Imaging gameplay - the Design and Construction of Spatial Worlds
From the two-dimensional mazes of early game design, to the simulation games of emergent behaviour, and the complex societies of massive multiplayer games, players interact in environments that are spatially represented and configured. In game studies there has been a tendency to associate the spatial in computer games with older forms of media such as film and television (Bolter 1999, Jenkins 2004, Murray 1997). This has resulted in a misplaced focus on narrative structures, art direction and audience reception, that excludes the broader range of spatial practices encountered in gameplay. This paper proposes that an understanding of game space must take into account not only the representational form of space on screen, but also the movement in and around spaces performed by the player. The confluence of screen design elements, player navigation, spatial perception and game agency presents a hybrid form of spatiality initially structured by the game designers and then reconstituted by the player during the processes gameplay. The paper firstly explores a number of spatial design strategies used in games such as the panorama (Exile) the 3D Cartesian grid (Splinter Cell) and the orthogonal (The Sims). It addresses how these spatial geometries produce a plurality of perceptions that provisionally shape player engagement. It considers how this shaping of player engagement is reworked by the spatial praxis or performance of the player. Here spatial praxis is understood as the player's engagement in game challenges, on-screen action and navigation. Such a focus on spatial praxis is concerned with changes and dynamics, involving as it does, the reconfiguration of space through the apparatus of the player's body. As such, the paper argues for a move away from a static model of point and click interaction represented by a series of static objects bounded by empty space towards a more phenomenologically informed concept of the player's engagement in space. It suggests that in order to take account of the complexity of gameplay, the player's experience of space might more usefully be considered as a form of spatial practice that takes account of the complexity of gameplay and the players embodied experience of space.
Imaginary Worlds - Image and Space International Symposium. Symposium Proceedings.