Poll Question 179 – Would you like to see a mod break the fourth wall?

2nd July 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

In case you don’t know, the Fourth Wall is the imaginary “wall” at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set.

I don’t know if it’s used for gaming or even if it’s been broken in games or mods before, but I thought it would make an interesting question.

Personally, I think it would be fun in a humorous mod but not in a serious mod because it would break the immersion for me.

If it has been used in mods, which ones?

The Poll


  1. jgoodroad

    as I recall Team Fortress 2 (a game by Valve) does break the fourth wall on several occasions…
    But it depends on how subtle the break is.

  2. I really want to know how this turns out. I’m toying with the idea of having a FAQ section built into the first chapter of the mod I’m developing:
    The player walks into a room with a shattering sound and is met by gman, who complains about how you’ve broken the 4th wall by coming there. He then explains that the whole map is actually supposed to be a dream sequence while your character is knocked out, but that dreams often clue you into details you might not be aware of consciously. Once you leave the area, you’ll “wake up” and start into the game proper, but this will allow people to come back to the room to get training on various quirks of the game if they’re having trouble with anything, and also inform them about alternate control options.

    I’m hoping that it will bend the 4th wall, but not actually go so far as to break it.

  3. Greenagainn!

    Metal Gear Solid has broken the 4th wall quite a few times.

  4. CrowbarSka

    Lots of games have broken the 4th wall. Notably the Metal Gear Solid series as “Greenagainn!” said (an enemy in the first game would read your memory card and make comments about other Konami games you had been playing). A lot of the old LucasArts adventure games frequently broke the 4th wall as well in typical comedic fashion.

    I think it can be fun and is probably better suited to comedy games as it can really ruin immersion in a serious tone.

    1. GoodGuyA


      I love breaking the Fourth Wall. I got issues of Deadpool hanging on my shelf. I think it only really is good when something is being funny, or being so serious that it needs something like that IE MGS.

  5. Joure

    haha, yeah mgs did break it on several occasions. Sometimes after saving the game in mgs one, you’ll be reminded to take a break after a long time of playing, and I think in the gamecube remake, they even comment if you’re playing in the middle of the night.

    MGS tries to be serious and comical at the same time and pulls it off.

  6. I would dearly love to to take a postive part in the Poll question, however:

    I clicked Phillip’s link to make sure what I thought was the Fourth Wall was correct. It is.

    Extracts from the link: (The fourth wall is an) imaginary boundary between any fictional work and its audience.
    for example by an actor onstage speaking to the audience directly, or doing the same through the camera in a film or television program, it is called “breaking the fourth wall”.

    Hence there are 2 primary requisites: The cast of the play and an audience.
    The cast of the play, including the player (obviously), is present but where is this audience?

    I play SP FPS, no audience present
    (Except when she-who-is-always-obeyed looks over my shoulder to see how to get through a particularly difficult combat puzzle).

    A RPG toting audience! I’ll take a miss on stage career then.

    OK, lets take the interpretation, leave alone the 4th wall, to near breaking point and reverse things. The player and the rest of the cast are the audience, a participating audience.

    The map/mod author is the player.
    Which, when you really think about it, is true!
    Authors are the Puppetmasters after all.

    Even in this overstretched interpretation It would have to be very carefully done and part of the story. The author would need to appear and/or speak directly to the player while still keeping the immersion in the game.
    I could imagine this as a working hypothesis. It is possible to see G-Man as Valve the author and the player and NPCs as the participating audience.
    If this is the only working interpretation, it’s been done.

  7. Im going to wait until I vote.

    I had the fourth wall in school just recentlym but could you explain to me, what exactly is meant by that? Maybe an example?

    1. Anon_223576

      An NPC that tells you (not Gordan freeman) to stop wasting your life on the computer and go do somthing productive (to which I’d reply by clicking several hundreds of times)

    2. Kyouryuu

      Breaking the fourth wall happens when a character in a play acknowledges the presence of the audience. This can be as simple as a wink or glancing toward them at a key moment, or it could be a whole joke about how the characters are aware that they are in a play for the audience’s amusement.

      It comes from the idea in theater that there are four walls – the three that make up the set, and the fourth invisible wall that is between the set and the audience. The same is true of most traditional sitcoms too – think about how the set is only ever seen from certain angles. It can be quite interesting to see how these sets look in-person!

  8. Zekiran

    Talking directly to the viewer, player, audience or reader is a reasonably common thing but generally only used in comedy. Some older, Victorian-era things would be presented in the manner of “dear reader”, so they know that their story is being picked up and read, but that is kind of a different thing in my opinion.

    I think one of the best 4th wall breakers was Moonlighting on TV, and She Hulk when it was out in the 80s as a comic. For games to do it, I think it’d require a really careful bit of forethought. In many ways, I think FPS games actually already are straddling the 4th wall, by assigning “you” as the person that people talk at, respond to, etc.

    I’m not too fond of anything that insults me, but that’s the easiest method I think that a game might do so (as in, “get off your butt and play outside!” when you lose or die).

    Of course, lol – contrary to this, Steam is offering the Play it safe, stay inside, sales for Independence Day… lol “it’s scary out there”.

  9. Kyouryuu

    Countless games break the fourth wall. Usually, it’s to create humor, but other times it’s a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of what the player is probably already thinking. One of my favorite consequences of fourth wall jokes is the self-deprecating humor that often results.

  10. Kasperg

    I’m not sure, but breaking that fourth wall might be something that we did in The Citizen in several occasions. It did break immersion for some players, but they weren’t really mandatory.

    -Having easter egg decals for easter eggs and other decals/posters.

    -A radio transmission in which Dr. Breen’s supposed daughter speaks about how anyone that played HL1 had witnessed the Black Mesa incidents.

    -The noclip jail for cheaters.

  11. Majugarzett

    I think breaking the fourth wall in a mod would make me feel slightly awkward and self concious as a player if I was really getting into it, so I’d say maybe in humorous mods but otherwise no.

  12. bobdog

    The Nameless Mod recently released for Deus Ex breaks the 4th Wall towards the finale of the game. After completing a couple of “hidden” tasks throughout the game, the computer on a space station opens a special door for you. When you enter, you walk “out” of the level design. When you look back, you can see the level behind you, with all the foes and layout intact. There is some humorous discussion about who is REALLY the puppet — your on-screen avatar or you in real life.

  13. Oopla

    I voted for doing so in a humorous mod. Breaking the fourth wall comes off best in comedy. Since humor depends on us reacting to situations in reality that do not jive with our pre-concieved notions, it works there.

    As mentioned, MGS pulled it off pretty well, which while playing the game for the first time was pretty freaky and uncommonly interactive.

    I think that it could be argued that an achievement system is just one long fourth wall break.

    1. Huh, never really thought about it like that. Now that you mention it, achievement systems probably are the best example.

      1. I don’t really see the achievement system as being fourth wall breaking, as you can give yourself achievements to accomplish even if they aren’t Valve sanctioned. One of the things I like to do is to get a rocket to stay circling in the air for an extended period of time (5 – 10 seconds) For all intents and purposes, that’s an achievement too. Achievements aren’t anything more than a mental pat on the back for doing something interesting, unique, or difficult.

        1. Oopla

          I think it is different when it is a game offered challenge external to the story.

          Half Life Achievements are part of your public profile. So that Valve is reaching out through the game to affect the user, outside of the game’s storytelling.

          They are speaking indirectly, as opposed to directly, like the commentary system. I think that does qualify differently than challenging yourself to beat the game in three hours or something similar.

  14. Oopla

    Just remembered that Half Life 2: The Lost Coast broke the fourth wall.

    At the end of the level as the screen starts to fade out the fisherman says, “Hey, wait, you’re getting fuzzy around the edges. Oh, well, nice seeing you.”

    Crowbar straight through the fourth wall.

    1. Anon_223646

      I don’t see how that’s breaking the fourth wall

      1. Zekiran

        Because Gordon, the player, is leaving the game map. The map appears to be fading out to US, but to anything on the map, which in this case is treated as “reality”, sees Gordon as the one fading out.

        More “meta” than merely 4th-wall, but still, meta kind of does the same thing only in a less specific way.

        1. It’s not really meta or 4th wall breaking, as the guy was talking about what he was seeing; Gordon Freeman going fuzzy around the edges as he was brought back out of the area by gman or whatever force it was that brought him into it in the first place.

          1. Oopla

            I saw it as an external game force, which to me is a break in the video game fourth wall.

  15. Gypsy Jim

    Interesting discussion, as always, but really…..I simply had to vote “Yes in any Mod” as you all seem to take this so seriously. For the record I did give the idea the respect enough to read all the posts first before voting, but honestly.

    If an NPC can address the player as if s/he is in the same universe, or can seem to interact in any other way, it has to be handled with either humour, or at least some sort of sensitivity, depending on whether the author wants the player to take it as part of the story, or just as a tongue in cheek bit of fun. If handled nicely it shouldn’t really be an issue, and can be linked to Easter Eggs, or hidden areas, or just as a knowing nod to the player…..In the scheme of things it could spoil a map/mod I suppose, but haven’t we all played more than enough to spot subtle “nods” here and there already? They’re there in a lot of maps anyway, even the official ones.

    I’m waiting now for a commentor who has a real issue with this as I can’t wait to hear how it might really spoil the “experience” for someone…..why on earth should It? I know it can in films, but does it ever really happen in any “quality” ones? (not that I can recall, but I could be wrong….)

    1. Oopla

      One funny Idea I had (Modders, feel free to steal) was for Barney to address the player, and end it with a prejorative, implying that the player was one of those “Guys who shot/crowbar’ed me for my ammo, back at Black Mesa.”

  16. Armageddon

    I wish my brain could understand what the fourth wall is… 😐

    1. Oopla

      Armageddon, I think that the fourth wall refers to the fact that fundamentally, most performances are intended to present an alternate reality situation to the viewer. Than includes situations that are set in the real world, but not directly involving the viewer. Even in the performance is an interactive video game, it is designed to call to a different situation than the player is in.

      So if the game calls to the player as the player, not as the character, I see that as breaking the fourth wall, so to speak.

      This term is archaic (Read the Wikipedia article linked for its origins) but I think that it has evolved to mean anything that may intentionally break, for good or bad reasons, the suspension of disbelief. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

  17. Zonbie

    The Joker has been known to break the forth wall on many occasions. Which is something only he could ever do in the Batman universe.

  18. Wesp5

    I don’t like obvious breaks like movement out of a map or into unfinished parts of a level, which I already saw in some mod, but small funny ones.

    I remember that in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines you could ask someone in the game about the company that developed it, which was cool.

    Or in The Precursors there is a preacher ranting about THE PLAYER who is the center of the universe and that it will cease to exist once he stops.

  19. Kaze

    In most cases, I really don’t like that fourth wall broken. It takes away from the experience in so many ways. There can be some more creative ways to do that which are less obvious, like perhaps in a mod based in this world, someone talked about a real movie (if that counts as breaking the wall). Another way I might find it acceptable is if it’s some sort of easter egg. Those can be very interesting, actually. I know a few authors who do that to explain back-story, or talk about themselves, or tell how the mod was made, what the inspiration was, etc. and I really enjoy such things.

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