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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:42 pm 
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VictorGijsbers wrote:
maga wrote:
Unless you're writing something where the metafictional is a key theme*, it's rarely a good idea to do anything that says 'see what I did there?'

I don't know -- in these postmodern times, is breaking the fourth wall really such a big deal that it needs to have a clear pay-off?


I don't think it's a qualitatively big deal -- but it's a question on the scale of, I dunno, "should I add another character?" or "should I have this scene here?" If the scene or the character aren't contributing anything, they probably shouldn't be there.

(Yes, there are lightweight kinds of fourth-wall violation that are easily glossed-over, or even expected. But just because it's a semi-permeable membrane doesn't mean that breaking it isn't significant.)


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:52 pm 
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maga wrote:
I don't think it's a qualitatively big deal -- but it's a question on the scale of, I dunno, "should I add another character?" or "should I have this scene here?" If the scene or the character aren't contributing anything, they probably shouldn't be there.

Sure, but there is a large gap between "not contributing anything" and "being a key theme". Some things you should only include if they contribute a key theme. First example that comes to my mind: photographs of the victims of the Norway shootings. (I can think of no reason to include those unless the shootings are somehow a key theme of your work.) But I doubt that breaking the fourth wall is one of these things.

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(Yes, there are lightweight kinds of fourth-wall violation that are easily glossed-over, or even expected. But just because it's a semi-permeable membrane doesn't mean that breaking it isn't significant.)

Yes... but surely I could also say that because it's a semi-permeable membrane, raising the fourth wall is not insignificant? There is an assumption at work here that having a fourth wall is somehow the "natural" state of things, and it takes conscious effort to break it. But there are many media and genres where the fourth wall is not standard (including puppet shows and Athenian comedy). I wouldn't mind IF moving in that direction, or perhaps better, moving towards an agnostic stance where we have no preconceptions about the existence or non-existence of the fourth wall.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:55 pm 
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VictorGijsbers wrote:
maga wrote:
Unless you're writing something where the metafictional is a key theme*, it's rarely a good idea to do anything that says 'see what I did there?'

I don't know -- in these postmodern times, is breaking the fourth wall really such a big deal that it needs to have a clear pay-off?


No, but being annoying is.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:30 pm 
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VictorGijsbers wrote:
maga wrote:
I don't think it's a qualitatively big deal -- but it's a question on the scale of, I dunno, "should I add another character?" or "should I have this scene here?" If the scene or the character aren't contributing anything, they probably shouldn't be there.

Sure, but there is a large gap between "not contributing anything" and "being a key theme". Some things you should only include if they contribute a key theme. First example that comes to my mind: photographs of the victims of the Norway shootings. (I can think of no reason to include those unless the shootings are somehow a key theme of your work.) But I doubt that breaking the fourth wall is one of these things.


Thinking about it -- and I probably didn't articulate this very clearly -- by saying 'see-what-I-did-there' I was talking about the specific kind of fourth-wall-breaking that is, stylistically, of a piece with writing like "the glittering, happy crowds form a stark contrast to the desolation in your heart." If the player doesn't see the contrast, telling them it's a contrast isn't going to help much; if they saw it, then it's annoyingly redundant. It's this sort of thing that show-don't-tell is meant to prevent, and it's equally true of self-explanation on a bigger scale -- interpretation is much better if the reader does it for themselves, unless the interpretation is complicated enough that they can't be expected to do it automatically.

There might be some gap between 'stuff it's better to let the player figure out' and 'so much interpretation needed that interpretation becomes a major theme', but I don't think that, in practice, it's going to be a very big one.
VictorGijsbers wrote:
maga wrote:
(Yes, there are lightweight kinds of fourth-wall violation that are easily glossed-over, or even expected. But just because it's a semi-permeable membrane doesn't mean that breaking it isn't significant.)

Yes... but surely I could also say that because it's a semi-permeable membrane, raising the fourth wall is not insignificant? There is an assumption at work here that having a fourth wall is somehow the "natural" state of things, and it takes conscious effort to break it. But there are many media and genres where the fourth wall is not standard (including puppet shows and Athenian comedy). I wouldn't mind IF moving in that direction, or perhaps better, moving towards an agnostic stance where we have no preconceptions about the existence or non-existence of the fourth wall.

Hm. I suspect that there's an inherently greater flexibility about the fourth wall in media where the artist can adapt to audience participation on the fly -- which is true of RPGs, too, but not of IF. I'm trying to imagine what IF that moved in this direction would look like, but mostly I'm blanking on tedious AFGNCAAP protagonists and weak jokes about the limitations of the system. This is a prejudice, certainly; what do you think the alternatives might look like?


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:49 pm 
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maga wrote:
Hm. I suspect that there's an inherently greater flexibility about the fourth wall in media where the artist can adapt to audience participation on the fly -- which is true of RPGs, too, but not of IF. I'm trying to imagine what IF that moved in this direction would look like, but mostly I'm blanking on tedious AFGNCAAP protagonists and weak jokes about the limitations of the system. This is a prejudice, certainly; what do you think the alternatives might look like?

Good question. Perhaps I'm using a slightly wider interpretation of fourth-wall-breaking: not just direct addresses to the audience, but anything that makes it harder to think of the words on your screen as describing a coherent fictional world, i.e., anything that draws attention to the fictionality of the world. (Metafictionality is of course only a subset of this.) In this sense, something as simple as a recognisable literary allusion breaks the fourth wall. I consider your own The Cavity of Time (with its conscious allusions to Apuleius, Angela Carter, Richardson, Nick Montfort and Choice of Broadsides, among others) to be a huge fourth-wall breaker.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:50 pm 
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VictorGijsbers wrote:
But there are many media and genres where the fourth wall is not standard (including puppet shows and Athenian comedy). I wouldn't mind IF moving in that direction, or perhaps better, moving towards an agnostic stance where we have no preconceptions about the existence or non-existence of the fourth wall.

I'd say IF is already at a place where the fourth wall is not standard: The default state of the narrator is to address the player directly; it's understood that a well-read player should metagame and assume that this or that set of objects, just because it's implemented in detail, must constitute a puzzle.

What I want to say is: "In spite of this, critics want to preserve what's left of the wall, because historically the device has been used in silly ways and there's a stigma associated with it and they're concerned about the literary legitimacy of IF." But I can't say that, because while I guess I must have gotten that impression somewhere, nobody in this thread is backing it up.

So instead I'll say: While there's a difference between "You can't go there" and "You shouldn't open that toilet", I think it's a difference in degree, not in kind. (Technically it's a difference in modality.)

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 8:05 pm 
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Afterward wrote:
I'd say IF is already at a place where the fourth wall is not standard: The default state of the narrator is to address the player directly; it's understood that a well-read player should metagame and assume that this or that set of objects, just because it's implemented in detail, must constitute a puzzle.

I wouldn't call that breaking the fourth wall, exactly. Genre conventions generally serve to reinforce, rather than break down, the fourth wall; they make us suspend our disbelief and silence our critical questions. We don't ask how it is possible for Sherlock Holmes to be always smarter than Scotland Yard; we just 'metaread' and assume that this is the case. Furthermore, the default state of the narrator is not to address the player, but to address the implied reader; and the implied reader is very often identified with the protagonist and what I have called the commander and the experiential focus. So I would say that most IF has tried to keep the fourth wall in place as firmly as possible.

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What I want to say is: "In spite of this, critics want to preserve what's left of the wall, because historically the device has been used in silly ways and there's a stigma associated with it and they're concerned about the literary legitimacy of IF." But I can't say that, because while I guess I must have gotten that impression somewhere, nobody in this thread is backing it up.

There is certainly some truth in your impression. (As a philosopher, that expression makes me cringe, but I'm too tired to revise it. It's rather late here in western Europe.)

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(Technically it's a difference in modality.)

I teach a course together with a linguist, so you don't scare me. ;)


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:18 am 
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Afterward wrote:
I'd say IF is already at a place where the fourth wall is not standard: The default state of the narrator is to address the player directly; it's understood that a well-read player should metagame and assume that this or that set of objects, just because it's implemented in detail, must constitute a puzzle.

Yeah, what Victor said; this is a convention that silently dodges the fourth wall, rather than breaking it. Nobody worries, in conventional novels, that a first-person narrator is able to remember the precise details of a conversation that happened many years ago. Nobody worries that stage actors spend a disproportionate amount of their time facing in a particular direction. (In fact, when a work builds up realism beyond what's normally expected -- as happens very starkly in Make It Good -- it can draw one's attention to the fourth wall a lot more strongly.)

Afterward wrote:
What I want to say is: "In spite of this, critics want to preserve what's left of the wall, because historically the device has been used in silly ways and there's a stigma associated with it and they're concerned about the literary legitimacy of IF." But I can't say that, because while I guess I must have gotten that impression somewhere, nobody in this thread is backing it up.

Technically, the Consensus View (which has never been quite attained the status of orthodoxy, but remains a good point of reference for best practice) is the mimesis-plant position, which presents the fourth wall as an organic sort of thing, maintained by an agreement between author and player, rather than a rigid and brittle slab.

Victor Gijsbers wrote:
Good question. Perhaps I'm using a slightly wider interpretation of fourth-wall-breaking: not just direct addresses to the audience, but anything that makes it harder to think of the words on your screen as describing a coherent fictional world, i.e., anything that draws attention to the fictionality of the world. (Metafictionality is of course only a subset of this.)


I think there's a pretty substantial difference between 'making it harder to think of the words on your screen as describing a coherent fictional world' and 'drawing attention to the fictionality of the world'; the former but not the latter is true of Kafka, say.

Victor Gijsbers wrote:
In this sense, something as simple as a recognisable literary allusion breaks the fourth wall. I consider your own The Cavity of Time (with its conscious allusions to Apuleius, Angela Carter, Richardson, Nick Montfort and Choice of Broadsides, among others) to be a huge fourth-wall breaker.

Yeah, but fourth-wall-breaking is of a central theme of Cavity: specific allusions aside, the protagonist is perfectly aware that he's a fictional character, and insofar as it's about anything it's about the narrative strangeness of CYOA.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 7:17 pm 
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I'd never heard of the mimesis-plant position, so I googled it and this was all I got. Is there some historian here who can better explain its provenance?

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:49 pm 
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Let me unpack that some. Back in the 90s, a guy named Roger Giner-Sorolla posted an essay called "Crimes Against Mimesis". It's in the IF Theory Book, or you can read it at http://web.archive.org/web/200506190819 ... g/cam.html

I believe Neil Guy then made some comment about thinking mimesis sounded like a kind of plant. Adam Thornton, being Adam Thornton, took those two things and created the game "Sins Against Mimesis" in which you must commit the seven deadly sins with a mimesis plant.

So with that background: "mimesis-plant position" is hewing to the idea of mimesis in interactive fiction as laid out by Roger Giner-Sorolla.


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