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Editorial Entertainment Games

The Player Is and Is Not the Character 152

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-agree-and-disagree dept.
Jill Duffy writes "GameCareerGuide has posted an intellectual article about video games which argues there is no such thing as 'breaking the fourth wall' in games. Written by Matthew Weise, a lead game designer for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, the article considers the complex relationship between video game players and characters. Weise says that, unlike in theater and film, video games don't ever really break the fourth wall, as it were, because in games, there is no wall. Players are always tethered to the technology, and the player is always just as much the main character as not the main character. Weise looks at both modern experimental games, like Mirror's Edge, as well as old classics, like Sonic the Hedgehog, to defend his point. He writes, 'Both avatars and the technological devices we use to control them are never simply in one reality. They are inherently liminal entities, contributing to a mindset that we, as players, exist in two realities at once. It's just as natural for a player to say, "I defeated that boss," as it is to say, "Snake defeated that boss," since Snake is and is not the player at the same time. It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one. All she did was press a button.'"
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The Player Is and Is Not the Character

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  • Really.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Darkness404 (1287218)

    video games don't ever really break the fourth wall, as it were, because in games, there is no wall.

    Ummm... Yes there is. Play the Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES (and Donkey Kong Land for the Game Boy) and you will find many, many fourth-wall breaking comments.

    • Re:Really.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @01:24AM (#25896105) Journal

      It's all a bunch of pseudo psychobabble anyway. Plenty of games break the fourth wall, but as this poorly written nonsense says there IS no wall. Which is of course nonsense.

      Unless the participant is actively acknowledged, that is a fourth wall.

      Metal Gear Solid, Snake never looks out of the screen at you and engages you. I can think of plenty of games where the character you play does. Just like there's a fair few movies where a character breaks the fourth wall.

      I mean really, what the hell is the point of the article? Writing for the sake of it offering no real insight or cogent, intelligent thought.

      The more I think about it, the more I'm amazed that this made it to the front page. Clearly the key is writing an article that appears intelligent but really isn't is the key.

      And I've now spent all this time commenting on an utterly worthless and pointless article that serves no purpose other than to give some random guys opinion. An opinion which is utterly ill-informed, ill-conceived, and totally irrelevant to anything.

      • by Kamineko (851857)

        Metal Gear Solid, Snake never looks out of the screen at you and engages you. I can think of plenty of games where the character you play does. Just like there's a fair few movies where a character breaks the fourth wall.

        He does in Twin Snakes, you know.

        • I apologize profusely for not having played every single Metal Gear game ever.:)

          Out of interest, is it a funny? Wasn't Twin Snakes the one that was sort of a remake of the original Metal Gear Solid? I really don't remember now.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Hahnsoo (976162)
            There are plenty of other places in many other Metal Gear games where the 4th wall is broken. Even in the first Metal Gear Solid, you had to get a codec code from the back of the actual physical CD case of the game. There was no way in-game to get this codec code to progress, and the characters within the game mention "It's on the back of your CD case" directly to the player. Another similar instance happens during the Psycho Mantis battle. Oh, and Twin Snakes IS the remake of the original Metal Gear So
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, the fourth wall is notably and clearly broken a couple of times in Metal Gear Solid. Once when Campbell tells you to look on the back of the CD case to find Meryl's codec frequency and once when he suggests that you use the player 2 controller so that Psycho Mantis can't read your mind.

        There are many more sophisticated ways of breaking the fourth wall than "having a character look out at the screen and engage you". I think the point of the article in question is that the player is always activel

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by trdrstv (986999)

          Actually, the fourth wall is notably and clearly broken a couple of times in Metal Gear Solid...

          There are many more sophisticated ways of breaking the fourth wall than "having a character look out at the screen and engage you".

          Yeah, Eternal Darkness was a bitch for using the "Sanity meter" to F*ck with the player...

          What!?!?! I went to save! Why is it erasing my file? Why is it back to the Title screen!?!?!?! Oh Shit Oh Shit Oh Shit... Oh, thank GOD that was an illusion...

    • by PurpleBob (63566)

      Yep. There's also EarthBound which breaks the fourth wall as part of the plot. The dialogue in the game makes it entirely clear that you are not Ness, which this article would claim never happens.

      I'm surprised that a game designer for GAMBIT would make such an easily-refutable statement. I'd say that the weaker thesis of the article -- that breaking the fourth wall doesn't actually harm gameplay -- is reasonable, on the other hand.

  • In terms of storyline, absolutely there is a sense of breaking the fourth wall. In terms of environment of the game, this article is correct, in terms of the relationship between the game & the player(s0, but depending on the games script, walls may or may not exist.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:29AM (#25895793)

    Circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because circular logic works because...

  • I just hit refresh and it flipped views. Tested on 3 browsers by two physical computers.

    Anyone?

    • by TypoNAM (695420)

      I am getting the same thing. Is it just me or is slashdot slowly turning into a web 2.0 turd like sourceforge has become? It isn't anymore functional than static HTML (of which I prefer) and it actually puts me off. Shit is ending up in places where it doesn't belong like as you have pointed out the firehorse is now merged into my user page. :(

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        They have to get us to do the editors' job somehow.
        • That's what I noticed too:
          Slashdot is now pushing people into rating articles in a very annoying way. I guess GP is right about Slashdot becoming a "web 2.0 turd"

  • Every time I play Tetris, I just... I can't distinguish between games and reality.
  • A rebuttal in (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:40AM (#25895863)

    A common pet hate that shows there is a 4th wall in games is loading screens.

    You know, those messages on screen while the game accesses the disk, explaining that the game is accessing the disk... please wait... *spins-CD-onscreen*

    If it didn't annoy anyone it wouldn't be complained about so much, but I've read complaints about loading screens for over 20 years. Amiga Power magazine wrote an article about why it was a "heartbreakingly terrible idea". The Edge wrote a feature on stupid ideas and included it. C+VG complained about disk loading screens. The official playstation magazine wrote about it and mocked one game's animated loading screen as being "worthy of the CDTV. Yes, Amiga.". And Xboxlive reviews frequently complain about network loading screens that tell you you're playing a game.

    Reviews frequently criticised games: "Firstly, it prints up "Loading Please Wait" in between each level reminding us that this is not a fantastic world in which we are an absorbed major player. THIS IS ONLY A COMPUTER GAME. Grr."

    It seems like this is an excellent case in point to show that the 4th wall does exist in games. People do get lost in games and anything that ruins a carefully crafted mood is a bad idea. There's no excuse for it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by shentino (1139071)

      What would you rather have instead of loading screens?

      Expect the devs to be such good engineers that they are not needed in the first place?

      Have the game FREEZE while data gets loaded?

      Hardware has it's limitations.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by g0at (135364)

        Hardware has it's limitations.

        And grammar has it is limitations too!

      • limitations (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Garganus (890454)
        I'm utterly convinced those hardware limitations are well beyond the performance we trudge through. As a gamer and programmer, this just irks me to no end.
        When a game is first launching, screw the 3d map loading to display behind the main menu (*cough* HL2, et al.), just give us text and load the pretty if it has time to idle. While a cut/intro movie is playing, the disc drive's lens motor should be going nuts, scanning back and forth between buffering the movie and reading data for the next level (or bette
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TriezGamer (861238)

          .kkrieger might be tiny, but it's a horrible example to use here. .kkriegers' proceedural generation takes WAAAAAAAAY longer than any modern load times.

      • I think anyone with a reasonable amount of experience with gaming and/or programming is fully well aware that loading screens were not invented because the developer thought they looked pretty and wanted to give the player a short break anyway.

        That being said, the abscence of a simple solution does not make the problem less relevant. In basically any story-driven game, immersion into the game universe is preferred, and loading screens are definitely having a negative impact on immersion. Yes, hardware ha
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Author of your the parent's parent (#25895863) responds,

        What would you rather have instead of loading screens?

        Now that is a good question. Mostly we're against "Loading..." because it kills the suspension of disbelief. Even changing 'Loading' to "Traveling to next world..." or a few pictures of a guy cooking dinner and then sleeping by a fire waiting for the next day, or in an elevator with flashing lights passing the characters face as the zoom up the next floor, or a comic book that develops the story, or

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Personally I would rather have loading screens.

          Call me an oddball, but I rather like knowing what my hardware's up to.

          Furthermore, having a "Loading" screen to remind you that you're still in the real world gives you time to take a short break, take a piss, get a snack, etc...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Oblivion uses cells, continuously loaded and unloaded around the player. Some game uses elevators, during the elevator trip the game is loading the next area, I think half-life had some of those. Some game have a large low poly area which gets detailed as the player comes near (as the various GTA). Some other games make the transition happening visually, or presents mini games to cover up the loading.

        In the end, those are all tricks, and the loading is there, it's inevitable. But there are way to make it h
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Spacelem (189863)

          Saving is essential in some games, particularly if they're long (e.g. get a call and need to head out, don't want to leave computer running). The nethack style of one attempt at the whole thing is pretty evil, and gives games an arcade feeling. Maybe it didn't matter for certain games in the past, and for a very few current ones (e.g. Ikaruga, which is short anyway, and the point is to get a high score), but games these days normally have far more taking place and last longer.

          If games like Half-Life decided

          • I'm not against checkpoint, I'm more against branching. It's extremely difficult to do it right, but as a rare example look at Fable II: reaching zero hit points comes with penalties (scars, mainly), or Fate, where death costs you gold and experience.

            The approach I'd like to see more is not a la nethack, which I like for roguelikes but as you say is quite inapplicable for other games (and unfun); the approach I'd like is to hold players to their choices - in game where this is applicable: in games which a
      • Well mass effect tried to hide the loading screens with elevators....

        THAT was annoying.

        Hey now that I just had a huge firefight, watch me sit in this elevator while I wait for my next firefight.

      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        Being a homebrew game dev I've always given this much thought, and I think, why on Earth does such a sophisticated game as Half Life 2 or Call of Duty 4 MP need have static pre-rendered screens when loading something? It seems to me like no-one really ever puts much thought in it, and think that it's just the way it's meant to be.

        What you really should do depends on your game, but here's a thought : for example, in a FPS, you can find yourself directly enclosed in a vehicle/small room. This would be so fast

      • by Sobrique (543255)
        Actually I liked the system shock 2/bioshock method.

        Build in a lift (elevator) or airlock/bulkhead. Wrap an animation around it happening, to hide the fact that you've loaded a tiny bit of level, and are busy loading the rest whilst 'something' appears to be happening.

      • by Sparton (1358159)

        I call shenanigans. The Metriod Prime series was famous for it's "no loading screens" by using doors that only opened when the next area was fully loaded, or masking it behind cut scenes.

        If the Wii can do it, I hope to hell the XBox 360 and PS3 can handle it.

      • ...Resident Evil. It had loading screens, but they were well thought out. You'd get to a door and press the action/use button to go through, the screen would go dark and show you an animation of a door opening. Everyone knew what was going on, you could hear the Playstation accessing the CD, but showing that animation instead of presenting a "PLEASE WAIT, LOADING..." screen was enough that you could suspend disbelief if you so chose.
      • What would you rather have instead of loading screens?

        A short, unskippable cut scene. Final Fantasy VII used a blitter feedback effect on the frame buffer when switching from the movement view to the combat view, and it showed the battle debriefing when switching back to the movement view. Super Mario Galaxy shows Mario flying away from the observatory toward a planetary system, and it looks wonderful. To cover loading when you first start a game, put up the copyright screens and info on how to use the controller, like Wii games do. In games with a large, ope

    • If I had mod points I'd mod you purely for the Amiga Power reference. God I miss those guys. Only completely honest games magazine to ever exist. Team 17 once tried to sue them for giving a bad review, their entire argument being "Everyone else liked it".

      I don't mind loading screens too much. I remember spending 10-15 minutes loading stuff from tape. I had one game ("Ace" on the Commodore Plus 4) that took 30 minutes to load.

      A minor loading delay these days doesn't bother me.

      I really don't see the big deal,

    • That's why those elevator rides take so long in Mass Effect. They added some news blurbs (which sometimes start quests) and conversations to fill the time, but they're mostly to hide long loads. A lot of players have complained about them, but I'll give BioWare credit for finding a way to use that time for plot and character development, not just a progress bar and some hint text.

      I hear Dice used the same technique in Mirror's Edge, but without the witty bon mots from Wrex, it just wouldn't be the same.

    • It seems like this is an excellent case in point to show that the 4th wall does exist in games. People do get lost in games and anything that ruins a carefully crafted mood is a bad idea. There's no excuse for it.

      But that doesn't mean it's true for everyone. The example in the summary isn't a good one, IMHO, but think I do see what he means, and I'm not sure how interruptions to this experience are supposed to refute it, anyway.

    • by localman (111171)

      I remember a GI Joe game for the C64 that involved an enormous amount of disk switching and loading. It attempted to mitigate this by not having a loading screen: instead, when loading the next section it would display an animation of armored vehicles heading out of the base at an excruciatingly slow pace. This was supposed to be a cut-scene of Joe or Cobra heading to the impending battle.

      But here's the thing: it still broke the 4th wall because it was so obvious. It would have been annoying in any case

  • Immersion... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by socrplayr813 (1372733) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:43AM (#25895869)

    It's just as natural for a player to say, "I defeated that boss," as it is to say, "Snake defeated that boss," since Snake is and is not the player at the same time. It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one. All she did was press a button.

    I don't agree with this at all. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything like "Snake defeated the boss." He's a representation of you and can't do anything on his own. You're the one doing the work to finish the game. It makes no sense for me to give him credit for beating the boss.

    I think any game developer that is trying to tell a story should be just as wary of breaking the fourth wall as any author/playwright/director. The point of many/most stories is to draw the audience in. The interactivity in games is a much stronger tool than anything in the other forms of entertainment. This doesn't apply to all games, of course, but developers should be careful about breaking that immersion if they're telling a story.

    • Re:Immersion... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Xiroth (917768) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @01:10AM (#25896045)

      And I don't agree with you at all. I frequently refer to characters as opposed to myself - not usually in actions, as I'm much more in control of the action, but in terms of properties ("He's got good magic skills but terrible agility") or narrative ("She was Light Side and destroyed the Star Forge") I usually prefer to speak in the third person. I'd say that this is because I'm more interested in the story than in immersion - I actually find it uncomfortable to be immersed too much in the game. I'm me, not some fictional character, and I don't like losing track of that, even briefly.

      • by Qetu (732155)

        Don't fall asleep, you may dream.

      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        Obviously the properties are tied to the character, any other player using your save would see the same properties. What's tied to you is your ability and what you do with it.

    • I don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything like "Snake defeated the boss."

      Yeah, no one ever says something like that, but people blame the character for things that go wrong all the time: "I had almost beaten that boss until stupid Snake decided not to fire his stupid gun when I told him to."

      People congratulate themselves for progress and successes, but blame the game for errors and failure pretty often. I guess you could say the immersion is broken when things don't behave as they're supposed to.

      It's also strange that the post specifically mentions Metal Gear, as that series is

      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        When people blame the game that means they haven't notice anything that went wrong on their part and felt the failure was beyond their control. It's frustrating when you lose progress through no fault of your own.

    • Re:Immersion... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @02:02AM (#25896311) Homepage

      I am a game developer. And while I have the highest respect for Gambit, I have to disagree with Matthew Weise here (and, strangely, agree with Ernest Adams).

      Parent poster is spot on... Any 4th wall violations in video gaming should be very carefully planned. One of Weise's arguments is because the technology is always inherently present, game / reality interactions are less intrusive. I'd argue that because the technology is always present, creation of a true suspension of disbelief is incredibly difficult, and inherently more valuable.

      All semantics aside, you're trying to get the player into a flow state where they forget the controller, and interact with the video-game world as if their own didn't exist. If you have done that, you have successfully engaged the player. There is definitely some degree of "press the X button to continue" that players have been trained to accept without losing that sense of engagement. But at some point you're arguing that the player *should* remain engaged due to syntactic reasoning, rather than dealing with the reality of how average people interact with their entertainment.

      I'd argue that Psycho Mantis in MGS was more of a clever parlor trick or large explosion than a shining example of player interaction. MGS is an interesting choice, as it is notorious for finding all new and unique sharks to jump. Lots of players complained about broken immersion at the end of MGS2, and most of MGS4.

      Of course, all of this is academic until you hook the player's head up to some electrodes and see how their brain pattern responds to real stimulus. Unfortunately, I don't have one of those labs handy. We may have to agree to disagree until such a time as we can get some time on loan.

      • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
        I really appreciated the fact that you began your post with "I am a game developer", and not "IAAGD (I am a game developer)".
      • "...as well as old classics, like Sonic the Hedgehog..."

        Actually walk away from the controller in Sonic for about a minute, just put it down and wait. Sonic will look at you and tap his foot while looking at his watch. I'd say that breaks the 4th wall.

    • by jd (1658)

      Depends on the level you're talking about and the interface used. I'd consider many MMORGs, MUDs and "interactive fiction" games to make it extremely hard to differentiate between the character and the player. I'd consider games like Elite, Virus 2000 and TORCS to likewise blur the boundaries substantially. If you add in the current work on CAVE systems, neural interfaces and other such gizmos, you can definitely see the possibilities of a total collapse between virtual environments and reality. Mind you, I

    • Interestingly though, when a new game is about to come out in a series, people ask "I wonder what will happen next", not "I wonder what I'll be able to do next".
      • by Peeteriz (821290)

        Depends on the genre possibly, but I see the completely contrary viewpoint, where the focus in previews of the next installments is in checking out the gameplay tweaks and small feature additions, and the story twists are mostly disregarded, with a vague paragraph about the new bad-guys-of-the-month.

    • I don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything like "Snake defeated the boss." He's a representation of you and can't do anything on his own.

      Depends. I certainly never hear someone say that while referring to an action they initiated in the game (killed the guy, got the treasure, met a new contact), but it happens during other parts of the game, like cutscenes.

      In fact, I just realised I did that the other day talking about Crysis Warhead. I was discussing it with some friends, and usually it's "I
  • Two fourth walls (Score:3, Informative)

    by coppro (1143801) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:43AM (#25895871)
    I disagree. The video game has a double-layered fourth wall, from a narrative point of view. While it's true that the character does act according to the player's actions, there are two very definite fourth walls visible. The first is the existence of the game period, and is broken when a character instructs you to, say, press the A button, but as if it were a part of natural speech. The character's speech acknowledges the video game, but only in the sense to convey information to the player. The other manner is when the characters actually break the fourth wall (such as in Super Paper Mario, when the player is addressed as "Hey, you! Yeah, you, in front of the TV!" (quote is from memory)).
    • So don't make other characters tell you to "press the A button". If you don't relegate the tutorial to a separate, optional, level, try to do it in an immersive fashion. I guess a tutorial can't be 100% immersive but it doesn't have to be such an immersion breaker. Say, I do find it silly when I'm playing a FPS game where my character is some elite soldier, and the game starts with an instructor telling him how move and how to use the scope on his rifle. An example of how to it better - Fallout 3. The openi

  • Integration... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Metasquares (555685) <.slashdot. .at. .metasquared.com.> on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:44AM (#25895877) Homepage

    One of the interesting properties of the video game medium is being the cause of in-game events. Sure, there's programming governing every action that takes place in the game world. But your input is triggering various parts of that programming. Your choices are the character's choices.

    Given this, it only makes sense that the player should come to identify more closely with the character being controlled in a video game than with a character in a passive medium, such as TV. Even good books that make you empathize or somehow resonate with characters don't really relate the characters to you; it's as if the character is someone you know going through some sort of drama (the drama being the plot of the book). The character in a book is another person.

    • by cowscows (103644)

      Yeah, but still, there's usually a pretty big disconnect. Mainly due to my motivation for playing the game vs. the character's in-game motivation.

      I couldn't care less whether Princess Peach gets rescued from Bowser. But if I'm having a good time jumping around as Mario, he'll eventually save her. If I get bored, then I guess she'll just have to deal. Now Mario games aren't particularly story driven, and I have played games where I've gotten a bit emotionally invested in the characters. (KOTOR was one that c

  • bogus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:47AM (#25895909)

    It's just as natural for a player to say, "I defeated that boss," as it is to say, "Snake defeated that boss," since Snake is and is not the player at the same time.

    I have never once heard anyone ever say "Snake defeated that boss". Not once. Not Ever.

    I get what the author is saying, but that was a dud example. Depending on the game, the protagonist avatars may be connected to different degrees to the player. Some games like quake, there is only me. My space marine projection is naught but me. Other games like Sam and Max have very strong characters. I control them, at some of the time, but they have their own personality separate from me. And there is a continuum from one extreme to the other.

    Most players that I know instinctively differentiate between things the character does as a direct result of the player control, and the things the character does as a result of the game script. And take or deny 'ownership' of the action appropriately. And sometimes they acknowledge the control... like "Watch me make snake jump off a cliff..." But if Snake does something in a cut scene for example, there would be few players who would would say "I did X..." when describing it.

    It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one. All she did was press a button.'"

    This might come as a shock to the article author, but when someone shoots someone in a movie, in reality, no one got shot either.

    • by dj245 (732906)
      I think multiplayer avatar interactions are much more interesting. In most MMOs, players will not stand directly in each other. I think this is a violation of a player's personal space. Nearby players who are messaging will stand at "speaking distance", even though it makes no difference to the game's chat mechanism how far apart they are. There are many other examples as well.
    • by Thyran (1378783)
      I agree with you, I think self-referencing goes no deeper than a language problem. It reminds me of that QI episode where Stephen Fry mentions that there are 32 words for demonstrative pronouns. Antithetically, no one has made up a word in the English language carrying the definition "the character in this game that I'm controlling". If there was we'd all be using that word.

      I wouldn't know if there has already been an attempt to make up a word.

      • by Thyran (1378783)
        It reminds me of that QI episode where Stephen Fry mentions that there are 32 words for demonstrative pronouns in the Aleut language.

        Fixed!

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      I half concur.

      I've never heard "snake killed the boss". All and every time it's "I did it".

      However on:

      > This might come as a shock to the article author, but when someone shoots someone in a
      > movie, in reality, no one got shot either.

      In a game we could say:

      1 - Snake punched the guy.
      2 - I punched the guy.
      3 - I pressed the button.

      Option 1 doesn't happen because the player isn't a spectator, but there's an implied question in the article: "why doesn't 3 happen?"

    • by luke2063 (1137533)

      I have never once heard anyone ever say "Snake defeated that boss". Not once. Not Ever.

      Would you expect to hear "Cloud attacked the undead Zombie, but that didn't do much, then when Tifa gave it a Phoenix Down it died"
      or
      "I attacked the undead Zombie, but that didn't do much, then when Tifa gave it a Phoenix Down it died"

      I would expect the first example to be the more common, despite Cloud being the primary protagonist, and your avatar for the non combat parts of the game.

      Although I guess more people would say "I used Cloud to attack the undead Zombie, but that didn't do much, then whe

      • People say, "I defeated the boss", but they don't (usually?) say "I did *something that happened in a cutscene*", or especially "I said *something that the character said*" (whether in a cutscene or not)

        I think that the latter one, especially, is why Half Life's "silent protagonist" works so well. In a game without cutscenes, having Gordon say something would break the player's identity with the character. In games that have cutscenes, we (players) seem to automatically make the distinction, anyway.

        I migh

        • by Draek (916851)

          Excellent post, but there's a single issue I'd like to respond to:

          I think that the latter one, especially, is why Half Life's "silent protagonist" works so well. In a game without cutscenes, having Gordon say something would break the player's identity with the character.

          Except that not saying anything is *still* a choice. For me, Gordon Freeman breaks my identity as a player because I *wouldn't* stand silent during the events he has witnessed and the situations he's have to deal with, so when he does stay silent (and other characters react as such), I feel "this Gordon Freeman character is a real jerk", nothing to do with me per se.

          Perhaps a better example of the silent protagonist done right is the Chrono s

    • by Robyrt (1305217)
      That example would have been a lot better in fighting games, where it is common to hear "Justin's Chun Li is very strong" as well as "Justin pulled off a great sweep kick". This is because they have already disconnected characters from backstory by allowing both players to be Chun Li, and the winne
  • If you have "clue" and "no clue", is that zen or just postmodern?

    • by mazarin5 (309432)

      If you have "clue" and "no clue", is that zen or just postmodern?

      It's both as well as neither.

  • by no reason to be here (218628) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @01:14AM (#25896059) Homepage

    to counter his point.

    In the original Sonic the Hedgehog, if you stopped giving input, after a few seconds, sonic would stare out (presumably) at the player and begin tapping his foot impatiently. Direct address of the audience is, if I am not mistaken, the classic example of breaking the 4th wall.

    • Exactly. When a character, in ANY medium, acknowledges the person, whether they be controlling them, merely watching etc... That's breaking the fourth wall. Many games do this. Sonic was one. I've had other games where the character "taps" on the screen.

      Just like in movies (first one that springs to mind is Affleck and Damon in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"), if it's done well, it's funny.

      I'm just really not sure what the author of this article was trying to get at. It seems like they are grasping at som

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        You know it, but... a Jay and Silent Bob movie? Feature length? Who'd pay to see that?
        [Holden, Jay, and Bob look into the camera]
    • by basicio (1316109)

      You are missing the point of the article. Which says that the fourth wall in games can't be broken because it doesn't exist in the first place.

      Whether or not you agree with that, your example does nothing to counter that point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Veggiesama (1203068)

      The author preemptively counters your counterpoint:

      Sonic's impatience (nor anything else about his personality) is not made apparent otherwise. It only becomes evident by watching how he reacts to his relationship with the player. If the player is slow or absent-minded, Sonic isn't happy. This may be a very simple example, but I think it serves to illustrate just how bound up fiction can be with interface elements in games. Sonic is aware of his relationship with the game controller, and with the player, and reacts to them within the psychological parameters set by the game's fiction. Just because he is being puppeteered by the player does not mean that Sonic ceases to be himself. He is holding up his end of the relationship, "So what is your problem?" he seems to be thinking. Should you, the player, fail to perform, he stares at you in frustrated apprehension, as if he were your co-actor on stage and you had forgotten your line in the middle of a performance. Sonic isn't breaking the fiction [i.e., fourth wall] - you are. He's just sitting there, in character, waiting for you to join him in the game world.

      (emphasis mine)

      It's a complicated argument, but essentially, the author says there is no fourth wall. The relationship between the gamer and the game is different than the relationship between the audience and the conventional theater.

      The author acknowledges that the narrative of a game can break the fourth wall (numerous adventure games do this), but he argues that the gameplay itself cannot, because the relation between avatar and player is usually quite

    • by ost (99172)

      Another example would be Max Payne where at some point you take the elevator where the classic annoying elevator music is played. You shoot the speaker (because you can in a game) and Max Payne goes "Thank you.".

      First time I played that I nearly fell off the chair laughing :)

      Uhm, of course Max takes the elevator and shoots, you just make him... or whatever.

  • by DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @01:15AM (#25896061)

    What, is this some sort of Schrodinger's player?

    • +1 Nimoy as on "I am and am not Spock."

      It means that the character is no longer discardable because it has irrevocably infused real life with insights not otherwise attainable, but it stops short of psychological conditions in which someone lives the character and believes it (rather than performance art).

    • HAHAHA! I wish I had mod points as that's great.

  • The author seems to be saying that because the user has greater connection with the events on screen, there is no fourth wall. He has a point, but he misses the point. Yes, the fourth wall that keeps the user from affecting events on screen has disappeared, but it could never be broken by the actors in movies anyway. What "breaking the fourth wall" really refers to is interfering with complete immersion or complete escapism. A few exceptional cases in film have broken the fourth wall successfully, but m
    • Games break the fourth wall all the time. Any time a game tells you what button to press, there was a conscious decision at some point to break the wall. If the wall was never broken, then it wouldn't be a game; it'd be a long cinema scene or something (think: why do people like Valve games and complain about long MGS/Final Fantasy cutscenes?). Because of this, the author says there is no fourth wall, because the gamer is an integral part of the experience (I think it's a lot more profound than it sounds).

      M

  • It seems to me that the relationship between the player and the avatar, while not without its complexity, is pretty much identical to a relationship with which we are already familiar: the user and the tool. Avatars have the curious property of being entirely virtual; but they are really very little different than the other tools that we've been using since sometime in the "grunting hominids of the savanna" stage.
  • Punchline (Score:5, Funny)

    by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @02:36AM (#25896517)

    It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one. All she did was press a button.'"

    Likewise, I could say "I punched the monkey" when in reality, all I did was install a keylogger.

  • What happens when virtual reality becomes as real as actual reality?

    What happens when these "threshold markers" [i.e., controllers, or the technological interfaces between game and gamer] become invisible to the user? Has this already happened to some degree?

    (I remember playing F-Zero for a long time one day. A few hours later while actually driving, I had a fleeting impulse to double-tap the trigger button to butt another driver off the road. Of course, the car didn't have a trigger button. Still, it was e

    • by a.deity (665042)
      I'd say the immersion is better with the threshold markers in place, your example being perfect of that. When Crazy Taxi came out on the Dreamcast, I kept thinking to myself, "I bet I can get there faster if I shift to reverse, hit the gas, then back to drive and hit the gas again!" Luckily, the fact that I wasn't holding a controller made it obvious that it wouldn't work like that, but the compulsion (even just a small voice in the back of your mind) is still there. Glad I don't drive a car with a DC contr
  • I hear there's no spoon either. Now there's no wall. So now I have no privacy in my difficulties in consuming my soup.... Great.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @03:16AM (#25896701) Homepage

    This article is a bad rehash of a 2004 Gamasutra article. [gamecareerguide.com] It doesn't improve much on that article, although it should. There are some significant issues to explore here.

    A good starting issue is the relationship between graphical viewpoint and literary viewpoint. In some games, the player has exactly the viewpoint of the character they're controlling. In others, the player is a step back from the character graphically. Tomb Raider is an example. Note that in Tomb Raider, you're controlling Lara Croft, but you're not her, as her commentary makes clear.

    Looking out from the character's viewpoint creates the problem that the player sometimes needs a bigger field of view than the screen provides. There have been a few attempts to fix this problem with VR-type hardware, but those are rare, and if you've ever played a game in full gloves-and-goggles VR gear, you know why. Providing view-direction controls is usually painful for gameplay. That's what drives game designers towards a remote viewpoint.

    This is completely independent of the literary viewpoint. There are games where the user is the character, there are games where the user drives the character, and there are games like the Sims where the user can only influence the character. These are literary conventions, independent of the graphical viewpoint. There seems to be a convention that if your viewpoint is from the character's eye position, you are the character. Once the viewpoint takes a step back, the possibility of some disassociation from the character is opened up.

    Now consider shared virtual worlds with avatars. In Second Life, your avatar is you - no question. Most MMORPGs are like that. Why? Because you're held responsible for the acts of your avatar. If you're a jerk in Second Life, it has consequences. Life in Everquest has duties; when your guild is raiding, you're expected to be there fighting with them.

    All this is well known in the game design community. The article doesn't really capture the subtle issues.

  • ... really the whole point of playing an interactive game is to be there, to be present, to be interacting. The "avatar" is merely a game developers idea of what kinds of avatars will appeal generally to a broad audience. Personally the thing that got me so hooked on Galactiv Civilizations 2 and Need for speed underground, was the ability to shape and customize your "avatar" (in GC2 it was ships, in NFS it was cars), to a greater or lesser degree. NFS was limited by the designs of the cars themselves and

  • It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one. All she did was press a button.'"

    Last night I tried out the game Rose and Camellia. Google it, it's great! Anyway, after playing I went up to my wife and said, "I slapped her on the cheek!". My wife then explained to me that going around slapping women until they pass it out is a bad thing. Apparently this is true even though I was a woman while I was doing it. Slapping anyone silly is bad, no mat

  • Well, this all depends upon whether or not you separate the overall game experience from the plot and presentation of the gamestory. In Metal Gear Solid, when psycho mantis comments on the games that the player has loaded on his save card, that is indeed breaking the fourth wall. You can make an arguement about the lack of a fourth wall from a gameplay perspective, but the actual plot construction in video games has very little philosophical difference to that of cinema. Storys take place in the game world,

  • > It is likewise natural for a player to say, "I punched an enemy soldier," when in reality, she punched no one.

    Yes, and people say "he hit me" when someone hits their car. No, they hit your car. You are not your car. Do not break the "driver's fourth wall".

    TFA doesn't seem to really understand the difference between immersion and investiture into a role.

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