Monday, June 25, 2012

Space As A Keyword

I read David Harvey's essay, Space As A Keyword, a paper which (especially in the first half) covers a lot of content about definitions and representations of space. Below are some sections I picked out that I thought could be of particular use.

“If we regard space as absolute it becomes a “thing in itself” with an existence independent of matter. It then possesses a structure which we can use to pigeon-hole or individuate phenomena. The view of relative space proposes that it be understood as a relationship between objects which exists only because objects exist and relate to each other. There is another sense in which space can be viewed as relative and I choose to call this relational space - space regarded in the manner of Leibniz, as being contained in objects in the sense that an object can be said to exist only insofar as it contains and represents within itself relationships to other objects.” pg2

Absolute: Physical, Euclidean

Relative: Our own perception of space influenced by our own experience of time, distance and other factors such as social convention or emotion.

Relational: A subspace of relative space used to discuss the relationship between two objects or energies which interact with one another.

Harvey bases his ideas of those of Lefebvre but uses his own definitions of absolute, relative and relational space to discuss the concept. To me, the short comings of Harvey's ideas are that he makes no account for imagined space. This space is important in relation to interactive spaces as it is very much the imagination which 'fills in the blanks' of a constructed world. What could be useful is how these ideas could be applied to virtual space. His emphasis on the interconnectedness of time and space and the notion of processes creating their own spacial frames is in my mind, exactly what a virtual space entails as it is the relationship between the player and virtuality which creates an entirely new world in itself:
"The relational view of space holds there is no such thing as space outside of the processes that define it. Processes do not occur in space but define their own spatial frame." pg4
"it is impossible to disentangle space from time" pg4
We are not empirically defining space in its entirety, I believe such is beyond the bounds both what we as humans can imagine as well as what we are capable of expressing through language. What we are doing is conceptualising and compartmentalising aspects of space into different spheres, different sets of relationships so that we may better understand the role of space in relation to our own lives. Such descriptions are never exclusive, the energies of each are overlapping and multiple. In fact, what we call space is not really space at all, only our own ideas of what we believe it to be. Space is relational, it can never be filled just as it can never be empty, it is transformative, social and political - space is unfathomable.
"space is neither absolute, relative or relational in itself, but it can become one or all simultaneously depending on the circumstances. The problem of the proper conceptualization of space is resolved through human practice with respect to it. In other words, there are no philosophical answers to philosophical questions that arise over the nature of space - the answers lie in human practice. The question “what is space?” is therefore replaced by the question “how is it that different human practices create and make use of different conceptualizations of space?” The property relationship, for example, creates absolute spaces within which monopoly control can operate. The movement of people, goods, services, and information takes place in a relative space because it takes money, time, energy, and the like to overcome the friction of distance. Parcels of land also capture benefits because they contain relationships with other parcels….in the form of rent relational space comes into its own as an important aspect of human social practice.”
In the context of a virtual space, worlds are constructed via representation. I can draw an image of a tree, it is in no way an actual tree but as an audience we can relate the pixelated shape to its real life representation. Harvey considers the ways in which spaces beyond the physical may be represented:
"We can reasonably assume that the elements, moments and events in that world are constituted out of a materiality of stable and finite qualities. How we represent this world is an entirely different matter, but here too we do not conceive of or represent space in arbitrary ways, but seek some appropriate if not accurate reflection of the material realities that surround us through abstract representations (words, graphs, maps, diagrams, pictures, etc.). But Lefebvre, like Benjamin, insists that we do not live as material atoms floating around in a materialist world; we also have imaginations, fears, emotions, psychologies, fantasies and dreams. These spaces of representation are part and parcel of the way we live in the world. We may also seek to represent the way this space is lived through emotions and the imagination. The spatiotemporality of a dream, a fantasy, a hidden longing, a lost memory or even a peculiar thrill as we walk down a street can be given representation through works of art." pg8

In an interactive space the audience has a direct influence on the space which they perceive and because of this extra dimension of experience I wonder how some of the personal spaces which Harvey considers (emotions, fantasy, fears, imagination) may be expressed to a greater level or simply a different level to what can/has been achieved in a linear virtual space. 

Harvey, D. Space As A Keyword, Marx and Philosophy Conference, 29 May 2004, London

I Remember The Rain

This is my latest project, enjoy:


I Remember The Rain is an interactive story with mechanisms firmly rooted in video game convention and aesthetic. I wanted to use the landscape of this platform as a means to deliver  a narrative and a sense of character that would not normally be expected from the medium with the intention of making these elements all the more potent.

Although the interactions of IRTR are simple, the space of the project is deep. Only 3 buttons are used in the game, the arrow keys move the character left and right while the spacebar triggers interaction and events. These mechanics were intentional in their simplicity so that the interface of interaction would not become a barrier in the player's connection to the virtual world as well as allowing for greater accessibility to a wider audience. 

I decided quite early on that I wanted to have the characters in the game voiced, partly because I haven’t really seen this done in games of this type but most importantly as a way to humanise the characters. By giving the protagonist a voice, the audience can better relate to the character and becomes deeper immersed in the virtual world. Like spoken voices, audio as a whole was a focus of the work, juxtaposing the retro, minimalistic aesthetics with a deep and layered soundscape to bring to life the world: footsteps, the sound of birds, the wipers of the car – all subtle elements that draw the audience into the reality of the interactive space.

More on this later!

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Journey is a Playstation 3 game developed by Thatgamecompany and although I haven't had the chance to play the game the whole way through, what I did experience was impacting enough for me to look further into it. A friend showed me an interview with Jenova Chen, the game's designer. His ideas of video games as art and the power and presentation of interactivity really resonate with what I myself have been thinking about.

Journey is minimalistic, both in its visual style and in its mechanics. There is no HUD (heads up display) indicating any information to the player about their status or which buttons to press. This relieves player of the omnipotent framework that video games tend to construct around themselves, allowing one to experience the work in a purer, more cinematic form.
"For the minimalist interface design we do in TGC games, we believe that the best interface and game design should be based on human instinct, rather than gaming knowledge.

If a child, a non-gamer, can interact with our game, a gamer should be able to as well. Just think about the whole process of an online console game – lobby, latency, hosting, kicking. None of these concepts are intuitive to a non-gamer."
By constructing mechanisms of interaction to be assessable, the work's mood, themes, atmosphere and narrative can be delivered with a greater potency as the reception of these forces is not restricted by a player's background and remains untainted by obtuse, constant reminders that the the world which is being experienced is in fact virtual. If even on some minor, conscious or subconscious level, an audience just for a moment forgets that they are interfacing with a virtual environment, then surely the affective nature of that environment becomes all the more effective.

Something which intrigued me about Journey is that during the game, players can encounter one another but the way in which interaction occurs is quite different from what we have come to expect from other online games. There is no chat window way to communicate through words and no indication of who might be behind the screen:
"For the lack of online ID, chat and voice, to create an emotional bond between the two online players, we have to create an atmosphere and mood so that when the two meet in the game, they are willing to do it.
We created a world where the rules and values are very different from reality. Your avatar doesn't have arms or mouth, so players should buy into the fiction that they can't speak human language or punch each other. If you see the player's online ID – for example, 'HairyKnuckle1991' – it instantly takes you out of the fiction"
Journey is a game by definition, though its own website prefers to term it as "an interactive parable". The word 'game' is so broad, we seem to define media under this umbrella by certain mechanics of interaction but it seems obvious to me that not everything which is interactive has to be a game. It is through this way of thinking that I believe the potential of such medium can be further explored and new possibilities of the way in which we present stories, ideas and experiences can be developed.


Botanicula is an adventure game from Czetch developers Amanita Design. The basic story follows a group of insects escaping from and eventually confronting an army of shadow creatures who are sucking the life out of the natural world. The player experiences this universe by using the mouse to travel to new areas, to solve puzzles and interact with different creatures and objects. What I found immediately striking about this is that unlike most games in the point and click adventure genre there are not one but five protagonists, each of equal importance. This situates the experience in an interesting context as you play the role of a guide as opposed to an absolute controller. Interaction is entirely contextual, the party of insects can not be moved around manually, instead reacting to other actions and changes in the environment. It is these environments that really sold the game to me because the aesthetics of Botanicula are simply amazing. The world itself is teeming with life, the art work is beautiful as well as original in style and execution. These visuals are enhanced by the quirky and spontaneous soundscape which brings to life the creatures and environments.

Beyond the game itself I find Botanicual to be also worth mentioning due to it's financial success. The game debuted through Humble Bundle, a short term 'pay what you want' site which turned over $822,356 USD. This figure doesn't include sales outside of this promotion so I imagine the profits would be a lot higher as well. It's cool that an independant developer can make that kind of money purley through online distribution.