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Dead Space: blurring the lines of nondiegetic and diegetic space

by Survey of Interactive Media

Dead Space is a visual masterpiece which interlaces traditionally nondiegetic elements within the diegetic, narrative space.  Alexander Galloway, in his book Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, describes nondiegetic actions as “gamic elements that are inside the total gamic apparatus yet outside the portion of the apparatus that constitutes a pretend world of character and story” (8).  One of the more interesting aspects of the videogame Dead Space is how the creators present conventionally nondiegetic information such as health bars, ammunition levels, and maps.  They present this crucial information not in a HUD (Heads up Display) like many other games within the horror survival genre do but within the narrative world itself.  This is primarily accomplished through a series of screens that both the player, and the character the player inhabits, can see.

 As the accompanying clip illuminates, Isaac, the character the player controls, learns the necessary information of the game as the player learns it.  A female companion tells Isaac, “I’m synching everyone’s rig up to the ship.”  As Isaac is synched up to the ship a teal bar expands across his spine.  The companion then says, “clean bill of health for everyone.”  That remark teaches the player that the teal bars represent the character’s health.  While many videogame characters have health bars, Dead Space successfully integrates the health bar with the world of the story.  This is similar to the way ammo is marked in the game.  Yet again Dead Space veers from the heads up display and instead allows the player to see the ammunition levels by looking directly at the gun.  The number is displayed so that it is visible to both the player and the character. 

 Perhaps the greatest example of nondiegetic information existing in the diegetic space is the select button.  When the player presses select, pages of traditionally nondiegetic information is projected into the narrative world.  There is the map, the inventory, the mission objectives, and the mission log.  All of this data is present, in real time, in the world of the story.  In fact, every time a screen pops up in the world, Isaac turns his head toward the screen.  He looks and presumably reads the information as the player does.  All of these measures effectively erase the nondiegetic wall.

While Galloway asserts that nondiegetic and diegetic information are predominantly at odds, he is careful to write, “in some instances it will be difficult to demarcate the difference between diegetic and nondiegetic acts in a videogame, for the process of a good game continuity is to fuse these acts together as seamlessly as possible” (8).  Dead Space fuses nondiegetic and diegetic acts both seamlessly and artfully.  More videogames would do well to imitate this evocative visual experience.  

-Spencer Boyle

Dead Space

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The introduction of Dead Space, exemplifying the integration of traditionally nondiegetic information with diegetic space.

from Dead Space (2008)
Creator: EA Redwood Shores
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media
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