Archive for November, 2010

What’s Wrong With Michael Nitsche’s Video Game Spaces

I’ve been wanting to write several other blog posts recently, but I just haven’t had time to get them together. I have one about the differences in space between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, one about the spatiality of Assassin’s Creed, and one that expands on Bobby Schweizer’s post on the Aperio blog last year about airport spaces in games. But I’m now deep in the writing of my thesis, and I just haven’t had the time to focus on any other writing. Instead of these other, more broadly interesting topics, I’m going to get a little academic.

See, one of my most valued texts in my research on video game spatiality has been Michael Nitsche’s ‘Video Game Spaces: Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Worlds’. This is a great book for anyone interested in game spaces. When I first read Nitsche’s introductory chapter, I thought, “Well, this guy’s pretty much written the exploration of game spatiality I would’ve done”. It turns out that’s not exactly the case, but it’s still a great book.

However, one of the issues I have with Nitsche’s approach to game spatiality is that it’s a little unidirectional. Nitsche’s central model of game spatiality is a division into five planes:

Nitsche's Five Planes

It’s a great model, and I like most of it. The bit I don’t like about it is that the way Nitsche describes it, there’s too little give-and-take between the different planes. Rule-based space informs mediated space, mediated space informs fictional space, and so on. That’s just not the way I think of things. If mediated space informs fictional space, surely fictional space must also inform mediated space?

Part of my reason for thinking this way is that my view of spatiality is based heavily on Edward Soja’s ‘trialectic spatiality’. Soja starts from the tripartite spatiality of Henri Lefebvre, who describes spaces as composed of three parts: spatial practice, representations of space, and spaces of representation. These can be briefly (but not entirely accurately) summarised as perceived space – the way we see space; conceived space – the way we think about space; and lived space – the way we use space. Soja takes Lefebvre’s three parts, and re-interprets them as a totalising, overlapping, simultaneous and composite construction. Soja basically says that each element is informed by the other two, and all space is all three elements at once. As Soja puts it: “each term appropriately contains the other two, although each is distinguishable and can be studied in splendidly specialised isolation”.

Soja's Trialectic Spatiality

So this is where we get back to Nitsche’s five planes. Nitsche himself attempts an approximate mapping of Lefebvre’s tripartite to his model of five planes, equating rule-based space with ‘spatial practice’, mediated space with ‘representations of space’ and ‘representational space’ as a combination of fictional, play and social spaces. This works alright if we just stick with Lefebvre, but it falls apart if we go with Soja. Because Soja insists that all the elements must inform each other, that the flow of context and influence is multi-directional. Hence: if mediated space informs fictional space, surely fictional space must also inform mediated space?