I’ve been pretty lax in updating this blog lately, mostly because I’m hard at work writing my thesis. Since I’m busy with that, a lot of what I’m going to be publishing here will be pretty close to what I’m writing for the thesis, and right now that means more analysis of Fallout 3. I swear, there will be non-Fallout 3 stuff on here soon, especially once I get into my analysis of BioShock and BioShock 2 in coming weeks, and I’m still working on that Assassin’s Creed piece.
But right now, I want to talk about Fallout 3’s in-game maps, and in particular, the effect they have on the player’s experience of the game space.
Maps are one of the defining examples of conceived space in the trialectic model of spatiality, but the whole point of thinking of space as trialectic is that there’s a whole lot of influence and exchange between the different elements of space. Fallout 3’s maps are a fantastic example of how this works.
Fallout 3’s in-game maps are provided through a diegetic interface that integrates the conceived space of the game with the lived space. Within the fiction of the game, the Pip-Boy 3000 is a computer worn on the player-character’s wrist. As an interface, it provides the player access to a range of information and features alongside the game’s maps, including character statistics, the player-character’s inventory, text and audio notes they have received, and quest information. The Pip-Boy interface is shown to exist within the fictional space of the game: it is visible on the character’s arm in third-person view, and when it is activated it appears as an object within the field of view of the player-character’s first-person perspective. It sways with the movement of their arm, and is affected by other factors within the game space, such as glare on the screen dependent on the position of the sun in relation to the player-character’s facing. Further, the appearance of the Pip-Boy wrist-computer communicates – with its aesthetic of early computer graphics and its cathode ray tube screen – that it is an object that exists within the broader lived space of the game. It exists as an object that has a place within the fictional history of the game world. More specifically, it has a place in the personal history of the player-character, who receives it on their tenth birthday is told they can never remove it. All of this helps to integrate the Pip-Boy interface, and the maps it provides access to, into the game’s fictional space. What the integration of the Pip-Boy interface – and its maps – into the fictional space of the game world represents is the influence of the game’s conceived space on its lived space. The conceived space of the map exists within and both acts upon and is acted upon by the lived space of the game world.
However, the impact of this exchange and overlap between conceived space and lived space is limited by the interface’s separation from the normal action of the game. While the Pip-Boy is activated, time in the game’s fictional space is effectively paused. No character, including the player-character, can take any action within the game space, with the exception of the player-character’s ability to use inventory items within the Pip-Boy interface. Time, as represented by the Pip-Boy’s clock, the movement of the sun and other environmental factors, is stopped. As there is no mechanism to view the map outside of the Pip-Boy interface, this marks a separation of the game’s conceived space from its lived space.
This is a marked contrast from the in-game map interface used in FarCry 2, where the map is far more integrated into the game’s lived space. FarCry 2’s in-game map is presented as a paper map held by the player-character alongside a handheld GPS navigation device. While using the map in FarCry 2, the action of the game continues unimpeded, and the player-character can move around, lowering the map when they do so, and raising it again when they stop. While driving in FarCry 2 the map can be laid on the player-character’s lap, to be consulted alongside a vehicle-mounted GPS navigation device. However FarCry 2’s integration of its in-game map into the fictional space of the game represents an extreme case on the spectrum of integration among commercial first-person action games. Moreover, FarCry 2’s map exists in the context of a broader effort in the game at integrating interface elements with the game’s fictional space. Fallout 3 still presents the game’s conceived space – as represented by its in-game maps accessed through the Pip-Boy interface – as interacting significantly with the game’s lived space, despite the limitations on this interaction.
The maps accessible through the Pip-Boy interface represent not just the static game world, but also the player-character’s specific experience of it. Fallout 3’s conceived space is separated into marked and unmarked locations. Marked locations are named, provide experience points when the player visits them for the first time, and appear on the Pip-Boy map with one of a number of icons once visited. The range of icons used to mark locations is small, and the icon only indicates the general character of the location, such as a military base, settlement, etc. Before visiting them, the player-character may become aware of marked locations through dialogue or through notes, and these known-but-unvisited marked locations then appear on the Pip-Boy map as empty square icons and a name, marking known locations until they are visited. Unmarked locations are never marked on the Pip-Boy map, and represent an interstitial space of ‘wasteland’ between marked locations. Similarly, the game’s local map reveals the details of the space around the player-character as they move through the space. This incremental mapping of the space represents the impact of the game’s lived space on its conceived space, as the Pip-Boy maps essentially record the player-character’s experience of that lived space.
Displaying known but unvisited locations on the Pip-Boy map invites the player to explore these locations. Because the player will discover early on that the Pip-Boy map only displays points of interest as marked locations on the map, known locations create an expectation that something noteworthy will be found there. This provides a powerful motivation for the player to explore these known locations. Known locations might be anywhere on the map, at any distance in relation to the player, and there may be numerous other unknown marked locations in-between. The invitation that the known locations present, to explore and seek out points of interest, represents the game’s conceived space acting on its lived space, by informing the player’s experience of the space. This experience of the lived space of the game then informs the conceived space, through the marking of discovered locations on the map. This relationship between the game’s conceived and lived space represents precisely the sort of overlap and exchange that causes Soja to describe space as trialectic.