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A circular wall? Reformulating the fourth wall for videogames

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Abstract:

Within videogame culture there are many references to famous breaks of the fourth wall: Psycho Mantis' reading of the memory card in Metal Gear Solid, X-Men's use of the Sega Megadrive's reset button, Startropics' use of the letter packaged with the game, and so on. This article concerns a new conception of the fourth wall in game-relevant terms, being conceived as expansions and contractions of the magic circle. Expansions of the magic circle occur when the synthetic world of the game expands beyond the screen, encompassing the technological apparatus of the console/PC or the paratexts packaged with the game. Contractions occur when the magic circle shrinks behind the display, e.g. Sonic tapping his knuckles upon the screen or the game crashing. In unpacking and re-conceiving the notion of the fourth wall in gaming terms, this article hopes to provide a valuable analytical perspective concerning the use of these expansions and contractions by developers and players, and their impact on wider media culture.

Keywords: Easter egg; Huizinga; Metal Gear Solid; fourth wall; magic circle; videogame

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jgvw.2.2.145_1

Affiliations: University of Bedfordshire.

Publication date: August 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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