Sneaking ‘n’ Stealing: An example and analysis of a gamespace

Coming off yesterday’s post, I feel might be easier to think about gamespaces, and the idea of the three sub-spaces, in the context of looking a game and trying to decide where each division might be made. To that end, I have created an example game to think about.

Welcome to Sneaking ‘n’ Stealing, a game about going into houses, taking stuff and getting away safely.

Story: Charlie likes to steal things from people’s houses. Help Charlie steal things without getting caught.


Use W (Up), A (Left), S (Down), D (Right) to move Charlie.
Black lines are impassable.

Avoid the flashlights of the guards. Getting caught means restarting the level.
In order to complete the level, you must successfully get the treasure and get to the exit without being caught.

Sneaking and Stealing L1

Looking at just a screenshot of how this game might work, we can see a flat plane that represents the physical space of the game. Yet, we have already conceptualized the spacial metaphors into an imagined space of Charlie (‘C’) trying to avoid the Guards and their Flashlights (‘G’ + Yellow Triangles) while he gets to the Treasure (‘T’) and back to the Exit without being seen. (We might have even invented, if only in our own minds, why Charlie is stealing; might he be a Robin Hood or an unrepentant villain?)

Assuming for just a moment that the guards do not move, a player might plot out a route, given the possibility space of the game, that might look something like the following:

Path of success through the space

This route is a function of an understanding of the ruleset (specifically that black lines are impassable) that allowed the player to imagine a path that would bring them from where they are to a new destination within the space. During its execution, however, the player might have come into an unexpected event and then moved to a new plan (i.e. maybe a guard started moving). This is representative of most games experiences where, during the play session, something unanticipated happens and the player must plot a new path given the parts of the possibility space that they are aware of.

The imagined space, then, is a collection of routes, ways through the possibilities, that represent possible options for the player. One path, as shown, might lead to Charlie getting the Treasure and getting back to the Exit without being detected. However, the other outcomes as just as likely. In fact, there is often a higher probably that failure will occur as the player adjusts to how the mechanics work, as compared to other gaming experiences they might have had, at first.

It is in that dissonance, however, that the most interesting interactions exist. As a player approaches a new game, like Sneaking ‘n’ Stealing, they must go through the process of translating the associations they know from other rulesets to the one at present. Their experiences build on each other. The mechanics in a previous game might be similar enough to the current game so that a mapping of the known routes in another game are applicable to the moment.

Even given that understanding of the mechanics of a game, though, there is a process of exploration, of adding successful routes to the known collection. It is projecting a possible path, trying it and then seeing if that indeed is a correct path. This is a matrix of associations between works, like games, that gives us enough of a basis to understand something of them without a mastery of their execution or all the underlining metaphors. We can play a game to learn more about it, to gain a greater understanding of its connection between what is possible, given its ruleset, and what achieves the player’s goals.

Mastery of the gamespace, then, might be thought of as an understanding of as many outcomes as possible, a large known collection of routes across the possibility space as it is projected down into the physical space. The more a player knows what is possible, or not, the greater their ability to navigate the spatial metaphors that the game affords them. Knowing which outcomes lead where in the space, given a series of choices, can allow a skilled player to quickly cross from one area, both in reference to landscape and literature, to another within a game.