[NetBehaviour] Tentative Spaces: An Introduction
netwurker at gmail.com
Wed Oct 1 04:29:26 CEST 2008
Tentative Spaces: An
Posted September 25th, 2008 by Greg J
Discussions addressing the connection between *architecture and
* cycle in and out of design discourse with some regularity. And why not?
The experiential qualities of surface, volume and movement in game space are
compelling, immersive and, quite importantly, shared points of reference.
Conversations about this relationship often address the fact that the
underlying means of production in both disciplines are fundamentally
connected through an assortment of shared tools and methodologies. Beyond
advances in software and hardware, we could definitely point fingers at the
uncanny *digital materiality <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-1000>*of James
Cameron and the influential *design
* of *Greg Lynn <http://www.glform.com/>* for causing a conflation of
architectural, animation and visual effects culture. Origins aside, it is
important to note that both architecture and gaming are equally invested in
the representation of space, and both have codified standards for "sound
construction". This works at the diagrammatic level of vectors and polygons
and experientially when discussing the qualities of immersion in specific
narrative spaces, be they* inhabited* or *played*.
There are a number of pitfalls to be avoided when reading space in gaming.
One must resist the urge to completely aestheticize gaming, avoid eclipsing
play with narrative and acknowledge that game space telescopes outwards from
play and also encompasses various layers of control and perception which
augment and inform immersion. These layers include interface, the *picture
planes <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_plane>* that comprise the
display, related hardware and software and even the body of the gamer. The
idea of gameplay as a collaboration between player and software was outlined
succinctly by *Alexander Galloway<http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway>
*in his 2006 essay *Gamic Action, Four Movements*. Galloway identifies
gaming as an "action medium" whereby all activity can be categorized as
initiated by the "operator" or "machinic" and as being either
the narrative) or "non-diegetic". These criteria provide a
handy classification system for reading gaming and interpreting the nature
of specific interactions and events.
What is of interest to this examination of space in gaming is
*generally*contained within the "operator" and "non-diegetic"
quadrants of the above
diagram - events initiated by the player that aren't directly connected to
the narrative of the game. Galloway identifies these types of operations as
"acts of configuration" that "happen on the exterior of the world of the
game". In this series of posts we will use this definition as a reference
(rather than a pair of handcuffs) to read these "actions" as *Tentative
Spaces* - temporary, informational enclosures that a gamer inhabits and
modulates while immersed in play or setting the parameters for it.
Mez Breeze's notion of synthetic presencing (previously defined and
* on Augmentology) is another useful precedent. Breeze identifies presencing
as blurring the middle ground between the clearly defined
fiction/non-fiction divide associated with firmly established narrative
models and mediums (i.e. detective fiction novels, crime-drama films).
Examples of presencing include fan fiction, the social infrastructure of
MMOG guilds, and the rapid, permutational evolution of internet memes that
riff off pop culture. How does presencing relate to this discussion of space
in gaming? Since tentative spaces operate as
* to and overlays on game space, they exist tangentially to game narrative.
While these spaces relate to the fiction *of* game space they are not
completely contained* in* game space. Tentative spaces provide enclosures in
which the player can act, assess, analyze and sometimes socialize while
being slightly detached from the actual experience of play - augmenting
gameplay, if you will. Navigating strata of interface, socializing in
multiplayer game lobbies and around post-game *box
in-game microphone communication and interface informatics are all examples
of tentative spaces.
Schematizing gameplay in this manner resonates with the idea of *Russian
nested dolls <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matryoshka_doll>* - volumes
within volumes within volumes. This series of posts is based on an optimism
that in isolating these "layers" of play, interface and information will
reveal a range of idiosyncratic spaces slightly outside the realm of most
discussions of gaming.* Tentative Spaces* will catalog a variety of general
phenomena across gaming as well as analyze the construction of specific
gaming titles. The following represents a quick sketch of the
characteristics of tentative spaces, these will be further developed in
- *Transparency* - Tentative Spaces often occur on top of game play and
players are able to inhabit/navigate these spaces and still "see through"
them while engaging in gameplay (eg. team status monitor information overlay
in multiplayer gaming).
- *Hybridity* - Referencing *Lev Manovich's
<http://www.manovich.net/>*suggestion that emerging media forms are
*combinatory <http://www.virtualart.at/dtl_04/manovich_high.wmv>* in
nature, Tentative Spaces will be examined as interactive assemblages
comprised of text and image, maps and diagrams (eg. game analytics).
- *Interstitial* - Tentative Spaces are often employed to bridge
narrative sequences in gaming or to provide a *green
* in which players can wait during a "machinic" event (eg. network
configuration/team selection lobbies in multiplayer gaming).
- *Supplementary* - As previously mentioned Tentative Spaces often sit at
least partially outside game narrative, if not completely detached from it
(eg. an *easter egg <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg_%28media%29>
*or *minigame <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minigame>*).
- *Sites of Interaction* - Tentative Spaces have the potential to
aggregate community and user labor towards building communal resources (eg.
in game or web based wiki construction to inform gameplay).
To bring this introduction full circle, it is worth returning to the bridge
built between architecture and gaming in the first paragraph. Since gaming
plays out across space it is very much about space. Gamers have acclimatized
themselves to a range of perspectives, views, GUI assemblages and camera
movements that emulate a host of physiological, cinematic and cartographic
conventions. As a by-product of this *rapidly
* array of representational techniques, gamers find themselves highly
"interface literate" with the ability to simultaneously navigate numerous
narrative, informational and social planes. As a series of posts, *Tentative
Spaces* is invested in isolating and qualifying a variety of niches, pockets
and marginalia within game culture. It is all too easy to dismiss many of
these layers of gaming as instrumental when in fact their superimposition on
and control over play represent a fundamental aspect of not just the
experience of play, but the structure of game space.
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