Just In Bailey: The 4th Wall

In the world of entertainment there is a concept known as “The 4th Wall.”  This is the imaginary line that separates the movie, play, etc., from the audience.  The concept comes from the theatre where three physical walls exist and then the wall between the actors and the audience is imaginary.  When a show, play, etc., breaks the 4th wall the audience is addressed directly.  Cartoons have been breaking the 4th wall for a long time.  The Seinfeld clip show, where Jerry talks to us through the camera is another example of the 4th wall being broken.

Shows, plays, movies; these forms of entertainment are not the only ones that have been known to break the 4th wall.  Video games are more apt to do this than any of the others.  However, given the depth of interaction between the medium and the audience, the 4th wall is treated much differently.Players are directly involved in control of the player.  Most games now give players direct control of the choices made.  So, developers have had to break down the 4th wall in other ways.

A very basic example is Kid Icarus for the Nintendo 3DS when the main character Pit apologizes to the player for keeping them waiting.  This is in reference to the series being out of the loop for over 20 years.  Another break of the 4th wall occurs when Navi in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time suggests the player take a break from the game after a long play session.  A good deal of games also mention the controller buttons during gameplay.

All of these are small potatoes compared to the king of breaking the 4th wall: Metal Gear Solid.  The creator, Hideo Kojima, was notorious for not only breaking the 4th wall, but blowing it up as well.  The dialogue is loaded with breaks, from the basic mention of the controller buttons to the AI Colonel in MGS2 telling the player they have played long enough and it was time to turn the power off.  Revolver Ocelot, during the torture sequence in MGS1, tells the player they would not be able to use a rapid-fire controller because he would know.  Perhaps the greatest moment in breaking the 4th wall was the battle with Psycho Mantis.  He uses his telepathy and psychokinesis to read the player’s memory card-commenting on different Konami games they played-moving the controller using the vibration function, and even commenting on their play style.  It is one of the coolest moments in gaming history.

So, what makes the 4th wall such a big deal?  While it can be gimmicky if overused or used in an annoying fashion-I’m looking at you Navi-it can create a better experience for the player.  There is still a disconnect between games and the player.  If the 4th wall is broken, the player can feel more connected to the game, giving them a greater level of immersion.  It also leads to some of the coolest stand-out moments in gaming.

Which leads me to this loyal readers: the Just In Bailey column is going to go through a slight change after this article.  When I first started writing the column, I wanted to just entertain my readers with silly thoughts and stream of consciousness rantings.  The more I wrote, the more I realized that I wasn’t just “revealing” things as the Justin Bailey code in Metroid allowed.  I felt that I was blurring the line between the medium and the audience.  As such, starting next week, the column name is going to change to “The 4th Wall.”  Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it for you.

Just In Bailey –an homage to the secret code from Metroid, which allowed you to play as Samus Aran without her suit– is an editorial column at Vagary.TV brought to you by Joey Alesia. What started as an alternate perspective on different parts of video games has since become a more wide-ranged look at the gaming industry from a gamer’s perspective with over 25 years of gaming knowledge and a twisted sense of humor.  Follow Joey on Twitter (@wrkngclsswrtr) or email him at Joey.Alesia@Vagary.tv.  Starting next week, the Just In Bailey Column will be changing names to The 4th Wall.

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Author: Joey Alesia View all posts by
Joey's adventure into the realm of video games began at 3 when Nintendo first hit the West. He grew up a Nintendo fan and ended up branching out to Playstation when FF7 hit and XBox when Oblivion hit the 360. He's not huge on first person shooters or sports games but definitely enjoys a good RPG or survival horror game. His all-time favorite series is definitely The Legend of Zelda, followed extremely closely by Metal Gear. Joey has a firm belief that games should be treated with respect when they are made and that the classics should never be overlooked.