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Analyzing the artistic merits of video games

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Self-Reference in Games

Posted by Nick Dinicola on November 29, 2008

There’s a great article on gamecareerguide.com about self-reference in video games. It talks about how games don’t have a “fourth wall” like other media, so when the “real” world is talked about in the game, the fiction of the game world isn’t broken. It’s a fascinating read, and really highlights the uniqueness of narratives in games.

Conventional wisdom suggests that anything that draws attention to the technology of a medium is destructive for fiction. The characters in a movie, book, television show, or stage production must not “know” they are in one, else they become aware of their own non-reality and everything falls apart. This is typically what’s meant by “breaking the fourth wall”.

But video games are not exactly the same as these other art forms. The reality-fantasy dynamic in games is complicated by the player, who is always tethered to the game world by an umbilical cord called technology.

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