Perhaps I’ve been playing too many games or maybe I haven’t been getting enough sleep, but I find myself increasingly under the impression that some games are trying to send me hidden signals. Even some of the most straight-faced, large-budget, mass-appeal titles seem to be winking at me through a crack in the fourth wall.
Some games don’t bother to mask their self awareness. MadWorld takes a gleeful delight in forsaking any attempt to seriously justify extreme violence and instead makes a joke about the simple, lowbrow appeal of a brawler. DeathSpank is unabashedly comedic in its approach, and plays its very existence as a game for laughs. Traditional features that would usually sit “above” the game’s world like the quest log, inventory system, and mission structure are explicitly referenced, making it so that both the players and the characters are aware of them. Although the Metal Gear Solid series generally takes itself more seriously than the previous two examples, those games are legendary for their fourth-wall-breaking antics. Continuing with the metaphor of mischievous non-verbal body language, explicitly referencing the game’s CD case or discussing the console hardware within a serious story about war, technology, and morality is more akin to mooning the player than it is winking at them. While such shenanigans are entertaining, I’d like to take a closer look at some titles whose nods to the player are more subtle.