The fragmentary nature of space leads to video games representing space in ways that necessarily change and transform throughout game play. Deleuze and Guattari's conceptions of smooth and striated space help illustrate the fluid nature of spatial representation in video games, especially those that seek to control the space as territorial games like Civilization do. For time’s sake, I primarily address Civilization and chess and Go, Chess and Go were Deleuze and Guattari’s game examples.
Note: Originally presented at the 'Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism' conference at Princeton, 2004.
The fragmentary nature of space leads to video games representing space in ways that necessarily change and transform throughout game play. Deleuze and Guattari's conceptions of smooth and striated space help illustrate the fluid nature of spatial representation in video games, especially those that seek to control the space as territorial games like Civilization do. For time’s sake, I primarily address Civilization and chess and Go, Chess and Go were Deleuze and Guattari’s game examples, but I’d be happy to discuss smooth and striated with other games later on. While Deleuze and Guattari's conceptions of smooth and striated space do not create a ludic model in themselves, they do help create a spatial model that can be used within an overall ludic model of gaming that properly represents space and place for the various video game genres and types.
In order to define video game space and spatiality, the spatial type, usage, and limitations must first be defined. Video game space--like the smooth space of Go and the striated space of Chess that Deleuze and Guattari explore--derives from the game pieces, game board, and game rules operating as a unit. A basic model defined by the game pieces, rules, and game space proves useful for video game studies of spatialization and territory because these fundamental elements are present in both board games and the spatial video games. The game rules code and limit video game space and these enforced limitations set the rules for how the game may be played and for how the in-game space may be manipulated in terms of territory acquisition and territorial growth. The possibility for movement and control, and thus the overall space of the games, extends exponentially past this size difference as the game rules and game pieces working with the actual boards begin the construction of the game space.
Because video games include movement through and within the ludic space and because video game space is occupied game space, the represented 'physical' game space exists as one level of space within the overall ludic space. These multiple levels of spatiality require a ludic model that addresses the creation and use of the game space in addition to the game spatial model, that of exploratory space or territory. A valid ludic model must also address Deleuze and Guattari cautions against oversimplifying smooth and striated space for a ludic model because of the complexities of smooth and striated space and because of the other dimensions of ludic space.
For theories of space, Deleuze and Guattari postulate the theory of smooth and striated space through a number of different models. Because smooth and striated space never exist alone except in abstraction, the ludic model of Go and chess is useful for delimiting the exact characteristics of smooth and striated space for use in the represented space of video games. Smooth and striated spaces always exist within the process of becoming smooth and/or becoming striated. The two never exist alone, but exist rather in flux as they turn into the other and undo themselves. For simplicity's sake in using smooth and striated space within a study of video game space, striated space is most generally viewed as highly controlled space - space which is delimited and defined as maps promise roads and cities to be. Smooth space is most generally viewed as space which predicates on the relationship between points instead of the overall structure that encircles the space - smooth space is illustrated in the manner in which nomadic peoples view space - not as a structure with roads that lead to other fixed points, but as relationships.
The spatial significance on borders and territory is further confirmed in Civilization III's game book, which stresses the game goal with territorial control as two of the games' winning methods: winning by conquering or dominating the entire game world. The goal of territorial and spatial holism stands in sharp contrast to the fragmentary and fluid nature of space presented in the Civilization games. The fragmentary nature of space can be seen in the Civilization games based on the split between game controls on the meta or world map level, where space operates at the macro level as territory, and the micro level of the cities.
The micro level of the cities have structural components and somewhat diverse populations. The city micro level relates to the inner workings of the city in terms of elements individual to the city: food production, defensibility, luxuries, culture, entertainment, ability to expand on the overall world map, and so on. The micro level, shown in Figure 2, shows the individual elements that populate the city space as a place in development.
The next level is the macro level, or the overall game world, as represented by the game world map and shown in Figure 3. The final game spatial level is the game play space, which traverses both of these levels and exists as a phenomenological playing space for the player. Each of these levels is itself complex, with the city level being populated by characters, Wonders, and other structures that influence the overall workings of the game world. Some of these pieces, built in the cities, like the fighters can move to the larger game world map structure. The game world map is itself additionally complex because its individual spaces are not spaces devoid of meaning. Instead these spaces have intrinsic resources, and have positional, or situational, value based on their positioning within the ongoing game space during game play. With these multiple levels of spatial significance, any useful ludic model must be able to address the different types of space within a single game as well as the potential ways that the space may develop in other games and other game genres.
The fluid nature of space in Civilization is shown with territorial reversals, when cities and areas come under the control of the player or the computer, and as the spaces themselves change when irrigated, when roads are built, or when improvements such as these are destroyed or altered. The fragmentary nature of space can also be seen when the spatial significance changes. For instance, one city may be large, but still largely inconsequential because of its position. Later in the game, the other cities, workers, and enemies may change formation, and in doing so, the inconsequential city may become a pivotal city for that game sequence or within the overall game play. The changing of the space itself and the relation of the spatial presence within the field of the game space, or the game world, illustrates the significance of the game space to the actual game. This also illustrates how video games exist on multiple spatial levels - most video games are based on the experiential space of action based games of the territorial space found in many traditional board games. Within these spatial levels, the use of space within the game structure and context changes the game space as the game is played, in effect both smoothing and striating the space through game play.
The structures of other game spaces like those present in board games prove useful. In The Oxford Guide to Card Games, David Parlett notes that, in each of these board games - chess, Go, Monopoloy - the "opening position is defined by rules, known to everyone, and theoretically open" (17). Parlett goes on to explain that:"Typically board games are games of 'perfect information', in that the situation resulting from every move is entirely open (and 'above board') to all players...different games test different kinds of skill... the skill of chess - which takes perfect information for granted and is therefore essentially positional." (18-19)
Many video games that are territorially based, like the series of Civilization and Warcraft games, add difficulty by removing some of the complete openness, yet they simultaneously retain the concept of perfect information by inverting it for difficulty. This inversion is created by covering the surrounding area with darkness to prevent perfect information of the territory (this is often referred to as the "fog of war" because of its frequent use in games of territory and is shown in Figure 1).
Action games are not based on the information of the space because the action within the space triggers the spatial importance (action within the space includes puzzle solving where players must solve puzzles to open new spaces or discover new pathways), rather than the overarching knowledge of the space itself. Multiplayer games differ in this regard, but I don’t have time here to cover those.
Because video game space is occupied game space in that the player has some degree of interaction within the game space in a way that is not possible with either Go or chess, the represented ‘physical’ game space exists as one level of space within the overall ludic space. The movement through the space and understanding of the space are partially controlled by the other representations of space within the same and similar video games. The physically represented game space may be smooth or striated, generally displaying characteristics of both in varying quantities determined by the game by being filled with intensities and measurable distances, using symptoms and overall organizing factors.
Like chess, older action and platform video games, like Super Mario Brothers and Ninja Gaiden have extremely striated game spaces in that each of the characters, whether the player avatars or the enemies, has an exact value (often noticeable through life bars, like the ones used in Civilization to display the strength of the fighter pieces). The placement of the pieces, outside of their internal characteristics imparts individualization in addition to the individualization of the pieces from their functionality and that hierarchical significance. Older platform games also do this by having the player always begin at the same place, the enemies all start in the same positions, and the spaces cannot be replayed through, so the represented space only exists in one finite manner, outside of the experience of the space during gameplay. The exact placements of characters and chess pieces striate the game board or spaces by making these not open systems of trajectories, but systems of points and point to point relationships. Civilization, like Go, avoids these initial striations by allowing the player to choose the position from which to start game play. Civilization does retain chess like 'pieces' - people as those within the cities: entertainers, advisors; and those that can move outside of the city bounds: workers, builders, fighting groups; built constructs: cities, roads, mines - all begin with intrinsic and particular values. These values may change as the pieces grow and adapt - the cities may have more culture, the fighters may become veterans - but the overall pieces are invested with particular values and these values codify the usage of the pieces and striate the game space because their value changes the value of the game area they occupy in a specified and controlled manner.
Civilization shows the space and the city-pieces at the beginning of the game, which shows that both the space and pieces will be important to game play. Showing both the pieces and the space and allowing more and different pieces to develop show that the pieces will colonize that space, but that at the same time, their colonization will undo or smooth itself by allowing the pieces to move and change, while at the same time allowing multiple changes to occur and be undone to the space itself, such as irrigation, road building, city building and then the destruction of these changes by rivals. Civilization, as a game space, fluxes between smooth and striated even within the represented space of the game board.
In line with the multiple levels of spatial construction in games are the multiple versions of spatial representation. Video games rely heavily on the use of maps in supplemental screens to show the direct relationship of the places and to aid the player. Map usage proves useful for video game spatial analysis and map usage provides a viable link between game analysis and game design because of the significance of maps and mappings in interface and game design. Deleuze and Guattari discuss maps as active representations of spatial relationships and tracings as pre-created and striated examples of how spaces are set.
Most video game maps are not maps in the Deleuzian sense because they do not attempt to have any live or active feel about them, instead existing as attempts at tracing of the relationships between points in the game space; “What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (Negotiations 12). With these definitions, tracings apply to standard road maps and to standard video game maps that explicate the overall space with one building to the left and another below it. Territorial games like Civilization can have static tracings, but these tracings act as maps during gameplay because they actively represent the relationship of the pieces as they move because the playing screen and the overview screen are the same. Civilization does have a static ‘traced’ image available when the player goes to city view and is shown a static image of the appearance of the city at that moment, as in Figure 4. This image is a traced image because, while it dynamically updates throughout the game as the city grows, the screen itself is always stuck in one snapshot of the game and cannot reflect the underlying game activity.
The active nature of world maps within territorial games relates to the use and presentation of space in territorial games - the space is not there to be explored, but to be controlled, and so an active representation of spatial activity is necessary. Tracings make game spaces appear or become striated through the pre-eminence put on the point to point relationships, rather than the explorative trajectories for which the games may allow. Most video game ‘maps’ cannot be maps in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense because they are never the active experimentation and growth, but instead present one more simplified traced version of the game space which is different from the other game space representation.
The goal of this presentation is to suggest how Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of smooth and striated space can help create a critical vocabulary that can address the many uses and representations of space in video games, as well as addressing the spatial uses in more traditional board games. Further, wiewing games as existing with smooth and striated space in flux and with the game space micro and macro levels allows us to draw upon many theories of urban development and cultural studies. Thank you for your time.