Space Time Play — Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level
Available to the US in November 2007 from Birkhäuser and edited by Friedrich von Borries, Steffen P. Walz, Matthias Böttger, Space Time Play — Computer Games, Architecture and Urbansim: The Next Level offers readers 62 concise essays and interviews interspersed between 64 game, film and science-fiction book reviews, and 48 game research projects, all brilliantly organized into 5 ascending levels, sequenced into topics that build upon the theory of the editors, that video gaming has come of age as one of society’s most crucial and influential cultural artifacts. Richly illustrated and well populated with important and influential theorists, designers and academics, Space Time Play multi-tasks as a scholarly tome, coffee table guide to gaming, and manual of pop culture memes driven by gaming industry.
Steffen Walz, friend and editor of the collection, generously sent me an advance copy, and I’m thrilled to share the news of this exciting addition the growing library of scholarly treatments of gaming on culture, art, media and urbanism. The text is especially unusual in the way it will appeal to gamers and scholars alike, exemplifying how the subject matter is no longer relegated to fringe discussions of gaming’s profound influence on contemporary humanity. Every reader will find at least one game review that resonates within him or herself, whether it’s Katie Salen’s perfectly worded analysis of Alexey Pajitnov’s timeless classic Tetris or the de-mystification of the first alternate reality games (ARGs) to emerge such as EA’s Majestic reviewed by Kurt Squire, or The Beast reviewed by Dave Szulborkski, used by Spielberg to promote A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Readers will enjoy remembering classics such as Asterioids through Jesper Juul’s reframing it as a “forgotten futurism” or considering if SimCity informs and influences notions of urban planning and governance or simply reveals itself as simulated simulation.
Levels 1 and 2 situate the history of computer games as interactive play spaces and connect these basic ideas to the framework of the Ludic Metropolis, or City of Play. Along with the physical representations of space in video gaming, the urbanist modes of exchange and social intercourse are examined with many specific game and research projects. In the end, we discover how narrative environments like World of Warcraft shape identities through an interconnection of an architecture of play, socially immersive design, and timeless storytelling.
In Level 3, Ubitquitous Games: Enchanting Places, Buildings, Cities and Landscapes, the Ludic City is crafted as an actual real-life play space, broken out of the computer console, but no doubt influenced by its tendencies, parameters and tools. Examples like geocaching, locative games, ARG advertising, augmented realities, mobile media, Parkour, and others evoke an idea of gaming within true social space, the city as a game board, and the separations between game and life fully blurred.
In Level 4, Serious Fun: Utilizing Game Elements for Architectural Design and Urban Planning, the Ludic City is envisioned as a proving ground and design tool. Architects and urban planners, embracing the organic, player driven models of gaming, employ its modes towards generative and evaluative instances of complexity management and design research. Here especially, the editors posit the newly respected role of game technologies for the social causes of urbanism and design towards the common good. Skeptics of the value of gaming will certainly be challenged in this chapter, their views perhaps not resistant to the well articulated examples of how game design and technologies have already proven their value off the living room couch.
In the final chapter, Level 5, Faites Vos Jeux: Games Between Utopia and Dystopia, the editors collect examples of how games and war play an uneasy partnership on the battlefield for hearts and minds across societies, present and future-minded. This chapter also examines virtual economies, such as the Chinese Gold Miners of World of Warcraft, and in-game advertising’s rise to importance.
The book begins and ends with references to Spacewar!, the very first recorded instance of a video game design, a creation of MIT students in 1962 for the PDP-1, the first device with a graphic monitor, instantiating the language and context of video gaming for many years to come. In reflecting upon how quickly computer games have infiltrated the collective and individualized societies of yesterday, today and tomorrow, we cannot help but imagine their inevitability in the human condition and the importance of play, time and space.
Verdict: An indispensable addition to the library of any interaction designer, game designer, social theorist, architect, urban planner, futurist, student or scholar, casual or fanatical gamer.