Toward a Spatial Practice in Video Games

Abstract

Author's Note: Please note that this paper was written in 2001, so it's both outdated and a bit kludgy. I hope it might be of use in some way, at least in terms of the screenshots and descriptions.

In a recent study of computer videogaming, Espen Aarseth has noted that the representation of space is the defining factor in video game play. Given the importance of spatial representation in video games and the variety of spatial forms within and across game genres, more studies in exactly how these spaces are constructed and experienced, encountered, and understood are needed.[1] Critical study of the uses of space in video games requires first an inquiry into how video game spaces become and are lived spaces. Lived spaces have been based on what was best known, the concepts of home and family. Yet the recent history of Western culture - filled with divided extended family, fragmented primary family, ever-changing residence places, and latch-key children - puts these concepts into question, weakening their symbolic and iconographic value. Video games fill this void for many, providing a lived space that becomes a basis for an understanding of spatiality for those, like many of my generation, who have never known "home" as a fixed or congruent physical or familiar site. As Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space relied upon literary depictions of cottages and country manors to understand the production and sustaining force of intimate spaces, such literary-critical investigation is, I propose, needed into the worlds of Metroid, Super Mario Brothers, and Resident Evil to understand how many now view all spaces as based on the fictive representational spaces that we have come to call home.

This paper will address representations of spatiality in video games in relation to technical limitations and with the recognition that the same geometrical-perspectival space exists as multiple phenomenological spaces. Video games are created by mathematical programming code and they are thus created with a necessarily logical and systematic language. This means that all video game spaces can be represented as geometrical spaces: spaces defined by the programmatic ordering of space according to a predetermined logic of its boundaries. Yet to equate video game spaces with only their geometrical equivalent is to ignore the broader context and significance of the spatial logic and experience of gaming. The player plays and dwells within these spaces, making them phenomenological instances of spatial experience as well as geometrical depictions, or to use Aarseth’s term allegories, of spaces.[2] The varying phenomenological spaces within a single geometrical space stem both from the multiplicity of spatial purposes within the games and the differing narrative and game play contexts in which the experience of these spaces is situated. Unlike the spaces in film, paintings, and photography, video game spaces are spaces that are both observed and experienced, making game spaces experiential spaces. The experience of video game spaces changes the way the spaces are perceived and understood from spaces which are only observed: showing that there is a fundamental difference between playing a video game and observing a video game being played.

In addition to the experience of game play, technical constraints of game design play a large role in spatial construction. Spatial construction is the building of spatial representation with programming code, and spatial production is the ongoing making and sustaining of the space during play, both on the screen and in the mind of the player. As spatial construction in video games is based on a number of factors even prior to the actual experience of game play, all of these factors must be considered in a spatial analysis to understand how they contribute and complicate the spatial experience. These factors include the game genre, platform, intended audience, and technical limitations. Technical limitations must also be addressed because spatial representation has not appreciably changed with technological advancements as shown by the so-called "real world" three dimensional game spaces, which have only served to further illustrate the unreal conventional "thinness" of game space.[3] Thin space being defined by Terry Harpold as "a form of space that is very nearly emptied out beforehand, so that movements within it and mastery of the objects it contains are minimally challenging to users" (81).Meaning the spaces are voided to limit choices and options, thus limiting confusion. Yet, less technologically advanced games have succeeded in creating a sense of space; while these spaces are not geometrically accurate, they do succeed in allowing for the experience of the space itself, further complicating the relationship of technological advancements to spatial representation.

The technical constraints most relevant to this study are the limits of any particular game in terms of platform and the game's program in relation to the particular game's in-play constraints: player character viewing and fighting perspectives; player character(s) construction and limitations; and as game worlds cannot yet be endless, how the game world itself is limited: spatially, temporally, thematically.[4] For example, Silent Hill on the Playstation demonstrates how technical constraints can shape the experience of space. Silent Hill fog had to be added to lessen the processing load of image anti-aliasing in the outdoor areas.[5] The addition of the fog created an eerie effect that augmented the game narrative and game space so effectively that the makers have decided to keep the fog for Silent Hill 2, even though this rendering gimmick is no longer necessary for technical reasons.

Before delving into the representational spaces of video games, concerns of temporality in relation to game play must be addressed. Often video games treat space and time as analogous tropes that serve merely to constrict peripheral play, using both time and space as mere conventions to aid and control the player through the game plot. But - while many games suspend time, or arbitrarily enforce time constraints to increase the challenges of play difficulty - time, like space, remains a dynamic force in any game play experience. An investigation into how games manipulate time as the human mind can hold only a limited amount of data in short term memory is needed to fully understand the effects of player temporality on game world temporality. Thus, game spaces which require the player to remain aware of fewer objectives simultaneously are likely to be less challenging than game spaces which require a player to remain conscious of more objectives, especially those with many sub-objectives, simultaneously.

In response to the difficulties of enlarged spatial representation and the confusion it can create, many recent games have returned to enforcing time limits (rather than augmenting or revisioning storylines) as a means of adding difficulty without increasing confusion.[6] While space and time are used as analogous tropes for constraint, each game space exists within multiple temporalities: that of the gaming experience, that as dictated by the game world time limits and time warps, and that of this world. Just as games manipulate time for varying reasons, so do they manipulate space.

The experience of any space in video games varies greatly as based on the player's presuppositions regarding the forms and limits of game space, the importance and use of a particular space to the game narrative, and the player's vantage point in the space. Because the experience of space is based on player's preconceptions of space and then game space, many players and game critics cite three-dimensional game views as being more realistic than other older or more cinematically influenced game views. The problem with this argument is that what is realistic is never defined - if realism is equivalent to this world spatiality, then whose sense of it? Or can realistic only be the geometric accuracy of a space? Technical limitations in terms of processing power and game design have decreased dramatically as the processing power of the game stations and the run-of-the-mill personal computer has increased, allowing for three-dimensional game worlds and fully controllable game perspectives. While these technical improvements have created a more geometrically accurate space, geometrically accurate space is not automatically equivalent to lived, representational space.

Space in three-dimensional games like each release of Quake, Duke Nuke 'Em, and Unreal is based on the game function as being in the first person shooter (FPS) game genre. While the games do have levels and missions (Missions which exist separately from each other and outside any narrative use or incorporation of the space),[7] the general use and purpose of these games is to shoot at characters representing other players and to kill them more often. As such, some of the games do have differing terrain and objects that can aid the player (barrels that can be blown up), but the game's purpose has thematically voided the space. Clearly not all three dimensional games void all except the geometric component to spatiality as with three dimensional games which rely heavily on narrative and story aspects like Soul Reaver, Armored Core, Armored Core 2, and FPS System Shock 2.[8]

Three dimensional games do present space. The problem comes in the distinction between geometric space and lived, representational space. Though one might walk through tunnels and labyrinths and military complexes in games like Quake, Unreal, and Unreal there is no true narrative space. The technical presentation of space does not create lived, representational space. There is no emotional, social, or personal significance to any of the rooms, hallways, or corridors in these games insofar as the narrative or player is concerned. One may grow fond of a particular snipe-position, but this does not amount to the same thing as having narrative space complete with a developing storyline and a player character role. Merely having opponents does not create characters. In order to create story, one must take on or take part in the role of a character, whether it be acting as that character oneself, or playing as a viewed character within that world. Once there is a sense of character, then there is some involvement with the space of the game world, for then whatever occurs can create mood, evoke emotional response, and construct a story around the actions or inactions of that character. Often three dimensional FPS games follow the everyday physics of geometric space, but they lack space in a different sense - they are without a sense of space and spatiality. Even their geometric space is skewed by having the screen act as the player's viewpoint, forcing the player outside the game world and requiring inaccurate spatial reasoning within that skewed perspective. By becoming more graphically "realistic” other spatial aspects have been ignored, including placing characters within the space, even player characters, instead having objects which the player manipulates within the space.

Many games have incorporated improved graphic rendering capabilities within the game narrative which leads to a more immediately intuitive space, as it feels more akin to the lived, representational three-dimensional space with which we as humans are already familiar. The experience of space as created from the software and hardware's presentation of graphics, sound effects, music, player perspective, narrative, and player control all help illustrate the fundamental difference between playing and working within a space as opposed to watching that space or watching another play or work within that space.

For this study, three video games were chosen as representative of significant aspects of spatial experience within their respective gaming genres: Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

  • Super Mario Brothers was released on the 8bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).[9] SMB was packaged with all original NES systems for many years and was the standard by which other games were created, thus making it an excellent point of reference.
  • Metroid on the 8bit NES, which provides an excellent foil to Super Mario Brothers and exemplifies the 8bit use and reuse of programming code to create longer and more involved story lines and game play.
  • Resident Evil: Code Veronica on the Sega Dreamcast, which is arguably the most advanced to date of the survival-horror game genre, a genre based on pre-existing notions of game play and spatiality in game worlds.

I will investigate how the spaces within these games are constructed and how video game spaces become natural representational spaces to those who play or dwell within them. Pivotal to this study is how early game spatial representation has determined and aided later game spatial development as in the use of close confined spaces as comforting and leading in some, and horrific and confusing in others. Thus, the experience of spatiality in video games will not be treated as a mere evolutionary model, with improved graphical rendering equating to improved representation, but rather the focus of this study will be the construction of an experiential space unbounded by its geometric characteristics.

Video game space is manipulated space; it is also certainly geometric space. The form being constructed by code and various engines that compute the many game variables. But, like all space, video game space is not only geometric space. Because the space is played through and the player experiences the space in context with the game narrative and other game elements the space is lived, representational space. Thus, the player's experience of the space transcends the mere geometrics of the game space.

Where technical limitations have historically constrained the on-screen depictions of space in video games, these are no longer the deciding factor. While video game historians often talk of Pong as the first game and Atari as the first major in home system,[10] video games as we know them truly began with the original 8bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES came complete and ready to be played; fully equipped with the gimmicky robot and a loveable mascot in Mario. The NES, with its low initial cost, Nintendo Power Magazine, Nintendo Championship Games, Nintendo Hotline, super game secrets (like negative levels, the JUSTIN BAILEY code, and the Turtle Dance), and even the mass-market films like The Wizard (promoting the glitchy Powerglove) encouraged the mass emergence of a video game culture. This video game culture is extremely important to the production and experience of game space because NES game design set culturally recognized spatial norms, thus creating the first mass culturally recognized lived spaces in video games.

Even with the NES as the most powerful system at its release, its use and reuse of code was far more important to the production of video game spatiality than its technical prowess. NES games regularly looped programming code, both for graphics and for music. The frequent loops allowed for a larger overall score and the appearance of a longer and more complex game world. With enlarged space often being used as the main obstacle to the player, the looping and serial repetition of space allowed for a more difficult playing experience without adding to confusion or tension with constantly new areas. Thus, the repetition allowed for an easier learning curve while still challenging the player with the technical problem of simply covering more space during game play.

The NES shipped with Super Mario Brothers, a game made comprised of eight worlds with four levels in each, with every fourth level being a "castle" or "boss" level.[11] This was the primary video game leveling system (known as a platform scheme) and is still often used: fighting several levels to get to a boss level, and then entering a new world and fighting several levels before fighting the next boss, and so on until the final big "castle" or "boss". SMB followed the progression of Mario, first known as Jumpman, from the single screen platform games Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers.[12] Despite its progression, SMB is still a platform game because it relies on the single screen platform game conventions.[13] It is often also subclassed as a smooth side scroller: a game where the player works continually rightward.

Figure 1 Super Mario Brothers, with the PC as small non-fiery Mario as denoted by his size and coloration. Here Mario has just climbed the vine to reach a bonus area/warp zone.: SMB VineFigure 1 Super Mario Brothers, with the PC as small non-fiery Mario as denoted by his size and coloration. Here Mario has just climbed the vine to reach a bonus area/warp zone.: SMB Vine

The subclassification is needed because, unlike many games before it, SMB also allowed players to have the appearance of playing up (with high jumps, vines, and ladders) and down (with specific warp tunnels). Allowing a player to play up or down in a game was dangerous because in the gaming schemas prior to this the screen and the world were more or less equivalent. SMB seems to have the same schema as only one screen could exist at a time, with no supplemental maps or item screens to switch to. But, SMB was radically different from the truly single screen games, like Pong and Mario Brothers, because objects off the screen could move into the screen and objects on the screen could continue to a new screen.

Figure 2 An underground level in SMB. Notice the black background that denotes night or underground terrain. A fall off the screen and thus the world will always equal death, as with the void on the bottom left of this screen.: SMB Vine 2Figure 2 An underground level in SMB. Notice the black background that denotes night or underground terrain. A fall off the screen and thus the world will always equal death, as with the void on the bottom left of this screen.: SMB Vine 2

While the world was often still the screen in SMB - with falling being equivalent to death, the left margin of the screen also being a margin to the world, and no return to the passed areas of the left possible except in replay or death - the world also expanded beyond the screen, to include enemies, mobile powerups, vines, ladders, and warp points. Thus, right and up were the only ways to survive and the movements toward either of these always equaled positive progression: the player could never be confused - either the player was progressing or dying, except in the final level. The initial mapping of level 1-1 as representative of the world, shown in Diagram 1, illustrates how the game world was constructed as essentially a gigantic flat screen, but the development of a moving and mobile world began; marking the industry’s change, from the game world equaling the screen to the game world equaling a space within the screen. The game world length, made possible through the careful use and reuse of code, added to the perception of represented space. Certain levels were identical to previous levels, but with added enemies, and smaller platforms on which to stand making it more difficult to avoid death by falling, which is shown in Diagram 2 (of levels 3-3 and 5-3 respectively).

The visual similarity between game levels in SMB allowed players to anticipate what kinds of enemies and obstacles likely to be encountered would be on that level. This allowed players to enter completely new spaces with lessened anxiety because, to a limited degree, they knew what to expect. This also helped players ease into a new gaming schema, that of a screen which moved with them unlike the old static screens of the single screen games. [14] The reuse of graphical programming code is demonstrated by the similar patterns for the stable platform bricks, the moveable platforms, the breakable blocks, and with the unbreakable blocks which could be alone or appear after release of a question mark, vine, or star. This reuse of patterns, colors, game level design, and game mechanics allowed for the creation of a consistent and coherent game world without taxing the actual hardware’s ability to hold, load, and render new and prolonged game spaces. This reuse of code also allowed the game to seem longer and more complicated while not overextending the NES or the patience of the player.

The most interesting example of game space in SMB is level 8-4, as shown in Diagram 3. Where previous levels require chiefly adroit eye-hand coordination during difficult maneuvers and avoiding enemies – all of these within a strict time limit – level 8-4 required requires that the player conceive of play within a spatial framework. A player could not reach the final enemy, Bowser, and save the Mushroom Princess without knowing and executing the movement pattern. By making the movement pattern the aim of play strategy, SMB took space from being the areas that were played and passed through to something that had to be understood, then controlled and defeated. Level 8-4 expanded its space into something that the player acted within, contextualizng the player within the space, and accepting the space as a part of the game and the game world, rather than just empty area that connected important events.

Each level in each world in SMB differs slightly in design, but none of them provided an experience of the space other than 8-4, the level that made the space something to defeat rather than just a framework. By making the spatial structure on 8-4 the crux of winning the game and something to defeat, the space is made, in a sense, alive – something more than an incidental condition of play. While many who have repeatedly played NES game levels know the button sequences[15] to beat a certain game or certain area, those button sequences were just sequences, not wholes. SMB's level 8-4 made the flat world come alive and become a complete world by making space something that changed and that had meaning as other than just an area to be crossed, as more than a transition area. 8-4 is the final level of the game, thus the player was eased into first encountering the game as represented space. And then at the conclusion of the game, seeing the game as representational space throughout; changing the final holistic experience of the game and changing the replay experience of the game. Thus while Super Mario Brothers starts as represented side scrolling space, it becomes space that affects and is affected by the player such that it comes to be representational space for the player.

Only once one reaches 8-4 does space, as an element unto itself, enter as a meaningful part of the game. Merely jumping up to avoid and enemy, or leaping far enough to clear the hole and land on the other side, does not amount to including an understanding of space within the game structure. It exists as space, but not as an active or meaningful element of the game experience. Once one reaches 8-4, unless the correct pattern is followed, the production of the space continues to loop indefinitely. With this, the space within the game becomes important to the game experience. It requires a shift in one’s perception of the game space, from a mere place-holder for objects with which one may interact, to an element in the foreground now, as active and vital as any other obstacle. SMB's conversion from represented space to representational space occurs in the mind of the player: the game is still the same graphically simple and low system level game, but the game comes alive for the player and remains so for later play. Henri Lefebvre distinguished this as the difference between represented and representational space. Lefebvre termed space in three areas: spatial practice, which is the material perceived geometric space; represented space, which is the conceived mental re-presentations of space; and representational space, which is the combination of both spatial practice and represented space.[16]

Metroid was released after SMB and the spatial design of Metroid’s game play was clearly influenced by SMB's creation of representational space. Metroid has a complete reversal of SMB's initial spatial principle. Space in Metroid is the foreground material, far more important than the enemies one encounters in the game. Exploration was the cornerstone of Metroid's gaming experience, and the space that one explored then became the prime interactive element in the game. Thus, while Metroid may appear to be a platform game, it is actually an adventure game. This is very important because earlier games did not encourage exploration or even often allow exploration: exploration was only a bonus for skilled players as with SMB’s negative levels where playing these was in direct opposition to completing the game. Metroid made space something to be fully explored as part of completing and understanding the game.

While in SMB the player could only go right, and is thus a platform one-way smooth side scroller (often called a side scroller since the player can only scroll to one side), in Metroid the player could fully go left, right, up, and down. Thus, Metroid is an adventure game that is subclassed as a full smooth scroller. Also, because Metroid allows the player to return to previously covered, even previously conquered areas, it is a retraceable scrolling game. Retraceable scrolling simply means to be able to retrace the already scrolled or traveled areas. The scrolling subclasses are useful for clarification between non-scrolling and differentially scrolling games, but only in 2D games where they appear because 3D games negate this possibility.

Figure 3: Metroid - Justin BaileyFigure 3: Metroid - Justin Bailey Figure 4. Two of Metroid’s start screens. Figure 4 is the very first screen with Samus still in her bounty hunter suit, which conceals her gender. Figure 3 comes up with the JUSTIN BAILEY code and is the initial screen for one of the boss areas, showing how Metroid is very like a platform game. Notice that both areas are safe - virtually no enemies and no difficult maneuvers immediately required.: Metroid - StartFigure 4. Two of Metroid’s start screens. Figure 4 is the very first screen with Samus still in her bounty hunter suit, which conceals her gender. Figure 3 comes up with the JUSTIN BAILEY code and is the initial screen for one of the boss areas, showing how Metroid is very like a platform game. Notice that both areas are safe - virtually no enemies and no difficult maneuvers immediately required.: Metroid - Start

For Metroid's open retraceable smooth scrolling framework, Metroid interestingly always begins on one of four similar screens, corresponding to the world area where Samus last died.[17] If the player began a new game, died and decided to replay, or entered a password, the initial screen was always one of these screens. These screens and the room they connect to are relatively safe rooms in that the enemies are low-level and the jumps are simple to make. The initial safe screens in Metroid are particularly interesting because they feel safe. No matter how badly Samus Aran, Metroid's player character (PC), is beaten or how horrible the immediately preceding situation was, Samus reforms alive and well in one of the initial start screens.[18] Three of which are elevator rooms which lead down to difficult "boss" areas, hence being like a platform game except for the use of space.

Figure 5 This is Samus in the suit (which can be seen by her pink and green coloration, in cyborg gear she is yellow and red) in Maru Mari ball form. The blocks below Samus have been and are in the process of being temporarily destroyed by bombs (indicated by the ring of matter). Because the bombs went off under Samus, she is being projected upwards and thus is in a screen position the player could not get her to without both the Maru Mari and the bombs.: Metroid - BombsFigure 5 This is Samus in the suit (which can be seen by her pink and green coloration, in cyborg gear she is yellow and red) in Maru Mari ball form. The blocks below Samus have been and are in the process of being temporarily destroyed by bombs (indicated by the ring of matter). Because the bombs went off under Samus, she is being projected upwards and thus is in a screen position the player could not get her to without both the Maru Mari and the bombs.: Metroid - Bombs Figure 6. Samus is shown here already moved up (in terms of screen directions) by a bomb explosion and another bomb sits under her - if timed properly the player can use bombs to increase Samus’ jumping capability. Also note that some of the bricks which were destroyed have reformed. From this position, the player can point Samus up and shoot through the bricks, but Samus cannot shoot down, so bombs are necessary.: Metroid - Bombs 2Figure 6. Samus is shown here already moved up (in terms of screen directions) by a bomb explosion and another bomb sits under her - if timed properly the player can use bombs to increase Samus’ jumping capability. Also note that some of the bricks which were destroyed have reformed. From this position, the player can point Samus up and shoot through the bricks, but Samus cannot shoot down, so bombs are necessary.: Metroid - Bombs 2

From the first start or save screen Samus can move to the right or the left. When the player does move to the right, she finds a dead end, but here she also finds the Maru Mari (also referred to as the morph ball), which is functionally a power-up that gives Samus the ability to roll into a ball. Thus, the internal game space restricts the player from moving further to the left by means of a cave wall, but this is an internal spatial restriction which allows the space to remain part of the game while also obeying the game world's rules. Also here, in the Maru Mari, the game provides a PC transition form, which allows the player to travel more freely throughout the game world. Thus, the built-in narrative constraints of the game, which work with the technical constraints so the game is not overly expansive for its platform, both restrict and free the player. With this, the game also allows the player two forms, which more than doubles the existing space by allowing the player multiple ways to traverse the game space and, with the later bombs, variations on that travelling method.[19] This changes the space from a primarily fixed field, with one character method of travel (SMB has small or large Mario or Luigi, differently colored with fiery power, but not a completely different form of either) to more dynamic with two completely different forms.

Figure 7: Metroid - Gold HallFigure 7: Metroid - Gold Hall Figure 8 Figures 7 and 8 are the two main tunnel areas in Metroid. The gold tunnel is further into the game, but both tunnels must be frequently traversed. In Figure 7, Samus is here in her suit with her missiles armed, which is shown by her lightened colors and longer, thicker gun arm. In Figure 8 Samus is still in her suit and the bubble door is on the right.: Metroid - Blue HallFigure 8 Figures 7 and 8 are the two main tunnel areas in Metroid. The gold tunnel is further into the game, but both tunnels must be frequently traversed. In Figure 7, Samus is here in her suit with her missiles armed, which is shown by her lightened colors and longer, thicker gun arm. In Figure 8 Samus is still in her suit and the bubble door is on the right.: Metroid - Blue Hall

While the two forms served to increase the experience of the game world space, Metroid's reuse of code served to create a complex, labyrinthine world structure while using the limited processing power of its game system. This reuse of code is most noticeable on the large "hallway" areas. The "hallways" here, as with Code Veronica and many other games, are extremely important because they serve as border regions - connecting new and old areas and increasing the player’s awareness of a space in context with other spaces. Metroid's hallways are hallways only with regard to function; in game play they are actually tunnels with multiple doors on each side and almost perfectly repeating platforms and enemies throughout.[20] These hallways connect Metroid's worlds or levels within the narrative frame of the planet Zebes (sometimes referred to as Zebeth). The similarity of the two tunnels is broken only by their colors, gold and blue. The blue tunnel is encountered in the very initial stages of game play, yet many of its doors can only be reached once the player has succeeded in acquiring objects from all other areas of the game world. By requiring the player to repeatedly return and then exit this tunnel, Metroid succeeded turning the underlying limited processing power of the system to narrative advantage. Metroid's reuse of programming code - by reusing certain world area sequences in multiple rooms and by requiring multiple different uses of the same rooms - created a game that felt complex and extensive and labyrinthine while not overloading the system that supported it.

Metroid also used power-ups - like the bombs, ice beam, and high jump boots - to further the game narrative. Samus could not reach certain areas without shrinking into the Maru Mari ball and then bombing through the terrain while in the Maru Mari form to reach the additional areas. For other areas, Samus needed the power of the high jump boots and/or the ice beam to freeze enemies and then use them as jumping platforms. By incorporating the power-ups into the games' narrative and play structure, Metroid also managed to appear as a much longer, larger, and more complex game than would have been otherwise possible. The exponential increase in the use of game space with different areas acquiring new purposes and places within the game structure as Samus became more powerful also exponentially increased the temporal nature of Metroid. Where many NES games can be beaten in roughly two hours by an experienced user, Metroid requires nearly ten hours of the same experienced user, unless the JUSTIN BAILEY code is used.[21]

Metroid further extended its game world by effectively using the paratext of the game book to set the world schema, further allowing the game to stretch its limited code by providing a narrative framework in the planet Zebes and Samus' mission.[22] While the initial "safe" area of the first and subsequent save screens broke the narrative frame, it situated the player in the game world and kept the player from ever being stuck in an area that was too difficult to overcome, as occurs frequently in other games. The static save area and corresponding password save system also lessened the code space required for saving and loading, freeing this memory space for code to render a larger game world. While the save spaces do break the narrative frame, they work for Metroid's game play.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica also embraces the use of areas like save rooms which break the narrative frame to facilitate game play. While Code Veronica is a much more technically advanced game than Metroid and SMB, it still operates under the same patterns of constricted space found in the earlier games. Resident Evil: Code Veronica is the fourth of the immensely popular Resident Evil game series, not including the first person shooter (FPS) version, and it is arguably the best of the survival horror genre.[23] The popularity of the Resident Evil game series, and of other survival horror games like it, is partially based on the spatial schemas initially constructed in the early NES games. The original NES games all had finite and clearly purposeful spaces - no level was extraneous, no item unimportant - Resident Evil uses the same construction, but in a very different way. Where the limited code and world possibilities of the older games lent to a comforting world structure (if a player found an item, it was likely needed; so the resourceful player would pick up the item and soon find how to use the item, if the player was not already aware) Resident Evil embraces the limitations - limiting the available ammunition, health, and items that can be carried while increasing the number of enemies and times a particular area must be covered - to intensify the horror and anxiety of the game world.

Where Metroid and SMB both have fixed views - that of the screen being the fourth wall - Resident Evil: Code Veronica is like other survival horror games in having generally overhead fixed camera views. The fourth wall perspective used by Metroid and SMB centers the player-character (PC) as the main thrust of the game and centers the PC within the game world, as with most platform views. Always allowing the player to see the PC and the world around the PC comforts the player by letting the player know where the PC is spatially and how the PC fits into that space.

Figure 9 Here Claire is walking through a hallway in the military complex. Faint light shines through the open windows, barely illuminating her path.: RECV - Light in WindowFigure 9 Here Claire is walking through a hallway in the military complex. Faint light shines through the open windows, barely illuminating her path.: RECV - Light in Window Figure 10 Claire is approaching the Alexander’s mansion on the hill. Here she is seen trapped by the high camera view while walking by a lamp post surrounded by loudly buzzing insects.: RECV - BugsFigure 10 Claire is approaching the Alexander’s mansion on the hill. Here she is seen trapped by the high camera view while walking by a lamp post surrounded by loudly buzzing insects.: RECV - Bugs

Code Veronica does not offer this comfort. Instead, Code Veronica borrows heavily from cinematic constructs using overhead or nearly overhead and off-centered camera angles to intensify the horror of the game space. Making the PC not the main focus of the game world, but an aspect operating within the bleak landscape of the game world and one who is trapped and heavily weighted within the game world at that. This is particularly interesting because the survival horror bleak landscapes and fixed camera angles began as a result of technical limitations. The original survival horror game, Alone in the Dark, first used the bleak landscapes and fixed views to lessen the processing load so that its game world could be larger and more detailed when details warranted too much of the greatly needed processing power. Resident Evil drew from Alone in the Dark by fully incorporating these technical limitations, as did Silent Hill with fog, into its game designs to such an extent that when Code Veronica was released and the fixed views and bleak terrains were no longer necessary they were still kept for their importance to the mood and the overall feel of the game.

Thus Metroid and Super Mario Brothers embraced technical constraints to center their PC within their respective game worlds and create a naturalizing or normalizing effect for the player in the game world, survival-horror games like each Resident Evil release pervert this by making the game world the focus of the screen. This heightens the horror of the game world by making it omnipresent and resistant to the player. Also, the PC is never at home within any screen and thus not at home within the game world which serves to further heighten the player’s discomfort of the player through the PC's lack of place within the game world. Resident Evil: Code Veronica's player-character (which fluctuates through the characters Claire, Chris, and Steve) has a fluctuating and disharmonious place within the many screen areas (many of which are played through with multiple characters). The PC’s lack of place within the game world, lack of place within each game screen, and narrative lack of family and place all combine with eerie music, odd overhead views, and monstrous images in Code Veronica, all adding to the horrific experience of each screen and of the game world itself. All this allows for the visual and auditory feel of the game, with the character trapped in each screen and trapped in each section of the game world, to parallel the narrative because part of the PC's purpose in any survival-horror game is to escape.

Unlike Metroid and Super Mario Brothers, Resident Evil: Code Veronica also fully embraces the use of sound for effect. Music and other background sound are important aspects to game play because they add to the game world's density by adding to the development of mood and adding another layer of contextualization for each game space. Video game scoring is like cinematic scoring: upbeat and constant music are widely presumed to fit more appropriately with an action-adventure work and inappropriate music can skew both the feel and the understanding of a work. The music in both SMB and Metroid is varied slightly during game play, yet consistent across each game world. The music for each is overall upbeat and it loops frequently. The loops are necessary given the system limitations and the upbeat nature of the music is also subsequent to the system with the limits of its MIDI music.

In line with Metroid and SMB, Resident Evil: Code Veronica could easily have had the most elaborate soundtrack possible for its platform, yet it did not. Code Veronica was released on two CDs on the Sega Dreamcast, so its developers could have created a soundtrack which would span the length of the game, without having to loop frequently like SMB and Metroid's soundtracks do. Code Veronica is instead filled by the hollow sound of the PC's footfalls, the moaning of zombies present and in the distance, the buzzing of bugs, the clack of zombie-dog paws as they run towards the PC, and most of all the eerie silence of a dead and death-filled world. Code Veronica does notably use music on several occasions, including during time-limited events to spur the player forward. But one typical musical sequence occurs when Claire finds a film projector in the mansion. When she plays it, she sees a film of Alexander and Alexia (the antagonists) as children ripping the wings from a dragonfly and dropping it to be eaten alive by ants. The music is sweet and peaceful, but the images joined with the music are horrid; thus, the pleasantness of the music only serves to heighten discomfort and disgust with the entirety of the scene. The independent snippets of sound intensify the horrific qualities of an inconstant and corrupt world. As with most games and most films, Code Veronica's use of music helps to flesh out the space that has been constructed. As SMB's and Metroid's worlds are filled by the sense of purpose and path which is augmented by the upbeat consistent music and sound; Code Veronica's music and sounds are eerie and vary greatly, showing a world filled with confusion and fear, showing that the use or lack of music helps dictate the game world and the game experience.

Figure 11 This is the second time Claire sees the film of Alexander and Alexia looking longingly at each other after ripping the wings off a dragon fly and dropping it into a bowl of ants.: RECV - Alexander and AlexiaFigure 11 This is the second time Claire sees the film of Alexander and Alexia looking longingly at each other after ripping the wings off a dragon fly and dropping it into a bowl of ants.: RECV - Alexander and Alexia

Yet within Code Veronica's horrific world, safe spaces do exist. Metroid's initial safe reload/start screen is analogous to Code Veronica's save rooms. Code Veronica, like Metroid, has limited save areas to reduce code requirements for saving. Just as Metroid's save area helps the player start from a fixed point which comforts and eases confusion, Code Veronica uses the infrequency of save areas for fear and anxiety, but the actual save rooms are comforting and consistent. The music in every save room in Code Veronica is identical and consistent except when the save rooms are being passed through as a part of a particular sequence when the music does change. The save rooms are most notable because the player character will never be attacked in a save room - the music helps alert the player that this is a safe area and the player will not be required to fight in these rooms.

Figure 12 Claire is in this save room in the military complex - the typewriter and door are behind her. Also behind her is a painting of the room which includes the primarily red painting of a skeleton and which has been removed from Claire’s right. One of Claire’s requirements is to find the picture and put it in place to open up the rest of this room. Once the skeleton painting (the double to the sailor painting) is in place, the wall in front of Claire slides down to reveal a diorama of the military facility. Chris will later return to this room and place a model of the tank in the diorama to reveal the requirements for his escape from the island. This single room must be returned to multiple times by both Chris and Claire for differing purposes and so allows for very different experiences of the same and of an evolving space. Also, the division of the room into two halves with the painting of the man and his double in the skeleton parallels the doubles in Code Veronica with brother and sister player characters, Claire and Chris, and antagonists, Alexia and Alexander. The many uses and doubling of this room as a space also parallels the overall use and understanding of space in Code Veronica.: RECV - Save Room 1Figure 12 Claire is in this save room in the military complex - the typewriter and door are behind her. Also behind her is a painting of the room which includes the primarily red painting of a skeleton and which has been removed from Claire’s right. One of Claire’s requirements is to find the picture and put it in place to open up the rest of this room. Once the skeleton painting (the double to the sailor painting) is in place, the wall in front of Claire slides down to reveal a diorama of the military facility. Chris will later return to this room and place a model of the tank in the diorama to reveal the requirements for his escape from the island. This single room must be returned to multiple times by both Chris and Claire for differing purposes and so allows for very different experiences of the same and of an evolving space. Also, the division of the room into two halves with the painting of the man and his double in the skeleton parallels the doubles in Code Veronica with brother and sister player characters, Claire and Chris, and antagonists, Alexia and Alexander. The many uses and doubling of this room as a space also parallels the overall use and understanding of space in Code Veronica.: RECV - Save Room 1

While the save rooms do vary in many aspects, all of the save rooms have a typewriter and often also have an item box and typewriter ribbon. The item boxes are all connected throughout the game which is extremely important as the player character can only hold on to a certain number of items at a time and cannot drop the items anywhere other than in the item boxes. The item boxes are all connected - even when the player character changes - adding further consistency to the save rooms which exist in an otherwise inconsistent world. The item boxes are an integral part of the game play, as the game cannot be beaten without being able to drop and retrieve items. The save rooms all also have typewriters, which are needed to save the game, but cannot be used without the typewriter ribbon and the typewriter ribbon has no other purpose other than to save the game. Thus, the player must always decide whether to carry the typewriter ribbon at the expense and inconvenience of not being able to pick up another needed item, or risk not having a typewriter ribbon when finding a save room of only a typewriter.

Figure 13 Here, Claire is in another save room which connects to two other rooms, but this save room is limited to being a save room and being a transitional area.: RECV - Save Room 2Figure 13 Here, Claire is in another save room which connects to two other rooms, but this save room is limited to being a save room and being a transitional area.: RECV - Save Room 2 Code Veronica’s save rooms provide a simple example of the experience of spatiality. While some of the save rooms are dead end rooms, others are both save rooms and connector rooms, connecting other areas of the game world together. With this, many of the save rooms have multiple purposes: acting as a safe haven, allowing the player to save and possibly switch items, and acting as a linking area from one game area to the next. Depending on the player’s current use for a particular save room, the experience of the room changes. The experience of the room also changes when the player returns to the same save area to accomplish the same goal as the room’s place within the overall game play has changed. The changing aspects of a single geometric space shows video game space to be phenomenological space. These spaces - even with spatiality propped up by optical, perspectival, and televisual conventions - allow for the actual experience of space in game play.

Throughout the worlds of Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and Resident Evil: Code Veronica many different portrayals of space and spatiality are created. The creation of comforting space in Metroid and SMB and the pivotal reverse of this in Code Veronica illustrate how code, music, and perspective all add to the creation of lived, representational space. SMB, Metroid, and Code Veronica were released in different eras of video game development and they all share different levels of spatial development. Yet each space is treated as part of the game world, which allows for the experience of the space.

As video game culture has emerged and swiftly grown, so too have the implications for the creations of that culture. The programmatically created graphical renderings of space in video games is often not only allegorical, but also lived, representational, and thus experiential, space. There is a fundamental difference between watching a video game being played and playing a video game. This difference is essential because it allows the possibility for space in video games to transition from represented space to representational space. The importance of spatiality in video games is not simply for video games. Video game playing, as an experience with lived, representational spaces alters the way video game players view other spaces. This in turn makes video game spatiality a reference point for all other spatiality. For many, video games have become home. Bachelard writes that, “The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace” (6). Video game spaces as home spaces, spaces which ground later conceptualizations of and thoughts on space and spatiality in general, will change both the way video game spaces are constructed and the way all spaces can be viewed. Just as the construction of space in SMB helped create Metroid’s construction of space, so could video games, as texts and as a culture, change the way space and spatiality are perceived and understood.

Notes

1. See Aarseth, Espen J. "Allegories of Space: The Question of Spatiality in Computer Games." CyberText Yearbook 2000. Eds. Markku Eskelinen and Raine Koskimaa. Jyvaskyla, Finland: Research Centre for Contemporary Culture, 2001. 152-71.

2. In “Allegories of Space” Aarseth argues that video games spaces are “allegorical: they are figurative comments on the ultimate impossibility of representing real space” (169).

3. For a discussion of "thinned spaces", see Terry Harpold's "Thick and Thin: 'Direct Manipulation' & The Spatial Regimes of Human-Computer Interaction."

4. While not as pivotal to this paper, technical constraints are also operative outside the created game world: hardware support and the availability and use of the hardware for which the game is being designed; cost of development and implementation for the game design (many games work on preexisting engines and schemas); platform media limitations - cartridges versus CDs, differences between rumble packs, memory cards, and hard drives; and input/output support - joystick, keyboard, mouse, and/or controller.

5. Anti-aliasing is the process of minimizing or removing distortions so that the edges of objects appear smoother. It is especially useful for improving the appearance of small objects, or objects seen in the distance, providing the appearance of perspective in the virtually created space.

6. See The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask on the Nintendo 64 , where objectives must be completed in limited real world time increments.

7. With missions on these: the mission information/narrative is given in text or voice-overs at the beginning or end of each mission - it is not contextualized within game play, the game narrative, or the game space.

8. Each of these games has a well developed narrative which augments and constrains game play so that the spaces are thematically and narratively filled.

9. 8bit refers to the system processing ability. Specifically, it refers to the front side data bus, or data pipe, through which all inputs and outputs flow. An 8bit system in comparison to 16 (the Super Nintendo), 32, and 64 (Nintendo 64) bit systems is like having eight water pipes compared to 16, 32, and 64 water pipes - all of which can be used independently for input or output.

10. See Chapter 2, "The Origin of Species" in: Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000. Also, see Zjaba, Tom. "Who put the Donkey in Kong?" MacEdition. 30 Aug. 2001. URL: http://www.macedition.com/games/games_20010830.php

11. For an indepth guide to SMB see http://www.classicgaming.com/tmk/SMB_breakdown.shtml

12. For a discussion of Mario's evolution see Stephen Poole’s Trigger Happy.

13. See Wolf, Mark J. P. Genre and the Video Game. Forthcoming in May 2002 from the University of Texas Press or on http://www.robinlionheart.com/gamedev/genres.xhtml#platform

14. Another aid at lowering confusion was SMB's use of like color schemes for like zones, so a player would automatically know that the black screen background would mean that the player was either underground, in a night world, or in a castle.

15. Many players know the button sequences for proscribed games like Ninja Gaiden so well that the players can complete the areas without needing to see the game screen.

16. See Soja, Edward. Thirdspace. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1997. for a discussion of Lefebvre’s spatiality definitions and for a discussion of how these terms can be applied to a spatial analysis of cityscapes.

17. Samus Aran is Metroid’s only player character. Samus is a bounty hunter who has been sent to the planet Zebeth, also referred to as Zebes, to conquer the evil Mother Brain and the Metroids she is spawning.

18. Samus Aran is noted here by name because she was not only an incredibly skilled bounty hunter, but also a female player character in a completely male-dominated player character universe.

19. Bombs can be set explode under Samus, thus propelling Samus up - this is used to aid Samus in jumping and allows Samus to hop up while in the Maru Mari ball form - and is required to access several game areas.

20. In these tunnels, as with all other game areas, Samus could fall without dying or suffering from the fall, which works with the game narrative because Samus was not in danger of falling off or out of this world. Also when lava was present, the lava areas did slowly drain Samus' life, but did not instantly kill Samus as the lava areas killed the PCs in other games (like Kid Icarus) for violating the world of the screen by falling.

21. The JUSTIN BAILEY code is entered on the password screen with JUSTIN BAILEY in all caps for the first two lines and dashes for the last two lines. The code starts the player in the Samus pink outfit with all but the freeze beam and two energy tanks. Thus, the player simply needs to acquire the freeze beam and a single energy tank to replenish all the energy tanks and then the player can easily defeat the Metroids and the Mother Brain, dropping the time needed for winning to under an hour.

22. Please see appendix for a copy of the game book description of Metroid's story and Samus' mission and for the like information on the game startup screen.

23. Arguably the best especially given the strength of Silent Hill and the promise of the upcoming Silent Hill 2. For an introduction to survival horror and the awards/accolades given to Code Veronica, see http://www.videogames.com/features/universal/res_evil/index.html, http://gamespot.com/gamespot/features/video/15influential_rc/p9_01.html, and http://gamespot.com/gamespot/filters/products/0,11114,250618,00.html.

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