The Evolution of Fourth Wall Breaking Games

The Evolution of Fourth Wall Breaking Games

Before I begin this video I wanted to quickly
mention that my merchandise has been released! Yes I know there’s been a significant lack
of advertising in a main channel video owing to some external reasons, but at least I’m
back to let you know that you could buy a hoodie and a poster! More information about
that as well as some extra details on my whereabouts will be left at the end of the video. Now
onto your regularly scheduled feature presentation. Video games are fun. They offer something
that movies and podcasts and books and ebooks and v-books aren’t able to provide, which
is allowing you to immerse yourself in an environment that you have complete control
in. Most of the time. It’s becoming a little cliche to constantly bring that point up about
video games every single time I make a video about them, but the point is always the same.
As opposed to movies and books where no matter how many gimmicks they put in to try and immerse
you in the product, there’s still a divide between the real world and the world that
is projected onto your 2 double decker bus height screen, video games have that link
that flows from the HDMI cable from the screen to your console of choice, then from a port
on that console all the way into your controller where you are the master of the universe that’s
been shoved in front of you. The entire point of a game obviously is for the person to play
it, and the decisions that are made in the process would influence the rest of the game,
even if its a simple endless runner or a game of Minesweeper. Some films are starting to
use this concept to influence the way they go about making their products such as Netflix’s
Black Mirror episode… Bandersnatch. You notice this all over social media, choose
your own adventure films flooding your feed when they are made once in a blue moon, with
the intention of these films being to give the control of the narrative to the player
and making them choose where to go from their position. Sometimes this is cool and good
and innovative, but once the novelty wears off it becomes very tedious. People want to
sit back and watch a film, not be alert throughout the whole thing and miss an on screen QTE
because they left the room to go and check on a Discord ping and now the film character
is dead and the credits are rolling. Choose your adventure products like Bandersnatch
have a major plot-line about them that is very relevant to this video, and I’ll leave
you guys to guess what it is! It’s to do with a video game! It all loops back to the
fact that the product in question is a game itself. And what better genre to showcase
this than with the horror genre, and no this isn’t an excuse for me to talk about horror
games again for 20 minutes, I swear. When you watch horror films, all you can really
do is witness the carnage as the main character does an unbelievably stupid decision before
your very eyes. It’s not like they can hear you screeching bloody murder through the screen,
they’ve already been preprogrammed by the director to do what they are told to do and
what they’re told to do is be stupid. With a horror game on the other hand, you are now
the brainlet as you make the really stupid decision to look in that really dark corridor
without a flashlight and walk right into a dimension of nothingness to be greeted with
2 white dots and teeth. Throughout the years, game developers have utilised a new way to
involve players in their twisted little games, by making game protagonists aware that they’re
in a game or making them aware that their actions are not their own. Or maybe making
the game itself interact with you. Not the character you’re playing as, or even the
game window. You. This phenomenon is known in simple terms, as Breaking the Fourth Wall. The 4th Wall is a performance convention in
which an invisible wall separates the characters in the world from the audience viewing it.
This expression came from the world of theatre- it’s a one sided wall in which the audience
can see what’s going on within these walls, but the characters on the stage cannot. Think
of it as a literal box with the audience on one side. There are 3 actual real walls on
all other sides of the box and there is one invisible wall that the audience can see through,
but the actors in the scene cannot. In most cases the characters stay within theses walls,
but there are some cases in which the characters will BREAK THEM. These characters mostly rebel
against the oppressing regime of the wall in order to interact with the audience maybe
once or twice or throughout the rest of the production. From what I’ve said already,
you’ve probably noted that this indeed mostly happens in theatre, but I’m going to narrow
the examples all the way down to just video games, and maybe some television programs
as well. Because of the nature of the genre, in video
games, the 4th wall is constantly broken by having the game ask the player for their own
input which could be loads of buttons in a second, or in the case of some games, staring
at the screen until a prompt shows up to press a single button. Penned by Steven Conway in
2009, it’s been said that most games don’t “really” break the 4th wall (gasps) instead
of a box that the player isn’t a part of, it’s a circle completely surrounding the
player. This circle immerses the player in the world of the game and asks for their input
into said world as opposed to keeping the player out and completely separated from the
in-game environment. This is the case with most games, but some games take this concept
and run with it very very far away; and in this video, we’ll cover a specific type
of 4th wall breaking that has slowly risen in popularity over the past few years. But
first we most go back to the beginning. The year is 2002. The Spider-Man film was
released to the public and planted the seeds for the massive tree that is comic book movies,
Halo: Combat Evolved was released and planted the seeds for the slightly smaller but still
chugging along tree that is slow paced FPS games and 2 Grand Theft Auto games were released,
a notion that is pure fiction nowadays. A small development studio called Silicon Knights
banded together and created a psychological horror game that would take the market by
storm in a highly competitive year of franchise starters that also included Kingdom Hearts
and Metroid Prime among other games. Eternal Darkness was released on June 24th 2002 for
the Gamecube and it was published by Nintendo. Yes, Nintendo published adult oriented video
games, would you believe it?? Eternal Darkness was originally made with the intention of
being released on the Nintendo 64 system, but during the development of the game, the
developers changed their minds and switched to the Gamecube for the g r a p h i c s. As
for the story, the game’s plot was inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen
King, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Now what do these authors have in common?
The obvious answer will be that they’re all dead, but the real answer is that they
all made stories that focused on psychological horror a.k.a mindscrewing with text. In the
game, you play as Alex Roivas, a student at Washington Uni and you are headed to your
family estate in the very expensive, nice, pleasant, peaceful area that is Rhode Island
only to find that your grandfather has been murdered! What makes things even better is
that there’s no sign of any outside interference so an admin must’ve really hated him that
day. Or he committed several acts of RDM and got punished for it. Because of the lack of
evidence, the police investigation stops, and in theory, you should probably stop investigating
too. But of course you don’t you are a strong independent university student and this is
the best chance to take a gap year from your studies and escape from that hellhole. While
investigating you come across a book called the TOME OF ETERNAL DARKNESS..ness…ness…
(roll credits). Basically the Book of Shadows from Corpse Party but on steroids and LSD.
and Cocaine…SD. After being in possession of said back, she gains the knowledge of the
people described in it, a visualisation of what teachers think exam revision is like,
if you will. She also gains magical powers from the book which is cool and whatever,
I guess. It comes at a cost however, and the penalty is that her grip on reality and sanity
suffers as a result, but this won’t stop her. She’s gonna put an end to the book
once and for all so no one can ever be hurt by it again. You can’t burn it though because
magical reasons or some bull. Upon release of the game, people were very quick to point
out that the mechanics in said game were very similar to a title released earlier- Resident
Evil. Egads! Plagiarism has befallen Nintendo! Objection!! While it did feature Resident
Evil like mechanics, the game had its own very unique twist to it that links back to
the magic circle- the game possessed a sanity meter, a mechanic that is used more frequently
nowadays because of games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. If your character came across
something freaky or saw a monster or something, the sanity meter provided would shrink a tiny
bit, and the only way it could be raised is by… performing finishing moves on opponents…
trust me this makes more sense when you’re actually playing the game. Now if you’re
really bad at video games, or you just wanted to get the effects for views on YouTube, you
would start getting hallucinations in game from the sanity meter lowering. If you let
it get to the bottom where you’re almost completely insane, the game starts to not
only mess with your character, but mess with you directly as a punishment for being a bad
gamer. As such, the game would of course provide
plenty of nightmare fuel for an innocent child who snuck downstairs to play the game at 2AM
in the morning on a school night. Examples of the game’s tomfoolery include: having
your character walk into a new room and all of a sudden your inventory is cleared. And
there’s tons of monsters in the room. And your Gamecube controller’s unplugged itself.
In other cases, after taking a lot of damage you’d probably want to heal yourself so
you cast a healing spell only to- oh… oh dear. Some hallucinations actively messed
with your playing experience, with the game sometimes faking a complete shut down, only
to reopen your game and delete your save file. Got eem, your files are safe. The game takes
things one step further, by sometimes playing as normal, then it will cut to Alex reading
the TOME OF ETERNAL DARKNESS- wait what? What the fuck? I spent 60 GBP on this whatchu mean
this is a demo- Got eem! There are many more ways that the game actively chooses to directly
fuck with you by smashing through the 4th wall as a way for you as the player to git
gud. You’re pretty much no longer safe in the comfort of your own home while you’re
gaming; what’s to stop the Gamecube from gaining a mind of its own and deleting all
of your saves because you’re up way past your bedtime you naughty boy. Eternal Darkness
was released to acclaim across the entire board. Everyone loved the game and called
it a massive achievement in game development, with the game being rated as one of the greatest
of all time. Nintendo took this praise all on board and cancelled the sequel. And the
studio bankrupted. Despite this, it did show that there was a market for meta-horror and
games that derived their horror from directly messing with the player, and this trend would
continue through the 2000s. Breaking the 4th wall like Eternal Darkness
did was still a moderately rare art throughout the early 2000s, but some games still went
through with it and did it well. One of the biggest examples of this is in Metal Gear
Solid and of course it’s Psycho Mantis? Psycho Mantis needs no introduction, but one
of his many abilities is the ability to read minds. In Metal Gear Solid, he demonstrates
this in a creepy fashion to the player by reaching through the 4th wall and tearing
it apart. In the cutscene he flexes his powers by starting to read your memory card in order
to weird you out into thinking he knows exactly what you’ve been doing on that PlayStation
of yours. Yes, he definitely knows all about your low poly porn you’ve been storing on
that 1MB memory card… As a child, that would understandably freak you the fuck out. Nowadays
though, people who know about the mechanics would have a hearty laugh at making Psycho
Mantis spell out an inappropriate name as he reads your memory card mind and spells
out your renamed bootleg copy of Conker’s Bad Fur Day totally legitimate copy. Metal
Gear Solid is a very good example of meta-horror done effectively for one big reason: It’s
not developed and marketed as a horror game. Sure there may be some moments that make your
insides go for some BROWN ACTION, but it doesn’t set out to cause accidents in people’s nappies
you crybabies. The actions of Psycho Mantis would freak the player out and make them start
to question the link between reality and fiction and this started a trend of games that aren’t
even horror games taking turns to beat the crap out of the 4th wall and freak out the
player, for example: In the original Animal Crossing game, you
are constantly lectured to save your game when you’re finished with your session,
like any sane person would do. Failure to do so would lead to retribution. If you do
this multiple times, Resetti will get fed up of your shenanigans and reset all your
progress in the game. Just kidding! Save your game ya DOLT. Batman. Arkham Asylum, you play
as the Man of many Bats as you try to escape the area you’ve been trapped in. One of
the rogues that you have to beat up is Scarecrow but before you can do that, you may end up
getting injected with the fear toxin. The only warning that you get that it’s about
to happen is a single cough that you probably would pass off as a random character interaction,
but when the fear toxin finally hits, it does a variety of things to mess with you, like
displaying the wrong names for areas you’ve visited for example. The game might also take
things even further and fully crash your game all the way back to the start, wiping your
save! Just kidding, your save is intact! You’re just playing as da JOKAH NOW BAYBEE. On a much lower key than the other games I’ve
mentioned before, Spec Ops: The Line breaks the 4th wall but in a much different way within
context to the story. As you continue playing the game, it’s pretty much telling you that
you shouldn’t have played it in the first place. Spec Ops: The Line was marketed as
a bang bang shooty shooty game where you kill all the evil bad guys and go home to respect
your women afterwards, and the start of the game plays out like this, with the three main
characters blitzing through Dubai like no one’s business until… you have to deploy
some white phosphorous in an area, and you’d probably play through this level thinking
nothing much will come from it aaaand it turns out that the people you brutally massacred
were all innocent. The game wastes no time in blaming you for your actions. Not Walker,
you. The loading screens start directly talking to you instead of giving game tips, asking
things like whether you feel like a hero yet, or just outright blaming you for going through
the game. Spec Ops also contains a concept that I’ll delve into a little later in the
video, characters being aware that they’re in a game. During the helicopter chase sequence,
Walker has a sense of realisation that he’s been in this situation before. And he’s
right, you have played this scene before. The loading screen also sometimes reassures
you that you’re in a game so there are no full life consequences. The whole point of
the game is to make you feel bad that you even considered buying and playing it since
at any point you could have stopped, but you didn’t, you continued playing. Probably
why the game didn’t sell as well if the whole shtick is not to play it. Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, meta-horror
was used sparingly but when it was, it was used effectively. There was one major limitation
to this however. These major games were released on a console, and lots of them were multiplatform
games. You could be watching a cutscene and the character in the cutscene turns to the
camera and tells you to turn off your PlayStation… which is odd since you’re playing this on
a Nintendo DSi XL. As the years went by though, more and more games started to use this meta-horror
concept to further their narrative. And the growth of the PC gaming industry helped a
lot, as now instead of breaking someone’s console beyond repair and getting angry messages
from Sony and Microsoft, you could break someone’s PC and get away with it scott free with no
actual consequences. Unlike the 2000s, where random acts of meta-horror
were rare, the 2010s took it and rinsed it through, with 4th wall breaking games designed
to screw with you IRL popping up frequently. Marketplaces such as itchio, GameJolt and
Steam are arguably the greatest things to happen to this genre since YouTube, and these
games started to pop up left right and centre; Meta-horror pretty much became its own genre
with the advent of creepypastas, seeing as the intention of most creepypastas is to directly
freak you out, and with .exe games starting to gain momentum, this was a perfect outlet
for developers to disguise their trojans as a Tails Doll.exe executable file: you’d
load the game up and then it shuts off all by itself. And takes your entire PC with it;
and your secret PayPal wallet. Creepypasta games were the easiest way that meta-horror
could flourish, but I already made a video about them which you can watch at the top
right corner of the screen- since there are loads of examples of this and I don’t want
to keep all of you here forever: I’m going to go into detail about games throughout the
2010s that used meta to their advantage to further the gameplay and the storyline of
their respective games, starting with: Imscared: A Pixelated Nightmare is a game
created by Ivan Zanotti in October 2012 and it was a very significant horror game upon
release. When you start the game, you’re immediately greeted with a warning that tells
you that the game will try to deceive you as many times as it can, telling you to check
the folder outside the game files to report any error. After this ominous screen you’re
put into a world that looks like it was made in the 400 ADs with Windows BC PCs. You could
literally count the pixels on the screen as you played the game. Probably why the game
is called a Pixelated Nightmare to begin with… when you start the game you are shrouded in
darkness and you explore a dark scary creepy freaky terrifying horrifying bedroom. Exploring
the surrounding areas of the bedroom even more and you’ll eventually find a room that
looks and sounds like the insides of an uncooked turkey that’s been frozen for 3 minutes
too long, and you’ll pick up a pulsating heart, which is all well and good until you
turn aro- It’s after this point that the actual game would begin: remember how I mentioned
previously that the game warns you to check the files if a glitch occurs? Well it turns
out that one of the glitches in the game has become sentient and taken a life of its own,
and it wants the player to continue playing the game. Throughout the rest of the game,
you are now exploring a dark world with very creepy ambience and that face constantly staring
at you as you make your way through the contents of the game. One of the mechanics of this
game is that it constantly breaks the 4th wall in the best and worst way possible. Not
only is the glitch aware that its in a game, but as you continue playing, it makes countless
efforts to freak you out or give you directions outside of the game, such as constantly shutting
down to open a new tab in your browser linking to a YouTube video by the creator that gives
you guidance on how to deal with the creepy things happening in the game. The game also
relies on a lot of jumpscares which is a bit of a shame, seeing as the pixellated aesthetic
of the game and the meta-horror aspects of it were already creepy enough to start with
.Sometimes it also gets a little bit frustrating when the game either minimizes to a screen
the size of a pea or keeps restarting over and over and over and over and over and over
and over AGAIN. But Imscared provided something new to the indie horror game community: it
not only showed that there was a mass market for pixellated horror games, it arguably started
a trend of games using this gimmick to either scare the player or move the narrative forward
through meta-horror or meta-humour. The original version of this game, released in 2012, was
much shorter and only ended an eighth of the way through the full game, which was released
on January 31st 2016. During my own playthrough of the game, one thing that I despised about
the game more than anything though, was the fact that on the full release of the game,
you had to get every single achievement in the game in order to beat it, and yes I know
there’s only like 11 achievements; it’s incredibly frustrating to have to start over
again to get the achievements that I missed, but apart from that, it was an effective meta-horror
game that did the job of scaring the player effectively. Upon release of this game, it
was played by several YouTubers, and fans prayed for more games like Imscared, and the
2010s delivered. In the same vein as Imscared, Undertale uses
this concept, but does this on steroids. While I won’t go into detail about every little
thing it does since I could probably make a full video about it, I’ll just narrow
things down to the genocide route. By now, everyone knows the genocide route. You’ve
completed the game multiple times and want a new challenge, so just because you have
the option to, you decide to go on a genocide run. Literally every major boss battle and
antagonist in Undertale uses the 4th wall to cheese you out of a win almost every single
time- fuck and Sans is the absolute worst at this- he realises that it’s not Frisk
that’s the problem but it’s you the PLAYER. As soon as he’s acquired the target he then
proceeds to Fuck. You. Up, using meta not as a way to scare you, but to completely break
your morale: he uses your save files, your menu screen, literally EVERYTHING against
you in a disgustingly difficult boss fight that would make osu players shed a tear. If
you eventually manage to get past Sans, you then get to the actual scary part of the game:
the First Child, who tells you that you’ve pretty much reached the end because you’ve
maxed out your potential. You’re then given a choice to either become partners with her
to help destroy the world, or not. You probably should choose the first option because choosing
the latter option will do this. That is meta-horror on crack. Another game that skirts the line between
meta and meta-horror is OneShot. You guys probably waited a long time for me to talk
about this one considering it’s on the thumbnail, huh? Anyways OneShot is a game released by
Little Cat Feet on December 9th 2016, and it follows a little child could Niko, who’s
placed in a world without the Sun. Before you get your party poppers out, it’s not
The Sun, it’s just a normal sun, sorry guys. Anyway, like Undertale, this game is meta
as FUCC. Even though you’re playing the game from the perspective of Niko in a top
down view, you as the player are a completely separate character in the game. This game
used RPGMaker to its advantage and contained many puzzles that the player needed to solve
using concepts out of the game’s window, such as looking through the files, changing
your desktop background in some areas and my favourite example, shaking the game window
offscreen and back to simulate the development of film to watch. Fucking mind-blown. Throughout
the duration of the game, you guide Niko through the dark world and meet various different
entities in the universe while trying to “escape” from an entity called The Entity- Niko and
The Entity both address you directly by name, and the Entity tells you that you only have
OneShot to beat the game. Now in the original version, they were not joking when they said
you had OneShot and you needed to make it count, because if you close the window and
try to reopen the game you’re greeted with this. Because you closed the game Niko couldn’t
find their way around and died as a result. The game tells you this when you try to close
the window again and you can never play the game again. Spare a thought for the poor guys
that played through most of the game only for the power in their house to cut or get
a blue screen of death. Not to worry though, because the game gives you another chance
in the remake of the game in 2016. Now I didn’t want to mention this specific 4th wall break
as its spoiler incarnate and I strongly suggest you play the game first, but it’s too cool
to not mention in this video so direct spoilers ahead! At the end of the game you are given
2 choices- to break the sun you’ve been carrying all game and return Niko home, or
place the sun at the top of the tower, reigniting the world but at the cost of Niko being trapped
in this world. Choosing to break the sun will shroud the world in darkness, but not before
Niko is finally freed and goes home by walking through your game window and out of the monitor
screen and towards you on the desk- nah I’m just kidding, he just walks right through
the game window and away, ending the game. Mind-blown. OneShot is an amazing game that
uses metafictional techniques to further its story line with horror and atmosphere at the
same time, and is a near perfect example of games using the 4th wall to its advantage
to further the narrative and storyline of the game. In recent years, games have been using the
concept that the main character is aware that they’re in a game to scare or to directly
interact with the player, such as Monika from Doki Doki Literature Club: as the president
of the literature club, she knows what the player is doing and tries to interact with
the player at any given moment in time, also messing with desktop files to further the
narrative. I made a video detailing all of these events and more and you can also watch
that on the top right corner of the screen! Moving away from the horror aspect of things,
The Stanley Parable and The Beginners Guide are both amazing meta games that use the 4th
wall effectively to make for a fun and entertaining experience, with The Stanley Parable being
chock full of 4th wall breaking moments and even having an achievement to not open the
game for 5 whole years. With indie games being released left right and centre on PC, and
more and more of them using the 4th wall to their advantage, meta-horror has gone from
a rare occasion in a video game where it’s used as a quick scare to its own genre where
developers are now basing their narrative entirely around the concept of pulling players
into its magic circle and involving them in their own world. Who knows, in the future
we could have meta-horror in VR where the game rings your doorbell and gives you a package
that you need to pick up and upgrade in the real world before continuing to play the game,
moving one step closer to world like in Ready Player One. Thank you guys for watching this video, and
before I get to the outro, I guess I have to address the massive elephant in the room
which is my upload schedule. Obviously you guys have noticed I haven’t really uploaded
all that regularly on my channel through February, and that was because I’ve been extremely
busy with getting my 2nd channel and my Twitch channel going, both of which are linked in
the description, where you can watch clips from my streams or highlights on T9. A lot
of the games that I play in my videos are normally streamed there so you can watch highlights
immediately after this video on my second channel! As well as this, you can watch the
full archives of my streams on a third channel, ThafVODS which will also be linked in the
description. Unfortunately with the coronavirus taking over the entire world, a lot of the
conventions I was planning on going to have been cancelled, but this is all the more reason
for you guys to join my Discord server for fun and games and sometimes a quick chat with
me, as well as frequent updates on my social media. While you’re at it why not pledge
to my Patreon? You get early and exclusive access to future videos, access to my scripts
as soon as I’ve finished them and extra perks on my Discord server!.


6 thoughts on “The Evolution of Fourth Wall Breaking Games”

  • Anyone else desperately trying to find more meta-4th-wall-breaking games and crying because they've literally played all of them?

  • Two games deserve a mention:
    A DARK ROOM – This game literally breaks and fucks around with your computer using virus-like programs, pop-ups, and executions. At one point it even takes a picture of you with a webcam and opens up your CD rom.

    OFF – This is basically THE FIRST RPG Maker game to fully utilize the Meta style and helped inspire further games like ONESHOT and Undertale. I highly recommend fans of both games to check out OFF.

  • my favourite breaking-the-4th-wall games are One-Shot and The Stanley Parable
    though if I had to judge the game JUST on the 4th wall breaks? then it would be Stanley

    I mean seriously! oh… spoiler warning…

    the narrator screaming in joy when you get an achievement
    the narrator begging you to not commit suicide
    the narrator trolling you
    the narrator finding out that he doesn't control everything
    betraying the narrator
    the narrator confessing that his world revolves around the player, giving him purpose

    and my 3 favourite things
    the narrator acknowledging you breaking the game (kinda)
    and the fact that you could NEVER SEE ANY OF THIS IF YOU LISTEN TO THE NARRATOR
    and how the level subtly changes every time the game resets

    EDIT: oh god Grammarly thinks i want to die…

  • that OneShot ost cought me off gaurd. and because I laughed and when I heard that I nearly cried… Nice one mate, but I didn't manage to cry

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