Comments 11/18

I left a comment on Rosendo’s Blog

“You may be eaten by a Grue”

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/

Comment 11/11

I left a comment on Alisa’s Blog

Archetectural Reconstruction

I chose to use as the subject of my Architectural Reconstruction a section of the Main Street in Luray, Virginia that currently has a significant number of empty areas. I used a section of the 1910 Sanborn Map of Luray to provide a base for reconstructing the street. The disadvantage here is that this section of the main street in Luray is on a significant grade.

I created a reconstruction of the street from the Sanborn map. Several of the buildings are still standing (In fact, all of the buildings remaining on the street are present on the Sanborn map), so recreating their rooflines was easier than it would have been otherwise.

Quite a few of the buildings are now missing, however, as one can see in Google Street View:

Using a photograph of the street from 1907 from the Library of Congress archives (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c18692/) I reconstructed the building that had occupied the street just downhill from the one still standing on the corner of Main Street and Bank Street, the Mansion Inn.

I was unable to discover what happened to the Mansion Inn (the area is now a small parking lot and a grassy field.) I suspect that a combination of economic downturns and the construction of increasingly modern facilities to house the tourists that came to see the caverns eventually led it to going out of business and being demolished, along with a number of the other buildings on that section of road. A trip out to Page County to check the land records would reveal the truth, but I was unable to find the time for the trip. The other buildings (a mixture of shops and residencies, according to the Sanborn map) suggesting at least some of the population left the area after 1910, not really an unexpected turn of events given the time period.

Even though this was a relatively quick, simple, and dirty exploration into historical reconstruction, I think I have gotten a feel for the utility of Historic Reconstruction using tools like Google SketchUp. A quick project reconstructing a small area can provide a sense of the space, and reveal questions to ask about the area. A more detailed reconstruction using photographic reference can restore lost historic buildings in a form that gives a much better sense of their shape than the handful of photographs. Either a detailed or a simplified schematic form of reconstruction can be used to tell histories in new ways. My own little project here, for instance, made me think of a change-over-time project, showing the growth and change of an area over time, providing a solid visual reference for how the place developed through history.

One final image, while I’m thinking about it: A postcard featuring essentially the same area as the pictures I used above, but in color!

Maps of Fantasy

The readings this week are concerned with the human imagination, and our ability to create meaning, patterns, and maps from suggestion and implication. By creating a map, the map’s subject becomes defined and explained, making something that previously was abstract into a visible form. Maps give definition to what we cannot see. This is even more evident when the map is created whole-cloth to serve or from a fictional narrative. These kinds of maps are ones that I am intimately familiar with, as I’ve been playing and reading with fictional maps since I was in preschool. I encounter them in the books I read for pleasure (Which, often enough, are formula fantasy.) as well as in my intellectual and academic reading. I encounter them in the electronic games I play (Including, until a while ago, World of Warcraft, but also many other games.) I even create them myself, for tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Maps capture the imagination and invite exploration, either of space or ideas.

With any tool, there is also the potential of misuse. This is especially true of something that grasps the imagination like a map. This is also quite well illustrated by the readings this week, especially in the maps of Dante’s Inferno. Our very ability to create maps from abstraction also leads us to see patterns and structures where none may exist. It may be because of this week’s election, but the tendency of groups on either side of the aisle to leap to conclusions, saying “This is a clear mandate!” or “This means we can achieve real change!” based on what are ultimately small changes in the percentage of votes in any given place strikes me as an example of letting imagination and maps create unsound conclusions. This isn’t to say that maps are dangerous, or shouldn’t be used. I merely mean that maps deserve our respect, both of their power and their limitations.