RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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289 Landscapes of Digital Games
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Jack Lowe (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Nick Rush-Cooper (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sir Martin Evans Building - Physiology B Lecture Theatre
Session abstract Digital games in their various forms (video, computer, mobile, and, recently, virtual reality and ‘extended’ or ‘augmented’ reality), are increasingly understood in geographical terms. Whether in relation to territory and exploration (Bennett 2011, Garrett 2014), space and place (Martin 2011), digital games present complex worlds to be studied and theorised through geographical ways of thinking.

For some time now, geographers have considered the social, political, and economic spatialities of virtual landscapes (Longan 2008, Shaw and Warf 2009, Dodge 2009). Notions of landscape feature in game design and game studies (Wolf 2002, Nitsche 2008, Adams 2013). Examining games-as-landscapes may fruitfully attend to the uniquely geographical quality of games, whilst offering opportunity for reflection upon the epistemological and methodological approaches in ‘landscape studies’ when brought into contact with virtual worlds.

This session seeks to expand the consideration of digital games to include broad geographical notions of landscape, including social and cultural landscapes (Barnes and Duncan 1992, Duncan and Ley 1993); mobilities and tourism (Merriman et al. 2008, Della Dora 2009, MacPherson 2009); art, image and visual representation (Massey 2006, Merriman and Webster 2009), embodiment, affect and (post)phenomenology (Lorimer 2005, Rose and Wylie 2006, Ash and Simpson 2016), and other landscape-related concepts. From landscape as a surface, to landscape as representational and non-representational, we welcome contributions that open up future discussions on the nature of digital games, their environments and design, and encounters in virtual worlds.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Virtual Landscapes: A Practice-Based Exploration of Natural Environment Design
Umran Ali (University of Salford, UK)
This paper presents a theoretical and practical framework for virtual natural environment (VNE) design in computer and video games. By applying a practice-based research methodology, and a methodological ‘bricolage’, combining reflective practice, panoramic photography, virtual field trips and experimental design, elements of environment design practice were analysed with an aim to develop a new VNE design framework. A contribution of the research is a three-volume series of books titled Virtual Landscapes, which presents a variety of historical and contemporary gamespaces through high-resolution and digitally enhanced panoramic imagery.

The study supports Aarseth’s (2007) assertion that spatiality is the defining element in computer games as virtual environments are capable of being the raison d’être’ of a game; i.e. enjoyed in their own right. The study adopts Jenkins & Squire’s (2002) position of viewing digital games as ‘spatial art’, as such, games design should be grounded in landscape art, architecture, gardening and park design.

The study argues that gamespaces have a significant impact on gameplay, as such the research specifically examines game design & production processes, developing these through John Ruskin’s ‘go to nature’ exhortation, Edward Relph’s ‘existential insideness’, and landscape character assessments; conceptual models drawn from across art, geology and geography.
The research concludes by proposing a practical framework driven by viewing environment design from an alternative, spatial perspective. An experimental ‘SCENISM’ philosophy/framework proposed in this study intends to assist designers in framing and developing games from an alternative perspective.

“This Game is Broken AF”: The Technological Sublime in Digital Landscapes.
Thijs van den Berg (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands)
In this paper presentation, I want to suggest that video game landscapes articulate a sense of the Sublime through their susceptibility to glitches.
Contemporary video game landscapes frequently avail themselves of the Romantic visual shorthand of the Sublime. Both in the sense of the Sublime as limitedness (e.g. Kant) and as terror (e.g. Burke), games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild owe a considerable debt to Romantic art with regard to the way in which they represent their landscapes. Shrouded in mist and affording expansive, seemingly endless views, such digital settings appropriate Romantic techniques to represent the Sublime, confronting gamers with what David Nye has labelled the “technological Sublime”.
I want to build on this notion of the technological Sublime by suggesting that digital landscapes do not just borrow the visual representation of Sublimity. It is my contention that it is especially in their vulnerability to glitches that digital landscapes provide the true experience of infinity and/or terror that the Sublime implies.
For various reasons, digital landscapes are inherently susceptible to bugs. Issues like network latency and limitations in physics simulation present fundamental weaknesses in digital landscapes. Under certain conditions, these limitations allow players to glitch through the digital landscape or to suddenly be launched several miles up into the virtual world. In this paper, I will content that such bugs, precisely because they are unintended behavior, provide players with a genuine experience of awe in the age of the technological Sublime.
Alienation and Enclosure: Landscape Theory for the First-Person Shooter
Peter Nelson (City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Landscape studies are a powerful heuristic for understanding relationships to the physical environment. Existing scholarship has made a compelling case for studying computer games as a paradigm form of landscape (Vella 2013) (Liboriussen 2008) (Martin 2011). However such studies are yet to develop a methodology that balances the emplaced experience of the player with the material context by which the player and the game relate to the world. At the 2008 Landscape Theory Seminar, the gap between phenomenology and material culture studies was identified as a key problem for landscape theory. (DeLue and Elkins 2008) To remedy this, my paper uses a phenomenological and a material study of HalfKLife 2 and the Valve Source Engine to derive landscape theory. I identify alienation, predation, and the shuttering effect of the ego as the basis of subjectivity for the first person shooter game. (Casey 1997) (Punter 1994) (Galloway 2006) I link the alienation of the player to the alienation of the narrative protagonist, as two examples of the Promethean dystopia. (Winner 1977) Then use alienation and the Promethean dystopia to analyse the linear actionable landscape according to its origins in New World colonial literature. (Tilley 1994) (Fuller and Jenkins 1995) Finally, by examining the Valve Source engine itself, I contextualise alienation within the economic enclosures of the End User License agreement, and how this landscape should be understood in the context of software modification. (Kuchlich 2005) Through my case study of the Half Life 2, I derive productive landscape theory from a computer game and demonstrate how computer games can function as a paradigm form of
contemporary landscape.
Reprogramming landscapes of play: navigation and narrative in Geocaching
Jack Lowe (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Concurrent with the development and growing ubiquity of digital and locative technologies in recent decades, scholars and creative practitioners are recognising how the location-aware, information-sharing, and mobile capabilities of these tools can enable new forms of interaction with the environments in which we live. Pervasive games in particular are credited with a capacity to expand arenas of play and performance into physical landscapes, opening up their pre-existing, everyday narratives for critical engagement and re-imagination when encountered through the affordances of a game’s rules and mediating technologies (Montola, 2005). In Geocaching, a popular GPS treasure-hunting game hosting a worldwide community of >7 million players, participants creatively hide containers with logbooks (‘[geo]caches’) in physical places for others to find. Using a combination of GPS coordinates and hints provided online, players must locate caches and mark visits by writing in their logbooks. Although the game has existed since 2000, scholarly attention has mostly been limited to accounts codifying its practices (Klausen, 2014), with little reflection on how the gameplay can expand and problematise the concept of landscape. This presentation addresses this question using insights from autoethnographic research undertaken over three years as a player, discussing how Geocaching can foster reprogrammed forms of spatial awareness and navigation, and embodied play performances enabling participants to interact with physical environments in narrativizing ways. In turn, I draw upon post-phenomenology to develop an approach to landscape that incorporates materiality, agency, affect, and embodiment to apprehend how the hybrid digital landscapes of pervasive games are experienced by players.