Sunday, 31 July 2011

Games as Heterotopias

Reading Michel Foucault's "Of Other Spaces" (Diacritics, Spring 1986) a lecture originally given in March 1967 and startlingly prescient of digital technologies and their potential for virtual spaces.

Foucault argues the concept of the heterotopia, a sort of anti utopia, a space simultaneously mythic and real defined by five principles.  So, heterotopias are capable of juxtaposing in a single space several real spaces that are in themselves incompatible (a theatrical stage, for example), are linked to slices in time - heterochronies, where traditional concepts of time break down, and a spaces detached from the mundane world, in some senses private and requiring of formal entry and exit.

These ideas (and I know I am far from original in thinking this) seem to perfectly frame the concept of a free-form game of landscape and memory, in which a virtual representation of the real world (detached, theatrical and demanding formal entry and exit) unites incongruent spaces and times in a single virtual space. Imagine exploring a virtual landscape in which fragments of time and past space litter the present world and you have the general idea. Such fractured worlds are in fact common ground in many games, recall Gordon Freeman's jolting journey through other spaces in the latter part of the original Half-life, and are the meat and drink of works such as Dear Esther and Korsakovia. In fact in many ways all games that strive to represent the real world digitally are hetrotopias of a sort (Assassin's Creed's time and place jumping narrative is another example).  

I like this concept of the breakdown of formal space and time into something more mysterious and demanding greater engagement to comprehend, as a structure it has much to ponder on in designing mythic-real game spaces for exploring heritage.