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«Bjarke Liboriussen Supervisor: Bo Kampmann Walther Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Institute of Literature, Media and Cultural ...»

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The Mechanics of Place:

Landscape and Architecture in Virtual Worlds

Bjarke Liboriussen

Supervisor: Bo Kampmann Walther

Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Institute of Literature, Media and Cultural Studies

University of Southern Denmark

Contents

Acknowledgements 3

1. Introduction 4 5. Landscape-image 113

6. Environment and image in a ludological

1. An architectural perspective 4

perspective 118

2. Vocabulary 6

7. Summary 123

3. Space and image 10

4. Place and space 17

5. Building 125

5. Researching place 25 1. “A structure with a roof and walls” 125

6. Researching games and players 29

2. Space/place, landscape/building 128

7. What is called “a virtual world”? 31

3. Virtual ethnography, distant place 131

8. Absent keywords 34

4. Virtual dwelling 133

9. Chapter overview 36

5. Dwelling with avatars 137

2. Body 39 6. Against boundaries 139

7. Against images 142

1. The universal body 39

8. The pop vernacular 148

2. Sense of agency 41

9. The machinic image 151

3. Sense of place 46

10. Summary 153

4. Avatar: Extension and model 48

5. A note on immersion 51

6. Worldview 155

6. Summary 59

1. Encounters and attunement 155

3. Map 60 2. Attunement to architecture and games

1. The curving and the circle 60

3. Worldview and ethos 162

2. Walking and looking 62

4. Worldview/ethos in architecture 164

3. Cognitive mapping 68

5. For and against virtual worldviews 172

4. Inhabitation of the plan 78

6. Unlimited good 175

5. Player cartography 83

7. Unlimited expansion 179

6. Structured use 89

–  –  –

Disclaimer: My main strategy for these acknowledgements has been to thank those who have had an impact on the present text, rather than those who have had an impact on me as a person or as an academic.

Academic work entails a lot of individual effort, but that effort is only made possible by inclusion in the academic community. I felt most included in the Play Research Group at the University of the West of England during my six month stay in Bristol, 2009. The members of the Group are model members of the academic community, and I thank them deeply for their warmth, humour and generosity: Patrick Crogan, Dan Dixon, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddens and Helen Kennedy (chair).

They have all provided substantial feedback on early versions of the following pages, as have Andreas Gregersen, Richard Hornsey, Sam Kinsley, Rune Klevjer, Yara Mitsuishi, Hanna Wirman and, last but not least, Bo Kampmann Walther who has been an extraordinarily encouraging supervisor on this project. Thank you all. I also thank the following for valuable feedback on oral presentations of parts of this text: Espen Aarseth, Axel Bruns, Patrick Coppock, Niels-Ole Finnemann, John Hartley, Olli Leino, Lene Otto, Henning Pryds and David Williamson Shaffer. Your feedback is most appreciated and has had a direct impact on the final shape of the text at hand.

A very special thank you to the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol (Claire Reddington, director), for letting me share that wonderful, innovative, open space with other academics, as well as with artists and other innovators. Input from gamers and non-academics has been important for this project. Thus I owe some of the examples used in these pages to the AntiVJ (Joanie Lemercier), Jakob Hansson, Rasmus Loose and Ida Willemoes-Wissing.

This text was written with the word processor Mellel. If you are a Mac user engaged in academic writing, and are not yet using this wonderful program, start doing so immediately.

–  –  –

(1) An architectural perspective Virtual worlds, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, are communities and they are often economies, games and works of fiction too. Various theoretical and methodological resources are at hand to enrich our understanding of the many aspects of the virtual world. A scholarly interest in communities can be sustained by social science and ethnography. An interest in economy will naturally lead to economic theory. Game studies (or “ludology”) is the field of choice if one is interested in virtual worlds as games. As for how fiction fares under interactive conditions, work is being done within a narratological framework. In recent years, the sociological, economic, ludological and narratological perspectives on virtual worlds have been established through the publication of influential books and articles.3 An architectural perspective has yet to be established.

The virtual world is a navigable space. Having said that, the perspective can be broadened and the virtual worlds consider as one of several media forms, historical and present-day, which facilitate experiences of a spatial nature. Lev Manovich has shown that this strategy allows for rich historical and theoretical contextualisation of new media artefacts.4 But what if the perspective was to be

1. Bartle, 2007: 158. Emphasis in the original.

2. Norberg-Schulz, 2000a: 12.

3. Examples of sociological aspects: Taylor, 2006; economic aspects: Castronova, 2005; ludological aspects: Juul, 2005 aims at being of relevance to the study of all games, from Pac-Man to the virtual world EverQuest. Bartle, 2004 is aimed at the design industry but incorporates academic work, including some of Bartle’s own work; narratological aspects: Ryan, 2001, Ryan, 2002.





4. Manovich, 2001. Manovich provides overview of scholarship focusing on the differences between real and virtual space, whilst expanding this scholarship with his own thoughts on the spatiality of new media.

Modern architecture is mentioned in passing as potential inspiration for designers of virtual spaces (ibid., pp. 264f). Manovich has hopes for contemporary architectural thought being of relevance for virtual space

-4narrowed, rather than broadening? The present-day virtual world is a reasonably stable form which can be examined on its own terms. It is not an early media form allowing its user to navigate an odd,

Abstract

space but a rather mature media form allowing navigation of buildings and landscapes. Obviously, navigation does not take place as in the real world. Virtual world buildings can not be mistaken for off-line buildings, nor virtual world landscapes for off-line landscapes. But even so: How can it enrich our understanding of virtual worlds to focus on their experiential and theoretical affinity with off-line architecture and landscapes?

Answering that question entails engagement with architectural theory and landscape aesthetics, and interdisciplinarity takes work. Architectural theory and landscape aesthetics must be made relevant to the study of virtual worlds rather than simply applied. Ad-hoc application of architectural theory has been done successfully on a limited scale within game studies5 but without the broader grounding in architectural discourse I am aiming for here. Architectural discourse is, however, a slippery one. Architectural theory blurs into philosophy and sociology (and even into physics and mathematics), landscape aesthetics blurs into the history and theory of art, and both fields have relations to geography and cartography. Furthermore, architecture has not been integrated into the academy the way cinema has become the subject of film studies and games the subject of game studies. Often written by architects who aim at changing the shape of the actual, built environment, and not only at publication in prestigious journals, architectural theory can be highly polemical as well as poetic. To ensure that interdisciplinarity leads the scholar to the production of new knowledge, he or she must decide on certain foci, or special areas of interest, before engaging with architectural discourse.

I have chosen five foci, or keywords, and assigned individual chapters to them. An initial presentation of the five keywords are given in the section following immediately below (Vocabulary, pp. 6-10). Then follows two sections dealing with meta-keywords. Since these metakeywords do not have individual chapters assigned to them, they are presented here for further design, cf. the mention of “liquid architecture” (ibid., p. 284). The references to architectural theory are necessarily eclectic in this context of far-ranging overview.

5. Babeux, 2005 and Fuller and Jenkins, 1994 both apply Michel de Certeau’s thoughts on space and place to computer games. Ljungström, 2005 applies Christopher Alexander’s architecture classic, “A Pattern Language” (Alexander et al., 1977), to World of Warcraft.

-5reference and in some detail, hence the sections contain healthy doses of theoretical background information. The meta-keywords are the two conceptual dichotomies of Space and image (pp. 10and Place and space (pp. 17-25). Then follows three sections which deal with methodological issues and position the current work in relation to previous work on virtual worlds. Researching place (pp. 25-29) focuses on humanistic geography, ethnography and previous work on virtual worlds employing ethnographic methods. Researching games and players (pp. 29-31) focuses on the present work in relation to the field of game studies. What is called “a virtual world”? (pp. 31-34) evolves around the difference between an ontological perspective on virtual worlds and the more phenomenologically inclined perspective employed here. The section Absent keywords (pp. 34-36) offers reflections on some of the issues I do not cover. Finally, a Chapter overview (pp. 36-38) charts the road ahead.

–  –  –

Taken together, the five words offer an architectural perspective on virtual worlds. Not a perspective in the shape of a model but in the shape of a vocabulary (more on this difference later, see Researching games and players, pp. 29-31). My use of the term vocabulary is inspired by Raymond Williams and his aptly titled classic, “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society”.6 There is, however, a number of ways in which I am not Raymond Williams and this is not “Keywords”. Williams’s book has as its subject “our central experiences” in the area of culture and society. What interests him is how such central experiences enter “our most general

6. Williams, 1983. Adrian Forty has written an inspiring vocabulary of modern architecture inspired by Williams (Forty, 2000).

-6discussions” as part of a vocabulary, i.e., as a “shared body” or “cluster” of words and meanings.7 Examples of Williams-keywords are: mechanical, media, popular and tradition. In comparison, my vocabulary is phenomenologically biased. Body, map, landscape, building and worldview lend themselves somewhat easier to description in terms of direct experience, compared to Williamskeywords such as media and tradition. I share, however, in all modesty, Williams’s sense that [e]very word which I have included [in the vocabulary] has at some time, in the course of some argument, virtually forced itself on my attention because the problems of its meaning seemed to me inextricably bound up with the problems it was being used to discuss.8 In a virtual world context, the word body is thus “inextricably bound up with the problems of” interactivity and embodied agency, or the nature of user-hood if you will (a word which has not quite made it into neither the general vocabulary, nor any specialised vocabulary). Building ties in with issues of authenticity and community. Worldview forced itself on my attention as I was trying to come to terms with the virtual world as as an unwieldily large artefact, or work (a word whose status in the aesthetic vocabulary is undermined by digital media). As for the words map and landscape, I am introducing words into the academic vocabulary which have scarcely been used in connection with virtual worlds. The five keywords have been selected pragmatically from within media studies in the sense of allowing me to align myself with existing, media studies positions and to address lacks in media studies discourse. Since embodied agency is something of a cornerstone of current game studies, the concept of body is the strongest example of a keyword chosen because it allows me to build on to existing positions. The focus on map and landscape, on the other hand, addresses an evident lack.

The five keywords form a cluster of concepts resonating with a certain understanding of architecture, namely, architecture as orientation.9 The notion that architecture is a way of orienting humankind in the world runs through architectural theory. I label this strand of thought orientationalist. Key Le Corbusier texts fit under this label, as does writings of his self-perceived,

7. Williams, 1983: 15 and 22.

8. Williams, 1983: 15.

9. Other understandings of architecture will generate different vocabularies. Architecture can, e.g., be understood as a system opening itself to formalist description. A formalist understanding of architecture unlocks theoretical resources such as Alexander et al., 1977 and might generate insights of direct relevance to game design. I thank Espen Aarseth for pointing this out to me.

-7intellectual heirs. Engaging in any discussion about “architecture” is to claim that the built environment is too important to be merely engineered in the most cost-effective way.10 But what

is architecture? Here is an orientationalist answer from architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa:



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