SPOILERS FOR VARIOUS GAMES AHEAD
Note: This is a little bit rant-ish.
I have a very hard time with fourth wall breaking moments in games. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but that’s not the reason why it bothers me. It really bothers me because it’s almost always assumed to be a “Hi, I got you there, didn’t I?” in a world where…you’re not allowed to be…not gotten.
I developed a thought pattern in my younger years that was meant to discipline myself into doing the right thing whether or not someone is looking. That was the goal. The goal is to become a better person. And this eventually passed down to my games and my art. I never treat characters as characters, I always treat them like people. Does this mean some of my decisions in choice based games are boring? Yes, I think more often than not it does end up being like that, because I care about how they feel and how I feel about them.
Sometimes there are choices that have minimal consequence other than getting a rise out of someone or a joke. And yet, I still refuse to make those jokes. I’m looking at you Traveler from Genshin Impact. I’m fairly consistent in that I want the choices I make in games to be as close to the good choices I can make in real life.
I’ve lost so many lives trying to see if I could save someone that did not have a trigger to save them. I’ve lost so many rounds and lives in games because I felt I had to go back to save the AI ally. In real life, if we’re just talking about real life, this would’ve literally been a waste of time. There would be so little consequence if I just finished the level without them. So when times appear that it turns out I could save them and I just assumed the game wouldn’t let me, I feel cheated. When a character comes along and does the fourth wall breaking thing in a game, I actually feel cheated, because in games, you’re not always allowed to do the right thing.
Sometimes doing the right thing is much more difficult. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins there were many assassination targets I wanted to leave alive, and yet no matter how hard I tried, they would still end up somehow dying due to a cutscene or force. I put forth extra effort, only to be punished by the system.
Oppositely, when a game like Undertale comes along where I realized I could just be nice to all the enemies, I did that. Except…at the last battle where you have to bring Asgore to low health. I refused to even attack. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I did wrong and why I couldn’t get past him. I can’t tell you how many times he nodded, noting that we have fought a billion times with me dying. After spending so darn long on it, I decided to give in and look up what I had to do. I had to hit him, and once again I felt punished for trying to execute my “thinking outside the box” fourth wall-ism that these games try to employ.
It doesn’t matter if I follow the rules where games don’t let you do much, or do my best to be my best regardless of those rules, I will be punished by the choice-based games. I never felt like the argument of “getting caught off guard” by a game’s fourth wall breaking to be valid because I am almost always punished for my choices either way. What’s the point of getting “caught off guard” if the consequence is the same?
It used to be naivete, but after counseling and therapy, I understand better my relationship with these characters in video games. It’s not okay to make fun of them just because they’re in a game or that they can’t see me. Just like how I strive myself to not be like that or talk badly of other people behind their backs. But what about the discomfort I feel?
I’m not saying I’m immune to the feeling of fear and juxtaposition when a character, especially those with ill intentions, notices me as a player. I’m scared of a lot of things, haha, and that is definitely not an exception. But I also feel terribly shaken because I’m sad.
I’m sad that this character, even if they’re doing something wrong, has to resort to breaking into another world just to feel better about themselves. I feel sad that I could not provide more for them. I feel sad that I have to let them make their own choices, and even perhaps that some are programmed to be something they’d rather not want to be. I feel sad that Monika in Doki Doki Literature Club had to resort to such extremes to feel comfort. I feel sad that the evil characters in Undertale feel like their life disasters justified them to make those wrong choices. All those characters that had to make a choice between bad or worse because of what choices I made or the things I had to do in a game affect me. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t blame the player, but I’d at least want them to know how I feel.
I feel bad because I have gone through the same forks in the road in life and I understand those justifications. I’m sure, or rather I at least hope, that you as a reader also understand the difference between being bitter or better from life’s trials. Sometimes in our anger and with unwanted results choosing to stay strong is difficult and the other route totally seems justified. Sometimes I feel like it’s justified because the creators of their world didn’t inform visitor’s like me that I could even do things that could help them out.
I know these characters are programmed a certain way.
These feelings don’t make the wrong things these characters have done the right thing, but it does make them understood, and only through understanding can these people have any chance of getting better.
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
– Yes, I know. People always tell me that I waste so much time and am a dork for doing things like this, but I really want what’s best for the characters even outside of this whole meta of games. And yes, like an emotionally and psychologically healthy relationship with anyone, I do set boundaries with characters. I’ll be okay.