Monday, April 29, 2013

Brainsplat: The Fourth Wall

Brainsplat is a little 'feature' I guess you'd call it that I'll write occasionally and post here. The things I post under this title won't necessarily be arguing a point or be very long and in-depth, rather they'll just be my musings on a particular subject that I feel like writing a short piece on. Often they'll be on my thoughts of a certain design idea or aspect of game design I want to talk a little bit about. It's just my thoughts going 'splat' onto the page for people to have a look at.

The fourth wall has always been something that's interested me. Mostly I've seen it used for humour, like Deadpool whacking people with a health bar in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or characters in theatre performances talking to the audience as a gag. But characters interacting with their audience has so much more potential that can be explored. I remember in the BEN Drowned/Haunted Majora's Mask ARG when players of the game were being called out and 'targeted' it added to the fear and immersion in this game, and it was really cool to see. I recently started reading Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe and Deadpool Killustrated, where the concept is that in an alternate universe Deadpool becomes more self aware, and decides to try and free his fellow fictional characters by killing them off for good so that they won't be forced to endure the everlasting hardships placed on them by their writers. There's a beautiful moment where Sherlock Holmes deduces that he and Watson are fictional characters, but they decide to try and save their worlds regardless. The idea of self aware characters is just really interesting to me, and I think there's a lot that can be done with them.

Imagine part way through their quest to save the world, a protagonist discovers the truth behind their existence- that they're just a character in a video game. Their world is no less real to them, and they want to protect it- but what happens when they do? When they save the world, when they 'win', their world essentially stops existing. The characters lives stop and their stories will never be continued. Would they still want to save the world knowing to do so would still cause their world to be destroyed in  a way? The game that got me thinking about this was Persona 4 Golden. Going off the protagonist's, Yu's, personality from the tie-in anime, he's a guy who hasn't felt real connections with anybody, and the people he's met in Inaba stop him from being empty. He fears solving the murder case they're investigating a bit in case his friends decide they don't want to hang out anymore. Apply this personality to the game, of somebody who feels their existence is defined by the relationships they hold with others. Over the course of this game you develop real bonds with the supporting cast, and by the end of it they feel like real friends of yours. I didn't want the game to end because of how attached I was to these characters and the thought of their stories not continuing was sad. I wanted to be able to pop the game in every now and then and check up on these people. When it was dawning on me that Yu was going to be leaving this town soon, and the game was ending, I was really sad. If Yu was given a personality in the game, he'd probably be sad too, having to leave these people, but would be consoled by the fact he could return any time and see his friends again. But what if he knew he couldn't? What if he knew that once the murders were solved and the baddies were dealt with, that his, and his friends' and family's, stories were over? Would he still be determined to conquer the antagonists? The player/protagonist disconnect that could be created in a situation like this would be really interesting. The player wants to complete the game, while the protagonist wants to draw it out as long as he can in order to savour the moments he has with his loved ones. They could even purposely throw a few battles in order to give the bad guys an edge so they don't win right away.
It works outside this example as well Just imagine characters developing a will of their own (within the plot of course, no self aware AI that decides to destroy the world) and going against the protagonist. They might decide the protagonist's actions are immoral. Imagine a shooter where the protagonist has enough of the senseless violence, and pulls against the protagonist's movements and fights them, trying not to shoot their weapon. The player could be like a voice in the head of a mentally disturbed character, urging them to kill, while they're trying to be rational and pacifist about the situations they're presented. It could provide an interesting commentary on the player's motives in playing the game.

I'm brainstorming a plot for a game at the moment that involves a character who can break the fourth wall. It started off as just a gag that'd be used in a few scenes, but I've started to flesh it out into something deeper. This character can make the protagonist question why they're doing what they're doing because she can break free of the game's script. The game's 'script' tells the protagonist to pursue a relationship with her because she's close to him, and that's what happens in Hollywood plots, but she decides to go against that. The protagonist solves all his problems with violence and by fighting, and is made to be the hero of the story, but she can decide otherwise. She can make the protagonist question why he's doing these things, because she can think on her own. Why does he need to pursue a relationship with her, and why is her purpose just to be a romantic interest for him? Why does he choose to solve all his problems through violence, and why does he feel that his cause makes him justified regardless of his methods? It's a really interesting concept that I hope to explore further.

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