Space, or at least the navigation through it, is not usually considered a way of relaying a story in and of it’s self, yet Lev Manovich points out how new media, specifically computer games depict how Navigable space is in fact a form of narrative on it’s own. Manovich highlights two games developed in 1993 as two key factors in furthering the notion of storytelling through Navigable space in computers. For anyone who was a child in the 1990’s, Doom and Myst are most likely games that they remember and Manovich speaks about how the extraordinary popularity of these games is an indicator of the power of narrative through Navigable space.
For anyone who has not played either Myst or Doom, they are notable not only for being some of the first of their kind but also for their very specific style of game play. For all the similarities that will be discussed in a moment they are quite different stylistically. Where Doom is fast paced in that the player must move as quickly as possible to move from one level to another in order to gain points, Myst is slow in that it is extremely detailed. Each world is built around the details that one must uncover and the clues that are pieced together because of that, many of which can be nuanced. The world of Doom is filled with monsters and demons that one must destroy to advance where as Myst is completely empty and it is the puzzle that must be unwrapped that is at the center. Doom follows the usual convention of computer games in that it contains many different worlds, where Myst contains only four worlds where each is extremely vast and a universe for itself. The worlds of Myst look completely different from each other, unlike many other games.
Manovich goes into detail about the variety of differences between the gameplay styles of both Myst and Doom, yet he also states that they are similar in that they tell a spatial narrative by allowing the person playing the game to move through a variety of spaces and in that way decide the journey for themselves. Manovich states that despite the differences between the styles of gameplay they both share the notion that space is a key element in the story telling of the game. The player must make sure that the character visits all of the given areas of each level or world in order to get everything they need to advance. Space dictates the story telling. In this way, Manovich believes that it is a return to ancient forms of storytelling such as the Odyssey where spatial movement of the main hero becomes a key element. Such as traveling through distant lands to save the princess or other such story-telling devices. These narrations therefore strip away the representations of inner life and other modernist notions in order to make the story simply about movement. Movement becomes the story. He states that games such as Myst and Doom challenge the notion that descriptions (or in this case descriptions specifically of spatial areas) break the natural flow of the story because it is the description (or visual representation) of the spatial areas that actually advance the story and create the central theme. When one plays a game like Doom or Myst each level or world becomes the story in that as the player you must guide the character through it and unlock the certain keys and discover the certain elements that you need to in order to move on to the next level and in that way advance the story forward. If the player does nothing and does not explore the world then the narration stops. Manovich also states that in comparison to the modern novel or film, where dialogue is what moves the story forward, action-oriented games such as these are driven by looking and acting upon what is seen in the visual game space.
In thinking about these kinds of games where it is incumbent upon the player to advance the story by exploring the spatial world, new games such as the Sims and World of Warcraft especially seem like excellent examples of the new kind of story-telling that Manovich is speaking of. These two games both show what game designer Richard Garriot is speaking of when he says that “the characters are supposed to support the world and the message”. A person, granted maybe a slightly disturbed individual, could live their whole life in a game like World of Warcraft in that the world is endless in its response to the players commands and the narration never ends because like the real world there is no end to the levels that one can advance to. It is all one level and it is never ending, as long as the player wants to keep the narration going, it will go. There have even been cases of people dying while at their computer due to malnutrition caused by getting so wrapped up in the game that they never left.
Manovich states that structuring games through space is common through almost all games, it is just that games like Myst and Doom make it the main storytelling element. In addition he notes inventions such as roller coasters, flight and vehicle simulations and even film fly-through sequences in films such as A Space Odyssey and Star Wars as examples of the fact that space and navigation through space, or at least the simulation of it, has become an important part of storytelling in general.
Games like Myst and Doom are just further advancements in that the player suddenly becomes in control of the spatial narrative. In addition Navigable space has become an important new tool for labor through 3D depictions of things such as architectural designs and models of stock market performances. In this way Navigable space is becoming an increasingly vital cultural element according to Manovich. One does not have to look any further than the fact that some universities conduct class in the simulated world of Second Life to note how Navigable simulated space has become an important cultural tool.
Manovich ends this talk of Myst and Doom style games by stating that Navigable space is a key form of new media and poses the question of why computer culture spatializes all representations and experiences as well as what the aesthetics of spatial navigation are. What are your thoughts?