5 Video Games That Break The 4th Wall
In most games you play there’s this safety barrier between you and your actions. You’re separate from the character you play and from consequences of what you do in the game to allow you comfort while you make morally ambiguous (or outright evil) choices.
Breaking that safety barrier is what’s called breaking the 4th wall. It involves addressing the player directly, mentioning the power to reset the game, talking about what buttons to push and generally acknowledging the fact that a game is a game.
The games listed below use it for their plots – and to mess with you, of course.
Pony Island is a game within a game. You are a game patron who got sent a game called Pony Island, which has a cute, childish façade. It has ponies jumping over the fences and a nice bright color palette. It makes you feel like you’re a kid who plays little flash games on the internet out of boredom.
Unfortunately, that lasts for about thirty seconds. The colors disappear first, and then you have to alter the code of the game to make it function, and after that, very quickly you find that Pony Island isn’t actually cute at all. Half an hour in, you fight demonic corrupted files which have taken over your computer to get your very soul back from the game’s possession. To do that, you will have to hack your way through the game code and your computer’s file system, and then you’ll have to fight Satan himself.
If you’re into possessed games, this one is for you. And if you came for the title, don’t worry – it still has ponies in it!
This game has a much lighter tone than the previous one, but it’s thought to provoke at the same time. You play as a man named Stanley, whose story is told by an invisible narrator. Throughout the game, you are constantly faced with a decision to do what the narrator tells you to do, or pick the second option. Do you choose the left door or the right door? Go down or up the stairs? Stay in the closet or continue your journey?
At first, your choices to not follow the narrator’s directions only lead to some funny dialog, but, as the game progresses, you see it get more meta by the minute. At one point the narrator gets so exasperated about you not liking the game, that he lets you play Minecraft and Portal instead. In one of the endings, you can see Stanley realize that he’s actually gone mad and the whole game is in his head. In the other, the narrator tells you that you, Stanley, is the one who makes this story up about yourself because your life is too boring. And in one of the most meta endings, the other narrator joins in. She shows you the museum of the game and talks about how co-dependent the first narrator and the player are.
Stanley Parable has a great sense of humor, as well as a lot of interesting thought provoking commentary on the role of the reader (or the player) and the narrator in the story. It has multiple endings, it messes with your head a lot, and it’s great.
The Beginner’s Guide
This is a game in which the creator of Stanley Parable, Davey Wreden, shows you the work of his friend, Cody. It’s a series of different unfinished games that Davey analyses for you while telling Cody’s story. The games are bizarre and weird in the tone and seem very personal somehow. Davey talks about psychological qualities of the author, theories about the meaning of Cody’s work, and, as the story progresses, you find yourself analyzing Davey himself and his friendship with Cody.
In the end, though, Davey realizes that the whole time he’s been analyzing himself, really. He says that this game is a message to Cody, who he hasn’t seen in a long time now. This brings up a lot of questions about Davey’s morals and about you, the player. Maybe, while analyzing Davey, you were really trying to understand yourself more?
If you’re a Marvel fan or if you have simply heard about Deadpool, you might already know what this game is like. For Deadpool, breaking the 4th wall is as natural as breathing. He knows he’s in the game, he repeatedly comments on the script, makes his own code alterations, threatens the game designer, addresses the player directly, and jokes about all of this in a very Deadpool fashion. That being said, the jokes in the game do get old pretty fast, and the fights can be kind of repetitive. But other than that, this game is pretty much the best at breaking the 4th wall for the laughs, without making the player think about the deeper meaning of their life, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve found just what you need.
Undertale, made by Toby Fox, is one of the greatest games that managed to shatter the 4th wall completely. It’s funny, it’s innocent, it’s meaningful, emotional and thought provoking all at the same time.
This is a game where you play as a child who has fallen into the Underground, where the monsters live. You, of course, want to get back to the surface, back to your people, so you find yourself on a quest to the King’s palace, from where you can go home. On your way, you encounter a lot of lovable diverse characters who you become friends with. The game has a great goofy sense of humor and an interesting storyline for each character, as well as a lot of hidden things and secrets.
What’s special about it, though, is the fact that it remembers. It remembers every choice you’ve made, every time you’ve reset, every time you went back and changed something about your actions – and it doesn’t shy away from criticizing you for what you’ve done. It fully acknowledges that you have a godlike power to reset time, and doesn’t let you avoid the consequences of that.
By constantly breaking the game clichés and breaking the 4th wall until it’s practically nonexistent, Undertale makes you believe that it’s not a game, not really. It’s a tiny world set inside a game that you shouldn’t trifle with, and will leave it be if you truly love it.
It’s a great commentary on how, if you love something, you have to learn to let it go, how curiosity can overcome morals and how, if you’ve done something horrible once, nothing will ever be the same again.