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Evolution Of Space Configuration In Videogames

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Any game takes place within a space, so that the rules of the game are in force within its boundaries, what Salen and Zimmerman (2004) have called ‘the magic circle’. Videogames must also follow this precept, by creating a virtual playfield. How this virtual space has been represented has always been constrained by what technology allows and affords; as technology advances, the configuration of those spaces has also developed and become more complex. This paper deals with the basic spatial configurations in videogames from early games until today, how they position the player with respect to the playfield, and how they transform and challenge pre-existing spatial representations from other media. The first limitation of videogame spaces is the screen itself, which frames the events of the game. Even though computers may have the capability of generating an infinite space, human perception would be unable to encompass it, and still there is no device that could represent an infinite space. As a playfield, it also needs boundaries so that the player knows where the game rules apply. The technological limitations show first in the representation of the space, as the remediation of other spatial representations into the digital medium. As processor speeds and screen resolutions have improved, games have taken place in different spaces: - non-visual spaces, as in written fiction (Zork) - 2D spaces, from the side (Super Mario) or from above (Civilization) - isometric perspective, from architecture (Marble Madness, The Sims) - classic 3D perspective, from painting, architecture, photography (Super Mario 64) These different imported representations allow the player interpret the space according to pre-existing conventions; however the space extends beyond the limits of the screen, so it requires some navigation system. The way in which the space is navigated brings about diverse spatial configurations which situate the player differently with respect to the gameplay. As Jenkins (2002, 2004) proposes, contested spaces are a basic feature in videogames; every different spatial configuration involves a different contest and challenge to advance in it or to ‘beat’ it. These configurations are dependent on the hardware of the computer, so that the larger the processing power, the more elaborate the configuration of the space is. The different configurations (in increasing order of complexity) are: - Screen-to-screen games: every stage consists of one single screen, which shows all the space the avatar had to move in, and when the player completed that stage, she passed on to the next, never going to the previous one. (Pac-Man, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Arkanoid) - Scrolling screens: The space of each stage is larger than the screen, so the player only sees a portion of the playfield. The screen moves along with the character, scrolling along the space; the playfield is usually shaped as a long road, from left to right or upwards. In early videogames the player could not go back in space once it had passed the left limit of the screen (Super Mario); in others the space advances so that the player has to keep up with it, which is a feature of most shoot-‘em-up such as Gradius. - Expansive spaces: When the space of every stage expands in the four directions outside the screen, it can be displayed as a series of interconnected screens, either screen-to-screen (Prince of Persia, 1992) or scrolling between screens (Castlevania IV). - Impossible Spaces: Taking advantage of the representation used and/or the way the space is configured, the playfield follows a configuration that is impossible in the real world. This is the case of Zork, where it is impossible to draw a coherent map of the different dungeons, or of the first Zelda, where every screen is randomly generated. These different configurations transform the spatial representations imported from other media, as the ones described above, or other traditional space configurations such as labyrinths and mazes. According to Hermann Kern, labyrinth and maze have two different definitions; the maze is a structure where one can get lost, with dead-ends and loops, whereas in the labyrinth one does not get lost, the point being to disorient and delay whoever enters it. The classic Pac-Man takes place in a labyrinth, for instance; if the player can only see a portion of the labyrinth it becomes maze-like, since she feels lost and looping around without the whole picture of the labyrinth, as happens in Pacman Vs. (GC, 2003). The aim of the paper is to highlight the relationship of technology in the possibilities of the representation. Developments in hardware will not cancel out previous configurations, as this paper intends to demonstrate, but allow more complex ones and defy previous spatial representations in new ways. References: Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play. Game Design Fundamentals, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. Henry Jenkins, ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, in Noah Wardrip & Pat Harrigan, eds. First Person. New Media as Story, Performance and Game, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. Henry Jenkins & Kurt Squire, ‘The Art of Contested Spaces’, in Lucien King, ed., Game On. The History and Culture of Videogames, London, 2002 Hermann Kern, 1982. Through the Labyrinth: Desings and Meanings over 5000 years A. Clay, trans. London: Prestel Verlag 2000.
Contact: Clara Fernandez Vara, Literature, Communication and Culture, Georgia Tech,
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