Irony in Postmodern Meta-Contextual Fairytales

After digging through older websites for one of my greatest inspirations, Rule of Rose, I realized a major difference between what I’ve been doing and my sources of inspiration (the aforementioned and Pan’s Labyrinth being the two that immediately come to mind).
In those, the fairytale is always told with the audience being one step removed. The audience is aware things aren’t real and that the world is possibly operating based on rules unknown to the characters, rules that the fairytale exists to escape, that the fairytale supersedes.
For example, in Pan’s Labyrinth, though the protagonist believes in the fairytale, we see the real-life, historical elements surrounding it and know that there is a rational explanation for everything. The fairytale doesn’t override reality, it exists on another level above it, as a sort of parallel story.
But in Rule of Rose, the fairytale is the only explanation given while the real-world events somehow seem even more surreal. We see the world through the eyes of the protagonist who is rational and, but is confused and is just as much in the dark as the audience is as to what to believe is really going on in the world. The only clues for which, are vague and mysteriously surreal with bizarre characters and environments that seem impossible and irrational.
In Rule of Rose, the audience is expected to decode both the fairytale and the surreal context it’s being told in, in order to piece together what really happened.
For instance, the protagonist is a much older girl than the others at the orphanage, therefore we can presume that this is a memory she is trying to come to terms with, and from the nightmarish setting and the violent abuse we see, we reckon it must have been a traumatic memory that she’s repressed, which explains why everything is so surreal and mysterious- she doesn’t want to understand it because it would be too painful for her to revisit, so she remembers everything as one would a dream. As one who has dissociated from trauma.
These multiple layers of storytelling help draw the audience in because of the tension created through the irony of knowing there is a darker subtextual story than the one the protagonist realizes, and we know that by the end of the story the protagonist will have to be affected by this difference in worldview somehow, and, most likely, the affect will be that they suffer tragically for not realizing this sooner. But this tragedy is always for the audience to bare, because the protagonists are oblivious- they are living in a fairytale and grasp even tighter to their fantasy at the point where things become clearest.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, the protagonist suffers physically because on the underlying reality, she’s mortally wounded- she dies. And kudos to Guillermo del Toro for maintaining the integrity of the parallel universes, because in the fairytale, it’s a happy ending- she’s been crowned and will live on in royalty forever in happiness. To her, this is the best outcome imaginable.
In Rule of Rose, the entire course of the story the protagonist suffers from various abuses as she struggles to come to terms with a guilt and trauma she’s trying to understand. And in the end the worlds remain fractured. There is catharsis but it remains a tragedy for the audience because of the overriding sense of loss that we feel but, like the protagonist we can’t quite understand. We’re left with clues, “I’ll protect you…forever and ever until I die…” she says, and we know that the main theme of the game is about a love suicide (the song goes “I am a love suicide”- can’t get more blatant than that), as well as the fact that she and the dog vanish into a white light after the main villain shoots himself…
In fact, it’s likely that the villain, Stray-Dog/Gregory and the protagonist, Jennifer, are the same person and the dog, Brown, is a stand-in for his son, Joshua, but that’s just my most recent interpretation.
The point is, the story remains a tragedy, even though the protagonist is blissfully unaware of it.
And that is the only way the story could work– without this meta-contextual level for the audience to appreciate the story, it would be an alienating experience for most audiences with no redeeming value, no lesson learned, because these are not likemost fairytales.
Most fairytales are morality fables. They end with a lesson like“Don’t lie,” or “Be wary of wolves,” etc.
But the fairytales here, the ones that are in multi-contextual stories, operate as an escape mechanism. They are an expression of the protagonist’s point of view, a way of characterization within the mindset of a very unreliable narrator.
An unreliable narrator whose world is better than our own.
And that’s how it works.


“Lingering” is a term used to describe the long, needless sections where a character is watched moving to the next area, or performing an action that’s boring to observe and doesn’t tell us anything new about them or the world they inhabit.

For instance: After a conversation, a character opens a door and then goes down a hallway, then through another door and outside, across the lawn, down the street, etc.

Unless you’re giving us some new information, a la Shawn of the Dead with the presence of zombies in the background, there’s no need to show all that.

Show them leave, then show them at the next place.

But in video games, there’s a lot of lingering. [Note: This is a side-effect of narrative. Non-narrative games don’t suffer from Lingering]

In fact, most of the game is the act of lingering, unless you’re playing a high-octane AAA FPS, but even in those, there are times where you are either backtracking or looking for the next area after you’ve already cleared out all the enemies in the current one.

Is this a problem?

I’m not sure. If people have been okay with it so far, it seems to not be an issue, but for the medium to progress, I’d argue that we should see about ways we can transition to new scenes.

Because ultimately this comes down to being able to cut to a new scene, something games are reluctant to do because it means a snapping of consciousness, a jolt to a new time and place directly for the player, whereas in film, we more easily slide into and out of projecting ourselves directly on the character.

In film we are both a character and peeper. In games, we are the character and purveyor.

The predominant solution in games is to cut to a new area directly after a goal has been reached, or transition to one at that time.

Demon’s Souls does this after you beat the boss in the Tower of Latria: winged demons lift you up in a cutscene and take you to the next level.

This doesn’t eliminate the Lingering when exploring a level, however. The needless walking through empty rooms and hallways are still a problem.

Unless they’re not a problem.

The devil’s advocate would say they support the pacing and add red-herring challenges to solving puzzles. And there’s just the general thrill of exploring, too.

Well, those same arguments can be said for film, too, but no one’s arguing for long walks of silence in those.

We need to tighten our games. We need to respect the audience’s time more. And we need to stop Lingering.