Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Sandbox Project - Virtual Cities

Inspired by Darcy Osheim's thesis that examines World of Warcraft from a pedagogical perspective, I'm launching a little experiment in paragraph-level writing that explores the intersection of pedagogy and sandbox style gaming, focusing mainly on console games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, and LA Noire. Aside from common interest, my project and Darcy's thesis are unrelated. These 'graphs are written without an outline. Their connections may be tenuous or superfluous. I may never finish. 

Video game cities can populate our material experiences of urbanity; they certainly add layers of meaning to my walking experiences. I remember a few years back when Jenny, Vienna, and I drove to L.A. to catch an international flight. We arrived early, which inspired Vienna and I to convince Jenny that we should cruise through Compton "to see where C.J. lives." This was when our family was briefly addicted to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The afternoon was such a kick, poking along pavement that seemed so familiar. "Ahh, that's where I got into that wicked firefight!" "Isn't that where you bought a house?" We barely considered the absurdity of taking a video-game tour through a neighborhood of living, breathing people who do not imagine themselves as occupants of a video game. The three of us were simply grooving on the idea that this place could possess the patina of our imaginations, that another continuum of reality could be laid upon this one.

Sometime later Jenny and I were in Florida, driving to South Beach, when we got lost (as usual). We were plying the causeway east toward the Atlantic, crossing over lush islands dotted with mansions, when I realized how familiar this setting seemed. Thanks to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, I'd been here before. I was able to use my memories of those virtual streets to navigate us to our destination.

From these moments I find myself wondering about the uses and gratifications of video game cities. Not those fantasy domains of dragons and wizards, but the simulacra of real places that contain increasingly striking degrees of verisimilitude. What does it mean to reproduce a city for a video game? How might we study such an environment -- as play, as rhetoric, as social commentary?

I might as well start close to home. Thankfully Wikipedia's got a list of Video Games Set in Los Angeles.

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