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Breaking the Fourth Wall in Videogames

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Abstract

In this chapter, I investigate the imaginary boundary between the actual world and fictional gameworlds by focusing on videogame situations in which this fourth wall is foregrounded or broken. For this purpose, I first define the videogame experience as a self-involving, interactive fiction experience, based on Kendall Walton’s account of fiction (1990). I then describe how, in the current academic discourse on games, it is often claimed that the concept of fourth wall breaks cannot be applied to videogames due to their inherent interactivity. Within game studies, the consensus seems to be that the boundaries between the real and the fictional world are always already blurred in videogame experiences. This chapter instead shows how using interactive, digital technologies to represent fictional worlds does not necessarily complicate the conceptualization of the fourth wall, but rather reveals new ways in which it can be broken. More precisely, this chapter discusses how appreciators of videogames can not only actively participate in fourth wall breaks, but are also uniquely able to initiate these breaks themselves.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-88793-3_8
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Notes

  1. 1.

    As discussed before, Walton was convinced that all experiences of fiction involve de se imaginings: an appreciator of a fictional work is always also a participant in the fictional world represented by this work. Even if we do not agree with this thesis, what Walton says is certainly true for interactive fictional media such as videogames. Also, even though Walton indeed did not analyse videogames in Mimesis as Make-Believe, he does mention “interactive fiction for computers” once in this work, in a footnote to his discussion of fourth wall breaks (1990, p. 235).

  2. 2.

    In their chapter in Transgressions in Games and Play, Mortensen and Navarro-Remesal already hint at the possibility of players breaking the fourth wall for other players in multiplayer games. They describe situations in which “the fourth wall is assaulted with direct addresses and in-jokes to break the unity of the ludo-fiction” (2019, p. 37).

  3. 3.

    I do acknowledge that there are extreme cases in which game objects are interacted with while completely disregarding their fictional aspects. Examples of this are so-called game data mining or the reverse engineering of games, in which people look through a game’s code (without even entering the game or its fictional world) or investigate how the game was made to find out what the use and functions of the game’s objects are. Whenever a game’s world is entered from a player perspective, however, there will always be an, albeit very minimal, fictional dimension.

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Correspondence to Nele Van de Mosselaer .

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Van de Mosselaer, N. (2022). Breaking the Fourth Wall in Videogames. In: Terrone, E., Tripodi, V. (eds) Being and Value in Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88793-3_8

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