas, or any other game where you're directing a team. If the game breaks the wall and asks you (the audience) for commands, that would take gaming to a whole new level. That's something that I think is entirely viable for next generation gaming - asking you for commands. Especially with ever-expanding worlds and levels.

In terms of other genres, I think the fourth wall should only be occasionally broken. I think that developers can obviously break the wall, since MGS did, but would rather not, since it's probably a whole lot easier for them to make games that don't rely on the player's input. I think that they think (and I don't know whether they're right or wrong, they being the developer) that players would rather play games as opposed to simulations. If you break down that fourth wall, then it becomes too real, and the developers might be afraid that people won't buy the games because they don't provide enough escapism. But, that's just my opinion on what they're thinking, and possibly wayyyy off.

And finally, as for it taking anything away: I don't really think it does. I would like to see more of this immersion, but not totally. Like I said earlier, it would be excellent to have a game that asks you for commands. But not all games should break this fourth wall. I think there should still be some games that provide mindless escapism; let the developers decide what's best every once in a while.

I see what you're saying and you have some good points.

 

But I think there's something more fundamental that needs to be addressed first, before talking about whether or not developers should break the fourth wall: does breaking the fourth wall help or hurt a game? And I agree that it depends on the game. Some games, it can add to the escapism imo- if the game is actually talking to you and addressing you in a not cheesy and believable way, whose to say it won't suck you in even more? But if it goes overboard or seems forced, it could easily pull you out of the experience

 

As a side note, I think that being pulled out of the experience is what consumers want more now than ever before. 2.4's release lets you listen to your own music in games and let's you check messages- hell, it lets you bring up the whole XMB. So many people were clamoring for that, that I think it's ironic now that some are saying they don't want to break the fourth wall because they want to be completely immersed. That's cool and valid, but if people want to just focus on the game and nothing else, why did so many people ask Sony to let them talk to friends and listen to thier own music while playing?

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Treasure Hunter
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 3, 2008

JDplasma11 wrote:

But I think there's something more fundamental that needs to be addressed first, before talking about whether or not developers should break the fourth wall: does breaking the fourth wall help or hurt a game? And I agree that it depends on the game. Some games, it can add to the escapism imo- if the game is actually talking to you and addressing you in a not cheesy and believable way, whose to say it won't suck you in even more? But if it goes overboard or seems forced, it could easily pull you out of the experience

As a side note, I think that being pulled out of the experience is what consumers want more now than ever before. 2.4's release lets you listen to your own music in games and let's you check messages- hell, it lets you bring up the whole XMB. So many people were clamoring for that, that I think it's ironic now that some are saying they don't want to break the fourth wall because they want to be completely immersed. That's cool and valid, but if people want to just focus on the game and nothing else, why did so many people ask Sony to let them talk to friends and listen to their own music while playing?


I think if they do it right, it could help a game. But you're right when you say that if a game goes overboard, it would probably ruin the experience. I would probably relate a bad broken wall to a Nick Jr. tv show...or, in other words, it would feel like a learning program rather than a game. And I think jcpetersen's right about how the fourth wall shouldn't be the only road we take.

And, to answer your question, I think it's hard to say, really. I think it helps a game. But, then again, it all depends on the game and situation. The wall should probably be broken with caution.

I guess the real question is why wouldn't people want to listen to their own music? I mean, music can be very subjective...and in today's technological society, people just want to do their own thing. They're tired of having to put up with the music that the developers chose as the best fitting music for the mood. As for talking with their friends, I think people want to play games, but they would rather talk while doing it. People aren't REALLY all that concerned with full immersion, or so I believe. And by people, I mean the people who were clamoring for those features. They like to play games because of whatever reason, and if they can concentrate on the game enough to complete it and have satisfaction, and at the same time talk with friends, it makes it all the better. I personally don't like distractions, and I'm pretty open to music diversity, so I'm not really into chatting and having my own music when I play games. But that's just me.

I hope this made sense..I'm a lil tired.
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 3, 2008
I have no idea. Maybe it's the line between developers and consumers. Although I'm not sure how either MGS or MGS4 broke that down. Esspecially since most games immerse you in the story in one form or another.
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 5, 2008

Very interesting topic. I hadn't really considered it. But considering it now, I must say that I can't really see it being a necessary trend. The fourth wall is there by default for a reason, and breaking through it requires an even better reason. It is definitely a technique very effectively used for comedic effect, but any other use is very difficult to pull off and very often comes off bad. This brings to mind a moment in the narration of The Hobbit (not exactly breaking the fourth wall, but close) where Tolkien is describing a distance or a routine, I can't quite remember the details, and he makes a comparison to taking a stroll down to the post office... In The Hobbit, he makes a reference to the post office... Now I realize that there is correspondence in the world of The Hobbit, but the concept of a post office does not exist.... And I remember reading this line... and wanting to throw the book across the room! It was so ludicrous! It sucked me right out of the moment. And every time I think about it, I can't help but laugh in disbelief. It was just that absurd to me. And that may the goal with some artists in employing this technique, but as my perspective of modernist and post-modernist art is not very tolerant, I don't appreciate it much.  I don't want to be preached to, I would rather gather the inferences and make an interpretation of my own. If I wanted to be spoon-fed, I would read an essay, not a novel. Likewise, when I play a video game, I want to be immersed. I don't want that immersion interrupted, which is why I have determined that gamers have incredible willpower-- because it takes an insane amount of willpower to hold in the urge to urinate as much as I know gamers do.

 

Now, from what I've gathered of MGS4 (havn't had the fortune to play it myself, yet), it seems to be heavy on this sort of thing. I will have to wait to determine for myself how Kojima employs this technique. In the first two MGS's, he did similar things (the segment in Arsenal Gear was oozing with it), but to me they worked to immerse me further into the chaos that Snake and Raiden were experiencing. So in those cases, I would say that it was properly implemented. But Kojima is a genius, and I have less faith in other developers in their ability to do the same.

 

And in response to the comment of playing one's own music while playing a video game... I can't even imagine doing that unless the music in a game was just that bad. I have never understood how some people can play video games on low volume or on mute. It is mind-boggling. But then again, I think this goes with the whole immersion effect discussion. I like to be immersed. Others do not. I think that's really what it comes down to. 

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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 8, 2008
I don't really know if it's something to be broken.  I haven't played the games you mentioned but it sounds often like it's holding your hand and guiding you through gimicks (or maybe not I can't say first hand).  This message surprised me though because I just got a PS2 (I've had a psp, but that was my only ps console) and I was thinking of getting the games, but this sounds a bit cheesy to me.  It's almost like in the Simpsons movie when homer tells us, the audience that we are suckers for seing the movie rather than just watching the show for free on tv.  I mean it is clever, but for a series that is known for a dramatic story, it sounds a bit out of place.
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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 8, 2008

Nice thread, JD.

 

I've always had mixed feelings about subjects like this. On one hand, I like the humor of being able to occasionally take myself away from the serious tones of the games and enjoy a laugh that many gamers can relate to. On the other, most of these jokes pull me away from the experience and instead take me to the reality of the real world. This isn't always good because I like to get away from the real world by playing games. I like to immerse myself in a completely new atmosphere that isn't tied in any way to what really goes on in our society. I like to look at these gameplay mechanics that break the "Fourth Wall" as bittersweet. 

 

I think the main reason that developers don't incorporate more actual physical interaction into games, (such as looking at the back of the case for the Codec frequency), is not because they don't know how to necessarily, it's just that they prefer to keep the player completely tied to the game. I don't know, this is kind of a tough subject. One could argue that you're still tied to the game by this physical interaction, but in my opinion, the game starts to feel like an actual game and not a videogame...if that makes sense. I'm just the kind of gamer that likes to play a game that is more serious/grounded with its jokes. Again, that sounds a little weird, but let me explain. 

 

As I said previously, it's sometimes nice to laugh at these jokes, but I more prefer them to not be there or instead altered to realistically fit the story. Call me a bump on a log, but that's just me. I like the fact that Hideo is having fun with the player, but the whole concept of *slight spoiler* Mantis asking Snake to put down the controller for him to vibrate it just feels a little silly to me. Snake doesn't even have a controller at hand, and because of this, I then feel like Mantis is talking to me and not Snake, which is I'm sure what Hideo intended, but an experience like that just simply pulls me out of the game. Mantis goes from talking to Snake, to interacting with me, which isn't what I really want because I want to see him interact with the characters in the game. I want to see how they react to each other, not me *End spoiler*  

 

I like letting myself be completely put into the experience of a game that tries to be itself. I prefer when the story is grounded in the reality of its own atmosphere/world. When I hear out of game jokes, similar to Otacon requesting that you switch discs, I laugh because it's funny that Hideo points out how far we've come with technology, but again, the characters don't have discs, they're just in the MGS world. This again pulls me out of the game slightly.  

 

You say, "So many games take themselves so seriously and never really let the consumer in." I have to agree and disagree here. Of course, it would depend on the gamer though. Some may say that not actually physically interacting with the game may make them feel as if they're not being "let in", and some may say the opposite by saying that they want to forget about the outside world and just be in the game. I feel that a game can take itself completely seriously and still let the gamer in simply because of that reason: it's serious. The gamer doesn't have to worry about jokes that don't really relate to the characters, they can enjoy a game set in its own world. They can experience it without any outside references/jokes that might take them away from the experience. 

 

As I touched on a little above, I feel that developers are slightly afraid that the immersion factor will be broken if they bring in real-world jokes/physical interaction to the game. They aren't related to the game's story so they might deter a few gamers slightly. Plus, it's just something that isn't comfortable for most, both developers and gamers because it hasn't been utilized often. For this generation, I wouldn't really mind if this "Fourth Wall" was broken down more because I think it really is enjoyed by a lot of gamers, but I would prefer it if everything in the game was tied to itself. I like to experience a new world, one that is believeable because it creates its own jokes and everything that's found in it isn't tied to what I have experienced.

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Re: The Fourth Wall? What Wall Is That?

Jul 10, 2008

jcpetersen wrote:

Breaking the fourth wall allows the MGS games to introduce humor to lighten up what would otherwise be tense moments.  But whereas some would see this as clever, others could see this as laziness - instead of guiding the observer via the game's narrative, that narrative must be paused and the immersion broken.  Maybe this isn't true for the MGSgames, but certainly there are developers (maybe not successful ones) who resort to breaking the fourth wall out of laziness and not artistry.

 

Like any tool or device, anything used too often becomes tired and commonplace.  I, for one, appreciate the style of MGS, but I'm happy that not every game goes the same route.  There are other ways to convey a story, and we should not be limited to any of them.


I just wanted to nit-pick at this little statement. Not in this particular instance, but in general. Why is it ever necessary to "lighten up a tense moment"!?!?! I hate when tense moments are lightened up! I like my fiction to be intense. I like it to ooze with tension. I want to be so engrossed in my fiction I don't notice my bladder about to burst. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy comedy, but I don't see the need to infuse it in my non-comedy. I don't think MGS does a bad job of this, but I certainly feel that comedic relief often ruins an experience.

 

Why is it even necessary? Can people really not handle a prolonged tense moment? Bah. Anyway, ignore this message. I don't intend to hijack this thread. 

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