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Pausing the Game

by Sarah Scialli

This scene from eXistenZ illustrates for the audience that the characters are having trouble distinguishing reality from game. Besides serving as a narrative device to heighten the stakes and forward the plot, this scene is in turn representing the blurring between diegetic and nondiegetic within a game that Alexander R. Halloway investigates in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture.  Further, the scene, and much of this movie, raises a question about audiences playing games in general. Is it possible for reality and game world to slip into one?

At this point in the film, Ted is desperate to separate the game from real life. So, he searches for something that is nondiegetic- the pause button. As Halloway describes, pause represents control for a player, especially because “nothing in the world of the game can explain or motivate it when it occurs” (Halloway 13). However, the game has clearly taken on a life of its own, because after Ted declares the game paused, the game still appears to be moving. Instead, the game takes on what Halloway describes as an ambience act; it continues to move and breath although nothing happens in the game. This unusual diegetic response to a pause act puts the game back into a position of power, illustrating the hold it has taken on Ted. 

The game in this scene has taken on a life of its own, almost being portrayed as a character.  So perhaps Cronenberg is not suggesting that the humans in this film are at fault for confusing their real lives with the game, but that it is a rogue game itself that is causing the slippage.

Though the characters in the film cannot separate reality from game world, Cronenberg leaves it to the viewer to think about whether audiences can have the same confusion between games and reality, and between films and reality. 

eXistenZ interface

Characters in a virtual reality game begin to feel slippage between the "real" and "virtual" worlds

from eXistenZ (1999)
Creator: David Cronenberg
Posted by Critical Commons Manager