Roles of architecture in video games

The role of architecture in video games by Ernest Adams is a Gamasutra column that is very relevant to my research interests. Prior jumping into his explanation about this topic, the author compares the reasons of constructing buildings in the real world and in a video game. If protection or personal privacy (toilets) are not important i game architecture, military activity and general decoration certainly are. Then he describes the primary functions of architecture in video games:

"The primary function of architecture in games is to support the gameplay. Buildings in games are not analogous to buildings in the real world, because most of the time their real-world functions are either irrelevant or purely metaphorical. Rather, buildings in games are analogous to movie sets: incomplete, false fronts whose function is to support the narrative of the movie. (...) There are four major ways in which this happens:

  • Constraint: architecture establishes boundaries that limit the freedom of movement of avatars or units. It also establishes constraints on the influence of weapons.
  • Concealment: architecture is used to hide valuable (and sometimes dangerous) objects from the player; it's also used to conceal the players from one another, or from their enemies.
  • Obstacles and tests of skill: Chasms to jump across, cliffs to climb, trapdoors to avoid.
  • Exploration: exploration challenges the player to understand the shape of the space he's moving through, to know what leads to where.

The Secondary Function of Architecture in Games:

  • Familiarity. Familiar locations offer cues to a place's function and the events that are likely to take place there.
  • Allusion. Game architecture can make reference to real buildings or architectural styles to take advantage of the ideas or emotions that they suggest.
  • New worlds require new architecture. To create a sense of unfamiliarity, create unfamiliar spaces.
  • Surrealism: It creates a sense of mystery and more importantly, it warns the player that things are not what they seem.
  • Atmosphere. To create a game that feels dangerous, make it look dangerous.
  • Comedic effect. Not all game worlds are familiar, dangerous, or weird; some are supposed to be lighthearted and funny.
  • Architectural clichés: set a scene and establish player expectations quickly. These are a sort of variant on familiarity, without the benefit of being informed by real-life examples


Adams also gives pertinent examples of spatial elements that, considered as real-world architecture, would not be very sensible or coherent, but that are perfectly functional and fun as part of the game mechanic.

Why do I blog this? a very insightful review of how spatial features are important to support game mechanics. What is also important is that this reflects the game designer vision, which is complementary to the architecture view (see for example this article I blogged about the other day).

In addition, it made me think that this could also spark some interesting thoughts regarding physical space and pervasive gaming. Maybe this correspond to how parkour people see the physical environment, as game designers.