Gaming: Interaction and Emergence in ‘Minecraft’.

A passage from my exegesis-in-progress, from a chapter titled "Mental Space", in which I look at the 'mental space' (as per Leon van Schaik's 'Spatial Intelligence'):

Computer games are much like books, in that they portray another world, an imagined world. Of course, there are large differences as well - the world is interactive, there is an interaction between the inhabitants and settings of the unreal world which does not happen to the same extent in a book, where the reader is essentially a passive observer. M, J and P are all keen gamers, entering these other worlds, which are experienced via image, and sound. The purchase of a 3D television in 2011, with the ability to run 3D games, has introduced new levels of immersion.

For this project though, the fascination that M and J have shown for a game called ‘Minecraft’ is particularly relevant. Minecraft is an “indie” computer game, “a game with really big pixels” which is “about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine”. The game-play is “emergent”, so the experience is generated by a series of local rules or agents interacting, rather than an imposed top-down narrative or structure. M and J typically play it in a shared world from separate computers connected on a network, allows them (via their virtual representatives) to build collaboratively, often referring to their interventions in the existing, pre-generated world as their ‘houses’. It is just this kind of creative, collaborative, emergent, flexible - and above all, spatial activity which I have tried to capture in my ‘Memory House’ proposition.

Quotes are from a Guardian article on indie games - 'The Indie Dozen' Series, and the Minecraft website. I intend to expand the discussion on emergence slightly, with reference. 
Image: http://timespentgaming.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html


BM said...

"...a book, where the reader is essentially a passive observer."

Can I disagree for sake of procrastination over my own design submission?

Each reader constructs the 'written' world via their own understanding of the language and its structure. Reading still requires active participation via imagining. The written world is created in the mind not in the image and therefore offers just as much freedom beyond its paragraphs and pages when compared to limits of codes and pixels.

Its an interesting comparison enabling the founding of "collaborative, emergent, flexible" as key themes of interest..but the spatial nature of architecture is - but not limited to - "image and sound" as proposed by the digital world.

What would be the architects role if the aim is for architecture to always be defined by the player?


Is there a link between the spatial history of the observer (player-reader) and the conditions set by the architect (author-developer)?

FJE said...

I was (am) unsure about how to describe the reading experience - while there is room for imagination - experience which becomes real within the mind, the narrative is fixed by the author, and the reader has no control over the outcome (open ended/ambiguous stories aside). Also, passive is not a good word, because of first person, third person limited, second person texts causing you to have the 'fixed' experience, in a non-passive (but still uncontrollable) fashion. Some games of course have a fixed narrative with many 'scripted sequences'.

The two questions you ask are very interesting ones, and part of my project tries to provide an (not the) answer.

Firstly, the second one: my scheme proposes an activity which takes place within a specific building, by which a limited group of people move boxes around, using them to temporarily partition spaces, or access the contents of these boxes. Having some of the group having a spatial history of gaming (esp. minecraft, where the activity is moving blocks around) enriches the relationship with the emergence and flexibility.

I think the architects role becomes something like a designer of lego - they design a set, with some special parts which work well in one scenario (the pirate ship, mars rover, fire station etc), but can be freely remixed by the user - the parts are designed, but not the whole. Some of Thom Mayne's ideas about the mega-structures being designed by Morphosis touched on this - he said (to loosely paraphrase) that it was no problem to change to form when a client made a new demand, because the architectural parts stayed the same, because the final form was not designed as such, just the parts and the responses.

I think one of the attractions of lo-fi games like Minecraft is that the 'big pixels' allow more space for the imagination than a near photo-realistic game like Modern Warfare.

BM said...

"...my project tries to provide an (not the) answer."

I like this as a disclaimer.

I think the choice of 'pieces' becomes critical. What you place in the boxes and the size, type, number of boxes themselves could be seen as another step to placing restirction on the narrative (but as you state - not limit the permutations of an outcome). For arguments sake you fill the boxes full of lego - the room gets filled with an array of ever changing lego. You present your findings: the room was filled with lego into which the occupants entered. The room was still filled with lego but the lego now reveals an act once carried out within the house. How is this different to any other lego project or how is it specific to the house?

What else if not lego?



At Affirmitive Architecture there was a speaker who described how architecture could be created via event. They noticed Gypsies traversing a public field. They then set up a Gymkhana course for the Gypsies. Suddenly the Gypsies instead of wandering free - parked and reversed their stolen horses for the pleasure of the public.

Architecture revealed the Gypsies...

But did anyone else think that the transient nature of the Gypsies moving through a free space might reveal a moment more beautiful than the order of rules to those lucky enough to see?

Gypsies + Gymkhana?

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