Paths, Players, Places: Towards an Understanding of Mazes and Spaces in Videogames
This thesis contributes to the field of academic game studies by reworking and updating the established theories of Espen Aarseth, Janet Murray and Marie-Laure Ryan in understanding the path in videogames. It also draws upon the more recent theoretical discussions of figures such as Jesper Juul, Lev Manovich, Frans Mäyrä and James Newman in order to explore the player’s experience along these paths in the gameworld. By defining a vocabulary of routes through space, the thesis uses the maze in particular as a way of understanding the paths of videogames. The research starts by examining our cultural understanding of the maze within videogames. Various mazes around the UK were walked in order to understand their design and how this may translate into the virtual world of the videogame. The thesis examines the uses of real world mazes through the work of Penelope Doob, and Herman Kern to discuss how the videogame may rework our cultural understanding of the maze due to its increasingly ubiquitous nature. This enables a discussion of maze-paths found within many videogames that are not necessarily categorised by what is often discussed as the maze genre of games. A morphology of maze-paths is devised through comparing the mazes of the real world and the virtual mazes of the videogame. This is achieved by breaking down the maze into separate path types and shows how these paths may link to one another. The thesis argues that the paths of the videogame are generated by the player’s actions. Therefore the focus of this thesis is on the player’s experience along these paths and the objects found at points on them. In acknowledging how to overcome obstacles along the path it is also possible to understand the role of the path in the player’s learning and mastery of the gameworld. This leads to discussions of different types of play experienced by the player in the videogame. Play is separated into what I term purposeful play, being the activities intended by the designer, and appropriated play which is the play formed out of the player’s exploration of the game system. These two terms help to understand player’s incentives for playing along the ruled paths of the gameworld as well as exploring the game’s system further to find new types of play outside of the pre-determined rules. As this thesis is concerned with videogames involving the player’s avatar having a direct relationship with the path, the research also investigates what happens when certain devices break these paths. It was discovered that warp devices reconstruct both temporal and narrative elements within the gamespace, and cause the player’s avatar to temporarily move on tracks through the gameworld. In defining a vocabulary of movement through space on a fixed track, as opposed to a player-determined path, there is a further understanding of the player experience related to each type of route taken in the game. Through an understanding of the maze and defining a vocabulary of maze-paths, tracks and objects found along them, this thesis adds a new contribution to knowledge. It also acknowledges the importance of different types of play within videogames and how these can shape the player experience along the paths of the game.