Gamespaces: They’re full of space

The latest episode of The School of Athens dealt with the question “What is a gamespace?” To start us off in the conversation, Roger Travis provided the definition:

“range of performance affordances created by a practomimetic ruleset, conceived as one or more of a variety of spatial metaphors readily afforded by human consciousness.”

We, for better or worse, deviated from this to concentrate on the terms “afforded” and “spatial metaphors”. We talked about what might be the qualities of a gamespace and how it might be different from the possibility space of a game. How, in that discussion, it might be be the different contexts that make this distinction.

It was this tangent that lead us to getting caught up on the repeated use of the word space to describe the dimensions of the areas that are the set of all possibilities, that which we imagine and the actual physicality of a game. To that end, I developed a temporary breakdown of how that might look and made it into the following picture.

Gamespace, as spaces

To understand this picture, we, as players, do not deal with the physicality of the game, the spatial metaphors, as objects we directly touch, but as an understanding of the relationships of the objects in connection with other objects. That is, as a mesh of metaphors. We might understand a baseball field, for example, as an official area marked off with caulk lines, but another example of a baseball field might be a sandlot that is, in the context of an imagined space, the same space. A baseball field is an imagined space where the players agree, through their ludic attitudes, to adopt as their space during that game.

The imagined space, however, is connected to the possibility space of a game.  The totality of all moves, all options that the ruleset of the text allows at any moment: the possibility space is everything that the game will let you do. The imagined space, then, is that which the player understands through their playing, past performances and previous knowledge of the possibility space of the game. While all moves might be possible, as allowed by the ruleset, any one player might not be able to imagine all moves given what they know.

As they play a game, the player interacts with the spatial metaphors that are available to them and imagine different outcomes as they plan, during their session, what will happen next. It is this action that connects the physicality of the play, through the imagined space, into the possibility space. This interaction is rooted in, for videogames, a player’s use of a controller to move some virtual object. The metaphor of the use of buttons is linked to the spatial metaphors that the game allows.

The tension in a game setting is the dissonance between what is imagined might be next and what actually happens next, as a function of the mechanical rules and other agents. Since the possibility space allows for options that might not be in the player’s imagined space, this is an unexpected or unanticipated action that prompts player reaction. This feedback cycle propels the game forward as the space, dictated by the ruleset, allows. Movement through via the spatial metaphors can be represented as a series of choices created through the moments of tension generated by the collisions of the player’s imagined space and other agent’s understanding of their own imagined space in connection to the possibility space.

Player agency, then, might be thought of as a function of increasing or decreasing in connection to the choices that a game allows. As the number of moments of tension increase, a player will have a greater range of expression as they act out what they imagined their character might do. Agency is the proportionality of imagined space made manifest through the spatial metaphors that the player understands and the game allows. For more passive mediums, the imagined space exists in the viewer’s or reader’s mind and is only associated with the text when it matches the words or visuals that are provided, investigation through feedback comes only from changes to the agent and not the artifact in a traditional sense.

Greater investigation of these spaces, and the complications that they create, may changes these ideas. I expect I might change my mind as these episodes continue and the conversations concentrate the ideas through discussions. At the moment, though, I think this breakdown has some merit.

4 thoughts on “Gamespaces: They’re full of space

  1. Pingback: The School of Athens (VGHVI) Podcast, recorded 3 May 2012 | Video Games and Human Values Initiative

  2. Good notes. I will say: I think of the imagined space as mapping into the possibility space, but the possibility space as projecting down onto the physical space. (With a temporal dimension, tracing out routes in the physical space.)

    Also, playing songs on the guitar last night and comparing that with how Rock Band 3 scores me on those same songs makes me wonder if it makes sense in some contexts to separate a performance space from some sort of rule-based possibility space, at least in some sorts of games.

    1. Dan Cox

      I think I agree with you in the understanding of the spaces, but find that hard to convey in pictures. I have it in my notes to think of them as you have stated here, but I’m not sure how to draw that. I may need to create an example game in order to try to illustrate it better.

      If you are saying that the actualization of the ruleset may produce an aesthetically pleasing effect, yet be different from how the game judges you, that is certainly possible. You can perform something well, according to one criteria, and still fail in regard to the ruleset that you are currently playing within at that moment. Making music and playing a music game are two different rulesets, aren’t they?

  3. Yeah, they’re different rulesets. Rock Band 3 is just (quite) unusual in that it creates a more open space to import one of those rulesets into the other. And, for that matter, playing music from a score sets up a situation where both of those rulesets are present, as well. So I’m wondering now if those are isolated examples or not.

Comments are closed.