Taxonomy of Virtual Spaces
Over the past several posts in my (Not) Game Genres series, I've reviewed numerous systems for analyzing video game space in comparison to my Taxonomy of Virtual Spaces system. This post serves as an overview of the Taxonomy and a summary of the previous posts together in one place.
Each chart below presents the
Mark J. P. Wolf's Elementary Spatial Structures of Video Games first published in "Inventing Space: Toward a Taxonomy of On- and Off-Screen Space in Video Games" from Film Quarterly (Fall 1997, vol. 51, no. 1). [previous post part 1 and part 2]
Steven Poole's Construction of Space in Video Games from Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Video Games (2000). [previous post]
Espen Aarseth and his team's Multi-Dimensional Typology of Games from "A Multi-Dimensional Typology of Games" (in DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up, 2003). [prevous post]
Clara Fernández-Vara and her team's Ontology of Spatial Configurations from "Evolution of Spatial Configurations In Videogames" (in DiGRA '05 - Proceedings of the 2005 DiGRA International Conference: Changing Views: Worlds in Play, 2005). [previous post]
Dominic Arsenault and his team's Game FAVR from "Game FAVR: A Framework for the Analysis of Visual Representation in Video Games" (in Loading… Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association, vol. 9, no. 14, 2015). [no individual post, but discussed here and here]
The Game FAVR system is designed to analyze game visuals, and explicitly does not concern itself with game spatiality. Even so, I've adapted the core structure of Game FAVR (especially with the Three Image Planes) as the basis of my own system to analyze visuospatial qualities.
The gameworld is the defining qualities of a game’s virtual environment, as defined here by its topology and spatiality. A game may, and often does, feature several gameworlds divided into separate “worlds,” “levels,” or “campaigns,” depending on the game’s terminology.
The Topology of a gameworld deals with how the game's world is mapped out and what happens when one reaches the edge of the world. There are several single-screen "wraparound" games, most notably Pac-Man (Cylindrical) and Asteroids (Toroidal). Additionally, some smoth-scrolling games use these types of topologies, including Defender (Cylindrical) and Bosconian (Toroidal). These topologies aren't just for 2-D games, either. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro's horror game demo P.T. also features a Cylindrical topology where the player's path is on a loop. Other spatial systems lump these different topologies under the "wraparound" concept, though Poole does note that games like Asteroids are Toroidal.
As yet, the only game I've found that uses Cubic topology is E.T. for the Atari 2600.
To me, the spatial structure of the gameworld is expressed through the player's affordances in navigating that world, what Clara Fernández-Vara and her team call the "Cardinality of Gameworld." A game's visuals (what Clara Fernández-Vara would call "Spatial Representation") may appear three-dimensional, but a player's movement may only be restricted to a two-dimensional plane, or only a limited grid of discrete spaces.
The Continuous/Discrete Spatiality dichotomy is the only point where Aarseth's system intersects with my own.
This miscellaneous category expresses additional details about how the player understands the gameworld, such as the presence of a Mini-Map or Non-Euclidean Geometry. Gameworlds are also classified by presence and type of Gravity, though this quality has more affect on the player's ability to navigate in a game rather than giving a sense of spatiality. I will probably move this aspect into the player's affordances.
The frame's mobility across the gameworld deals with what Clara Fernández-Vara and her team call the "Spatial Configuration." The directions the frame may move across the gameworld is what they call the "Cardinality of Gameplay." These are both different from the "Spatial Representation" (if the game looks like it has 2-D or 3-D objects) and "Cardinality of Gameworld" (the axes along which a player avatar may move through the gameworld). Personally, I find the terms Cardinality of Gameplay (defined as "how the player can move around the gameworld") and Cardinality of Gameworld (defined as "the way in which the player can navigate the space") unclear, as the terms "move" and "navigate" are not explicitly defined and differentiated.
Similar to the guidelines of the Game FAVR, each game image is divided into the conceptual planes of Agents, Environment, and Background/Foreground.
The agents are any interactive characters or objects in the game, including the player avatar and projectiles. The environment is the tangible space where agents navigate through and around. Background/foreground was chosen as more commonly understood terminology to replace Game FAVR's “off-game environment.”
Projection methods are formal, detailed qualities about how the objects in the image plane are “drawn” to the screen. This is close to what Clara Fernández-Vara and her team refer to as "Spatial Representation." The Game FAVR deals with formal qualities of game visuals and my system closely mirrors it. I adapted detailed, standardized terminology used in computer graphics from "Planar Geometric Projections and Viewing Transformations" by Ingrid Carlbom and Joseph Paciorek (in Computing Surveys, vol. 10, no. 4, 1978).
The apparent projection angle is either Dynamic or fixed at a specific angle above the horizon line. Each fixed projection is measured or estimated for the frame and rounded to the nearest 15° increment between 0° (horizontal view) and 90° (overhead view) (see Figure 8). From the initial qualitative research performed, many games use , 90°, 35° (the standard dimetric (or "pixel isometric") projection angle), 15°, and 0°. The Game FAVR is the only other system that deals with projection angles.
Other systems analyzed here focus solely on the spatiality of digital games. The Game FAVR explicitly serves as a tool for analyzing the graphic presentation of digital games. My Topology of Virtual Spaces is designed as a tool for analyzing the visuospatial qualities of digital games and, unsurprisingly, uses many non-overlapping details of the above systems to achieve this goal.