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Game Construction & Deconstruction In-Game

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I played SUPERHOT: MINDCONTROLDELETE (MCD for short) a while back, and I recently read a review that criticized the game for trying to be "deep" when I really think what they meant is that the game is pretentious in how it breaks the fourth wall (e.g. "It's the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years."). What is interesting about MCD is that it breaks the fourth wall in a unique way in how it constructs & deconstructs itself during a playthrough of its "story".

So I pose these discussion questions:

  • How can a game do a great job of constructing or deconstructing itself over the course of a playthrough?
  • Do you or other gamers even want a game to construct and deconstruct itself?
  • What are your or other gamers limits on enjoying games that "break the fourth wall"?
  • What other games do construction & deconstruction of itself, good or bad?

Relevant terminology:

  • Break the fourth wall: Breaking the fourth wall occurs when a game becomes aware of its nature as a game, or when a character directly acknowledges the player
  • Game Construction & Deconstruction (In-Game) : The addition & removal of core gameplay elements in a way that breaks the fourth wall.

MCD happens to be the only game that I personally have ever played which clearly does both constructing or deconstructing itself while breaking the fourth wall.

I want to differentiate that from typical games that add or remove gameplay elements from players within the construct of the game's world or universe: Finding & equipping new items, learning new abilities/skills, getting captured by enemies & having all items taken away, (perma)death resulting in losing all items/skills/abilities, etc.

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The story of MCD is about playing the game MCD and as you play it you learn the effects of it on your character as well as life circumstances of the character through text files found through playing different sets of levels or brief Walking Sim-like scenes.

While playing MCD, you gain additional abilities that become available to choose from before starting a set of levels or while advancing through them. Aside from the fourth wall of playing a game about playing a game, this is relatively common in other games. The sets of levels branch out like paths, a map of sorts, or maze with one main path (not always evident) required to get through the story. So not every level set has to be played, but playing nearly all of them will unlock more story elements or abilities.

Where MCD gets unique is when reaching the second to last or last mapped area (I can't remember which), the sets of levels get longer, one of which was so long I was unwilling to attempt it again after a few tries. That one set of insurmountable levels is not on the main path though. This is where game deconstruction comes into play…

After beating nearly all level sets except for the one with 100 levels, the only other path available was the path to "give up", which consists of a series of level sets that each require you to permanently remove one selectable skill from the list of what you have acquired. Those level sets also had a limited amount of skills to choose from. In the last level set, instead of picking from skills, you are picking to remove basic abilities: Punching, shooting, moving, etc. Only after playing that level set can you complete the story, which requires following a path along an open ended ASCII map, and pressing enter over an icon that allows the game to "reload" or restore after 2 hours.

This type of fourth wall game deconstruction isn't something I've experienced in another game, except for maybe one or two specific endings to Stanley Parable, but IIRC the deconstruction was nearly instant.

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