Video games are an often-overlooked realm of architectural ideas and spatial design—the buildings and landscapes through which characters move, play, and operate—but where are the architectural critics for these increasingly popular gaming worlds?
The new book Video Games Spaces by Michael Nitsche, a professor of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, argues that when video game spaces became 3D, they became a profoundly different kind of media. His "in-depth analysis of the audiovisual presentation of game worlds" also suggests a series of questions—suggests, because these issues are not actually addressed—about the viability of architectural criticism when it is applied to the designed spaces of video games.
Is there a role for architectural criticism when it comes to video game design and play?
While it seems only obvious to point out that there is a huge overlap between video games players and architecture students—not to mention video game designers and architects—it seems equally clear that video game architecture needs its critic. It needs someone who not only plays every game but who can contextualize those gamescapes with one another and with the history of architectural design.
How interesting would it be, though, to study game levels and newly released patches side-by-side with slides of Romanesque churches and Art Nouveau subway stations? You learn the early history of Modernism...while playing a first-person shooter set in a Bauhausian city. The game was designed by former students from the Architectural Association.
The connections between video games and the built environment—how they influence one another, stylistically affect one another, and even behaviorally change the way humans engage with either one—are increasingly being discussed, especially on architecture blogs, but there still isn't a Christopher Hawthorne of video games or a Jonathan Glancey of the most hair-raisingly advanced game levels. There is—obviously—video game criticism; there are video game reviews; in fact, there is an entire media industry built around critiquing video games. But where is the person who plays games—new games, classic games, experimental games, prototype games, beta-release games—simply to write about the buildings, landscapes, and spaces contained within?
Next time you're playing a game, then, never mind the characters or the plot: what about the architecture?