Breaking the Fourth Wall in Games

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An article by Destructoid about using post-modernism to reinvent the horror genre:

A big part of Lovecraftian-style horror involves the fact that humans perceive the world in a certain way, with certain assumptions based on what we can empirically observe and judge. However, this brand of fear postulates there are immortal beings in existence that contradict these assumptions on such a fundamental level that they cause our perceived reality to break down, and drive humans crazy upon seeing how insignificant we are in the universe. Glitches in games can be seen like this, where something goes wrong with how our universe is supposed to function, and we can temporarily glimpse the unfathomable void beyond the programming.

This is not only relevant since I have an interest in creating deeply disturbing horror games and because I just love self-referentiality in practically every medium; it also provides some more food for thought about an experiment I might be producing for Fantoche: A game that purposefully undermines the implicit trust we give the game as a system.

Apparently, this has been done before:

Remember Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem? Some of the best scares from that title came from breaking the fourth wall. The controller would mysteriously disconnect as your defenseless in-game avatar was slaughtered by a group of enemies, your head would blow up when trying to cast a spell, and sometimes the Blue Screen of Death would appear (despite the fact that you were playing on a GameCube). These events all occurred when the character’s sanity was at its lowest, and simulated that character’s perceptions of reality ripping apart at the seams due to the influence of powers beyond all mortal ken.

Even though my game won’t go into the horror realm, my game is about establishing a system that seems to implicitly follow the rules of “normal games”, but breaking them after some time. Even if it isn’t built to give you the shivers, it should provide some double-take moments.

Edit 2010-10-01

Apparently, Amnesia: The Dark Descent does a similar thing. According to Sebe, the bugs on the screen is one of the element that makes an appearance as well.