Diegetic elements, in films and literature, are the elements of conventional narrative, such as the plot and the characters, while extra-diegetic elements are elements from the narrative that remain unexplained. In games, such as role-playing games, diegetic elements are whatever relates to physical gameplay; it could be elements which both the player and the character are aware of, such as the environment and other characters. Extra-diegetic elements come under the form of artifacts such as user interfaces, loading screens and bugs for example.
Since the goal of these types of games is to create a “perfect” sense of immersion or connection with the game world, we assume that the best way to do it would be to keep the extra-diegetic elements to a minimum, which is partially true; information displayed to the players such as status bars and quest logs create a disconnection with the game world as they are not part of it. However, it is also by carefully turning some of the extra-diegetic elements into diegetic ones by using metaphors that we can obtain a greater level of immersion. The game “The Graveyard” by Tale of Tales presents its metaphor of death by allowing the player to connect with the character through a combination of both visual cues and text.
First, most of the elements we would usually find in a game menu are excluded from the game, but shown in the game launcher instead. This prevents extra-diegetic elements such as graphic options and key settings from interfering with the game world. The players dive in and find themselves in a black and white world, watching the back of an old lady in a graveyard. The visuals match the sounds the players hear; we hear the wind blow while the trees move, we hear chirping sounds when we see birds, we hear the rattling sound of shoes coming in contact with the ground when the lady moves, and so on.
Also, I immediately noticed extra-diegetic elements such as credits and a way to obtain instructions. Notice the usage of the word “you” in the instructions, especially the line “you walk with her to the bench, [..].” Despite my ability to see an instruction set that the lady does not see and my ability to control her movements, I felt I was part of the world instead of being an external entity controlling her.
During the walk towards the bench, I understood the lady was old and frail due to her slow movements. After the first few steps, she will even lean on her cane and limp to keep up the pace, making us notice her bad leg. This element empowered the immersive experience and allows me, as a player, to connect in a much stronger, deeper way than if it were written in text, so much that I felt a sense of relief when the lady was finally able to reach the bench and rest. Here, we will notice more extra-diegetic elements: a song and subtitles. Both could instantly break the immersive experience since there are no instruments and no singers at the scene. However, a well-placed close up on the old lady’s face while she’s counting the tombstones allowed me to understand that the song is about the ways other people in her life died, and that it’s being played in her mind.
Afterwards, the player either walks her out of the graveyard or witnesses her death during the song. Again, instead of using words to tell her death, the players understand it when they see her head drop forward as her entire body loosens up and becomes lifeless. To add to the experience, no commands have an effect on the lady nor the game anymore. Players do not have a choice but to accept the ending.
Stern, Eddo. “A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer Computer RolePlaying Games.” In Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, ed. Frans Mayra. Tampre University Press, 2002.
The Graveyard (Tale of Tales, 2008).