I love the idea of breaking the fourth wall. I’m pretty sure my love for it started out with Star Trek TNG when the hologram of Moriarty broke the fourth wall and realized he was a hologram. My love then simmered and grew until I was re-introduced to the concept by a couple of friends I used to have. They made games in which some of the characters broke the fourth wall and I was hooked. I fell in love with ARG’s (and ultimately fell back out of love with them) because they contained concepts that were potentially fourth wall breaking. I then continued my search and discovered Deadpool, She Hulk and (even more mind-blowing) I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.
Now whatever I write and whatever games I play I find myself leaning towards breaking the fourth wall. Naturally, as I have loved the concept since I was a child (when I stood for the TNG theme song as though it were the national anthem) I have had a lot of time to ponder my obsession with it. So what is it that is so tantalizing about it? What makes it so alluring and mysterious and fabulous? It’s enlightenment.
We can’t break the fourth wall of our own reality, no matter how many psychotropic drugs we ingest, no matter how much yoga or prayer or meditation we do. Sure, we can become wise and believe all sorts of things about the nature of reality, but I am of the mind that we can’t truly KNOW. Not yet at least. So this means I will never be able to see the door of the holodeck appear and realize I’m just a hologram. I can’t step out of my story and look back at the pages and realize I was just a series of words strung together into sentences. I can’t joke about the fact that I am drawn onto a comic page or bust through one page onto another in a blinding green rage. I can’t break the fourth wall, I can’t achieve the kind of enlightenment that answers all the questions that are constantly burning on humanities lips. At least not unless I am completely religious or spiritual (in the kind of way that allows you to feel as though you are enlightened and have all the answers). I am neither.
I used to believe in something, crystals, homeopathy, world connectivity and energy healing, but even then I couldn’t touch what our fourth-wall-breaking counterparts in literature, TV and games get to touch. Granted, once they discover the fact that they are a character in some form of entertainment they wind up exactly where I am, but for that moment they get to have an understanding about their reality that it is likely I will never be able to achieve. So I write about it. I strive for it in games and prose and seek it out in the media I consume. I want to feel the wonder of that moment, time and time again where a character gets to break the fourth wall and access a greater understanding of their reality. I want to be enlightened, even if it is only in fiction.
Here’s a poem I wrote with the help of Ben It’s about a character in a LARP we played called Epoch. The character was the Goblin King (yes the David Bowie version) and he broke the fourth wall from time to time. The poem is about him doing just that, digging a tunnel and hitting the fourth wall, behind which he sees the gamers packing up the in-game town (Carreg Wynn) at the end of the weekend and heading home.
The Secret of the Goblin King
Once there lived a lithe Goblin King,
who recumbently wore a gold crown and ring.
In his house on the moon he kept secrets so great,
that upon his shoulders he bore a great weight.
One day our fine king was digging a path,
from his glittering throne room straight into his bath.
When he got there he thought of more to and fro.
But then he decided that on he would go.
He was digging and digging forever it seemed,
until he struck upon something that seemed like a dream.
A wall that was made not of brick, stone or stuffing,
A wall that, it seemed, was just made out of nothing.
He peered through this wall of nothing at all,
he peered from up high and yet did not fall.
Through this clear hindrance he saw such a sight,
that was so very shocking he had quite a fright!
He saw the all folk of the town Carreg Wynn
all doing strange things but they didn’t see him!
They rolled into town in large metal creatures,
all clad in weird grab with alien features!
Into these beasts they packed up the town,
and before he could sneeze the whole town was torn down!
It was a sight to behold, bare glebe and inn,
and he couldn’t believe it was still Carreg Wynn.
He paced back and forth unsure what to do,
so he dug some more holes, and they were weird too!
Some led to strange rooms where the folk now resided,
Doing odd things that just seemed misguided.
Through that wall he saw what he’d never before,
tall spires, high fliers, new people galore!
The sights wore him down and he just couldn’t cope,
so he crawled down the hole and slept on the slope.
The king finally awoke and climbed into his room,
he built a door on the hole to keep secrets entombed.
He stuffed the whole lot of it into his pocket,
then promptly returned to his busy docket.
So our goblin king, with gold crown and ring,
has secrets concealed beneath his wing!
And should anyone learn of this wondrous door,
into it’s depths they’d yearn to explore!