The construction of any new form of media creates new ways of communicating and understanding the world. Any form of media interacts with its consumers and directs their attention. This is as true for fundamental forms of communication older than the historical record as it is for an invention created last week. Video Games are no exception to the rule. In his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy(1), James Paul Gee presents an argument for video games teaching us new sets of rules (the possible actions in the game) and how to apply those rules within the defined arena in which they operate to overcome the challenges presented by the game. In order to do that, they have to define a context for those rules.
That context can be a social space, or a mathematical space. But most often the context is described as a physical space, a world (or worlds!) in which a character or characters controlled by the player(s) navigate. Michael Nitsche explores these created spaces in Video Game Spaces(2), describing how they are designed and constructed by both the game maker and the player. Even some of the earliest games used physical space, such as Tennis for Two, quite possibly the first recognizable ‘video game’ ever created in 1958 and the precursor to Pong. These simple self-explanatory spaces needed little context, but soon later games used a world much bigger than what could be displayed on a single screen. In order to define these larger spaces, more tools were needed and were either provided by the game’s creators or constructed by its players. One of the most potent tools for contextualizing space beyond what can be immediately seen is, of course, the map.
A good example of the early player-created versions of a game map can be seen with the text adventure game Zork. Evolving out of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) in 1978, Zork – The Great Underground Empire: Part 1 (Later known as simply Zork 1 and henceforth refered to as Zork) is a fantasy adventure consisting entirely of textual description. But while the description of each area and event was displayed individually, the game took place in a defined space contextualized by the descriptive passages. Some of the players of Zork created maps of these interconnecting areas to provide and reference this context, either for their own use or for the use of their friends when they played the game. (3)
A Map of Zork 1, created in 1981 by Stephen Rost
As games grew increasingly complex in both their content and the technology they used, the use of maps to define game spaces became increasingly sophisticated. As with any use of a media format, the use of maps in games both has been affected by and affects the concept and use of maps by those who come in contact with their use. Next week I’ll be looking at more recent game maps and the effect that they may have had on modern map use, and vice-versa.
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1 Gee, James Paul What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2003
2 Nitsche, Michael Video Game Spaces: Image, Play and Structure in 3D Game Worlds Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press 2008
3) Retrieved from http://www.gadgetell.com/tech/comment/a-visual-map-of-zork/