Shattering the Screen: Five Games That Break The Fourth Wall

By | 2 years ago 

While breaking the fourth wall isn’t unique to video games, games have the potential to shatter the separation between audience and entertainment in crazy new ways. These games don’t just admit the existence of an audience, but rather use game mechanics and technology to totally manipulate the expectations of gamers, making them question what part is game and what part is reality. Many games break the fourth wall, but these five are some of the best.

Psycho Mantis Reads Your Mind in Metal Gear Solid 

While Metal Gear Solid wasn’t the first game to break the fourth wall, its gutsy reliance on tricks and the wild boss battle with the psychic Psycho Mantis makes it memorable. As an incredibly powerful psychic, Psycho Mantis controls the mind of Solid Snake, making the boss battle a test of thinking outside the disk. By reading your memory card, Psycho Mantis can comment on the games you’ve played, bringing the player in as a potential character in the game’s world.

Psycho Mantis anticipates all of Solid Snake’s moves, making it impossible to defeat him unless the player can stop him from reading his mind—a feat that can be accomplished by plugging the controller into the second-player port. Metal Gear is known for the occasional fourth wall-breaking moment, but beating Psycho Mantis relies on actions taken outside of the game, making it a contender for one of the best moments in fourth wall-breaking games.

The Secret of Monkey Island Reflects On Video Game Prices 

The Secret of Monkey Island Break the Fourth Wall

The Secret of Monkey Island comments on its own price, asking players whether they think it’s worth it. Image Source: Rockpetraccoon via Flickr.

Any game Tim Scafer works on is bound to have a sense of humor, and nowhere is this more evident than in LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island. The game is packed with references to other LucasArts games like Grim Fandango and LOOM, and its characters also seem oddly concerned with the price of video games. More than once, characters remark on the outrageous price of video games, saying they feel ripped off, and, while staring into the in-game camera, saying they imagine the viewer feels the same.

It goes further—the first time Guybrush Threepwood sees Monkey Island, he remarks that it is, “Well worth $59.95 + Tax!” It even takes it a step further—in the game’s ending, the player can select from dialog options that leads Guybrush to say that you should never pay over $20 for a computer game.

Scarecrow’s Gas Reveals Player’s Worst Fears in Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum Break the Fourth Wall

Scarecrow’s fear gas plunged gamers into their own nightmare in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Image Source: Psygeist via Flickr.

Every player lives in fear of the dreaded game-breaking glitch. For Xbox 360 players, this was especially worrisome in the Red Ring of Death days, when a graphical glitch could mean a dead console. Batman: Arkham Asylum relied on this fear to pull off one of the great fourth wall-breaking moments of the generation—when Batman exposed to Scarecrow’s fear gas, strange things begin to happen. In one case, the game begins to suffer from graphical glitches that make it appear as if something is wrong with the console, leading more than one gamer to believe they were about to experience the dreaded Red Ring of Death.

When the game rebooted with a modified beginning—this time with the Joker driving Batman into Arkham Asylum—they could breathe a sigh of relief. Still, the fear toxin causing graphical glitches implies it isn’t Batman who is affected by the gas, but rather the player.

Lara Croft Has No Patience For Peeping Toms in Tomb Raider 2 

Tomb Raider 2 Break the Fourth Wall

Tomb Raider 2 joined the ranks of games that break the fourth wall when Lara Croft asked players if they’d seen enough. Image Source: Andre0 via Flickr.

While Lara Croft may be an adventuring archaeologist, she is slightly better known for her appearance. Early Tomb Raider games had her as a big-busted, khaki shorts-wearing gunslinger with an outlandishly tiny waist, leading her to be considered as the first video game sex symbol. While her creators insisted they wanted to create a female video game hero known for being just as cool as her male counterparts, it didn’t change the fixation on her body, so they chose to address that concern in Tomb Raider 2. At the end of the game, after Lara Croft guns down a bunch of enemies, the scene cuts to Lara in the bathroom, slowly panning up her bathrobe-clad body until it reaches her face.

It looks as though she’s about to drop the robe and step into the shower when she looks into the camera, grabs her shotgun, and asks, “Don’t you think you’ve seen enough?” before shooting the screen and ending the game. Though the series eventually dialed back the proportions of Lara Croft’s bodacious bod, the moment was a great one for the character, chiding players who focused more on her body than the gameplay.

X-Men‘s Danger Room Needs a Reset 

Back in the days where almost every game was played arcade style, with no saves to be had, resetting your console mid-game was something you did only out of frustration. And that’s where X-Men comes in. The entire game takes place in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters’ Danger Room, a room dedicated to dangerous simulations intended to help the mutants hone their skills. When a rogue computer virus traps them inside, they can only battle through the challenges until they can disable the virus.

The game is known for its difficulty, which reaches a climax in the “Mojo’s Crunch” level,” when players were told they needed to reset the computer with no instruction of how to do it. The answer? To lightly press the reset button on their console—pressing it too long would result in the game actually resetting and a whole lot of lost progress. To end the violence and difficulty, players had to reset their console—an interesting commentary on the simulated violence and difficulty that also trapped the characters.

What are you favorite moments in gaming that break the fourth wall?