Tag Archives: fourth wall

The Fourth Wall and the Sledgehammer in Spec Ops: The Line

Many of us grew up hearing about the evils of using the word “you” in writing. It is often taught — somewhat lazily — as a steadfast rule, when really it’s more of a way to keep you from making unintended shifts in tense.

Often, in writing, we’re supposed to put our audience in a glass box, where they’re seen, but not interacted with. This is true not only in writing, but in many forms of media.

This is why it’s so jarring (and rare) to see someone on a TV show or in a movie look directly at the camera.

That would be breaking the “fourth wall,” that fictional plane that separates actor from audience, beyond which we suspend our disbelief and accept that the fiction we see is in an enclosed space, and that the characters on screen are ignorant of anybody watching. We expect that we are invisible spectators, watching events unfold independent of our own existence.

But what happens when you break that fourth wall on purpose? That’s something that happens, particularly when you want to say something directly to your audience. I’m doing it right now, for starters. But I want to talk about a game that does this in a more subtle, more controversial, and (I would argue) more meaningful way.

Spec Ops: The Line logo - foreground person with bandana covering face, background people marching with guns

Spec Ops: The Line succeeds in many ways both as a game and as a storytelling device. As a representative of the intersection between video game and digital narrative, it may be the most important game to come out in several years. But before I get ahead of myself with praise, some background. Continue reading