Architectural analysis of WoW and BFME II

McGregor, G.L. (2006). Architecture, Space and Gameplay in World of Warcraft and Battle for Middle Earth 2 , Proceedings of the 2006 international conference on Game research and development, pp.69-76. This paper, which is very relevant to my work at the lab, is an architectural analysis of the spatial qualities of two video games: World of Warcraft and Battle for Middle Earth 2. The author starts by pointing out how game architecture is different from architecture in reality because the underlying rationale has a different purpose. In games, the architecture is created to produce challenges and gameplay.

The whole paper offers an analysis of two video games, let's jump to the conclusion to see the main issues of interest to me, i.e. the meaning of space:

"Both games build on established fantasy traditions, using architectural and ecological diversity to differentiate races and spaces. Both games use architecture to clarify and simplify gameplay in two very different ways. World of Warcraft uses architecture and landscape as an organisational system that contains activity and builds on usage patterns from real life. In contrast BFME II creates architecture as a symbolic object that stands for complex systems within a flattened and simplified contested spacemap. (...) The dichotomy between architecture in videogames as a spatial entity or as an object suggests a primary division of games into those that are concerned with movement through space as a visceral experience and those that are not. (...) they operate with significantly different approaches to spatiality. On one hand we have a game that represents architecture and landscape as accessible and spatial, that is characterised by an embodiment in and a personal view of space, that focuses on an individual’s movement through that space and that simulates a physical (though primarily visual) experience of space. On the other we have a game that produces architecture as an object and the landscape as a map, that uses architecture to represent intangible concepts, that simplifies the landscape and favours an external viewpoint, a game that simulates a conceptual view of space in which codified relationships are more important than physical characteristics, favouring metaphor over corporeal experience. "

(Pictures taken from the paper: WoW and BFME II)

I was also interested in the part about affordances:

"It is interesting to briefly consider the architecture of both games in relation to notions of affordance, taking William Gaver’s separation of affordances and perceptual information. The architecture of BFME II exhibits a false affordance of conventional architectural/spatial use in the way it mimics the visual properties of real buildings. Other uses of architecture in gameplay, for example creating soldiers, exist as hidden affordances. BFME II relies on the gameplay manual and knowledge of established traditions in real-time strategy games to indicate to the player the buildings utility. Conversely World of Warcraft primarily exhibits perceptible affordances of customary architectural and spatial use to its architecture, creating a congruity between what between what the player perceives they can do and the activities they can perform. "

Why do I blog this? it's been a long time that I am interested in finding this sort of paper, that would use architectural analysis of video game. This type of work is both interested for architecture (new objects to analyze, new behavior to observe, etc.) and for game design as it allows to understand more level design and how space could be articulated with game mechanics.

I am also wondering about how to go further, how to enrich game/level design through that sort of research analysis. Currently, I am gathering material like this paper and hopefully try to integrate this more deeply, maybe I'll try to write a paper about architecture and gaming to formalize more the interconnections.