Cracks in Diegesis

Okay, so, fancyword there, Diegesis. The diegesis is the reality of the story you’re perceiving. It’s not ‘the text’ because there’s more to the text than the diegesis, like music and credits and – well, the term we use for elements that don’t belong in the diegesis is ‘nondiegetic elements,’ and I recognise that that isn’t the most helpful dang thing in the world.

The diegesis of a text is the narrative. Basically. It’s the little bubble of a universe where the things exist, the objects and places and people and the events they’re all reacting to. When a movie pops up a location text or a timer in it, that’s non-diegetic.

Diegesis is something we’re often kinda precious about. The whole idea of ludonarrative dissonance is – and I am ignoring all the times people use the term stupidly – usually about someone perceiving gameplay and fiction as having different values and that creates a jarring feeling. I’ve made fun of characters for espousing media they clearly didn’t read or understand. Basically, the diegesis, the illusion that this is a story and not a crafted work by a person, is said to ‘break’ when we notice something wrong with it. This is why it’s important to have verisimilitude – not realism, but the believable illusion of realism. That believable illusion is why it’s more important to play into people’s expectations than into realism.

The thing is, we don’t have to break diegesis when we’re confronted with the oddness. It’s something of a canard. What does the diegesis do if you don’t acknowledge the break?

This came to my mind thinking about Kamen Rider W, recently, with its focus on Hardboiled narratives which were clearly made by people who hadn’t really read or ‘gotten’ Hardboiled narratives. You know, what happens if you ignore the obvious and easy – that this ‘mistake’ is because someone making the media made a mistake – and instead accept it within the diegesis? Do we have to lean on the cracks in diegesis?

What if the chainsawing racists in the face and the both-sidesing racism of Bioshock Infinite is something that exists in its story, rather than signs of a ninny messing up?

I haven’t got an answer for these examples – but it’s very easy to leap back from any part of a media space and say ‘well, someone chose this, for a reason,’ and that’s almost too easy. Explore the things that happen in a movie, consider why they might be the way the are within the universe itself.

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