On Gamespaces

The up-coming conversation (and episode of The School of Athens) at VGHVI will be about gamespaces, what they are and how they might be defined. I was thinking though, since I might not be able to attend the discussion due to work issues, I would go ahead and sharing my thoughts on gamespaces here so that they can be picked apart, ignored or used later this week for the discussion.

In my personal deliberations of what a gamespace might be, there are two primary attributes I would assign to it. Notably, its physicality and consensual nature.

On some level, a game is confined by the physical world. A board game has parts that are moved and a card game has pieces that are held. Games have rules (grammars) and have objects (noun + verb combinations) that are moved toward or away from a goal (producing a valid language). Even video games, tied up in the virtual as they are, are bounded by the devices they run on and who is playing them at any one moment. The memory and processing power of a computer dictates the upper limit of how much a video game can grow in much the same way a field designates where football or baseball might be played. Gamespaces are finite, in other words.

I would define a gamespace as being an instantiation of the composite entity known as the player and that which they interact with defined within some scope. That is, a gamespace exists as long as play happens and, with play being a performance, it must take place in some location. The actors, to use a metaphor, must stand on a stage somewhere. There must be a place where the game exists and edges where it does not. Huizinga’s “magic circle” in important in this regard as it plays the game within a subspace of a greater space and, as such, expresses the idea that there is a bounded possibility space in which all play, using a certain ruleset, might be expressed.

A gamespace then is a single possibility that is informed, although not dictated by, the choices that the player makes. Using a chain of decisions and the ruleset, the gamespace can be changed or mutated by the play, it can be expanded or contracted as needed, however, it is still fixed at each new change. The gamespace is the world the player exists within while the game is running in that moment when play occurs. The landscape can change, mountains can move and rivers can run dry, yet the world remains throughout the experience. This is the greater gamespace.

To create a subspace within the greater world is to, by consent, restrict the player experience using a reduced ruleset. It is the agreement by a single player or even many players to use certain tools, conditions or rules that do not exist in the greater space of that game. It is to create a game within game, to decrease the gamespace in order to promote creativity, equality or even competition using a simpler grammar toward a new agreed upon goal for those players.

The gamespace changes even though, on a greater level, it does not. This is the area of those who would use the worlds in Minecraft to create arenas or those who use fighting games to make a new game (e.g. Rose Tennis/Ball). The ruleset and gamespace changes, for them, in order to, for a limited time, create a secondary “magic circle” within the one created by the ruleset and player interaction. The space is smaller because they deem it so, yet this too is finite. It does not extend to the whole world and is defined in some area for some time for some players.

Using these two aspects, however, creates an even more philosophical problem: if there are no players, does a gamespace exist? The answer to this — my answer to this — is that, no, it does not. It is code running by itself. It is a simulation without stimulation. It is a looped video or audio playing to the darkness. Without the player, there is no gamespace because there is no game being game. The player is a necessary part of this equation. Agents and activities must both exist.

To use a game in a physical place as an example, football can be played on a field. This is the use of a marked area as being “the gamespace” for this instance of play. However, football can be played in other places too like open fields and even in streets. It is in these reclaimed zones though that the bounds are set. Play beyond a certain area does not count and is invalid. Only while within a special spots that goals be scored. It is only while people are in this area that they are players and the game is being played. The gamespace has its physicality and is agreed upon by the players.

The players, if they agree, can change the space. The field, even an official one, can be shortened in order to promote some rule or player preference. As long as all agree, the space is reduced. The football game goes on according to its rules and actions but in a consensually defined space. A street can be closed off or, if an open field is shared, it can be dictated that play is to avoid certain areas within the greater space. Yet, throughout the encounter, both aspects are maintained and in use.