The database aesthetics of video game spacesLecture manuscript
 The beginning
 The forest of ZORK
„To the north a narrow path winds through the trees“. (Zork 1980)
|(Screenshot: Christian Huberts)|
 The space of ZORK
 Interim findings I
- The database of the text adventure ZORK needs to be differentiated: In one part that is active and connected inseparably with the game mechanics, and another part that is only made observable by the game, but is ludically redundant.
- The boundary between the active and the inactive part of the database is defined by the spatial logic of the text adventure. In the case of ZORK, it's only an active part of the database which is present as a node along the edges of a graph. Everything else is pure literature, inactive and not part of the mechanics of the game.
- Not only is space an interface to the database, but the database also serves as an interface to space. Thus, ZORK uses the description of a path in the form of a text in its database – as a metaphor for the edges of the graph.
- But both space and database can fail as an interface of a text adventure. In ZORK the graph can neither design the forest consistently, nor can the forest obscure the linear logic of the graph. Only the interface metaphor of the path resolves the irritation of the player.
- And this irritation is created – so I want to argue – because we tie personal experiences and cultural memories to the content of the database, which can just not be redeemed by the game mechanics.
 The forest of FABLE
|(Screenshot: Martin Pleiß)|
 The space of FABLE
|(Map: Lionhead Studios)|
 The fairy tale of FABLE (The fairy tale of space)
|(Screenshot: Lionhead Studios)|
 Interim findings II
- Since ZORK, the database has become more extensive and the path between the active elements of the database a little wider. The fundamental space logic of ZORK – the graph – and the limited handling of the database, however, remained unchanged.
- But FABLE adds a new phenomenon: The extent and level of detail of the database elements evokes the attention of the player, which could still be prevented by simple omission in the text-adventure. But, the forest of FABLE encourages exploration through its clearly visible presence. Considering its spatial limitations and the lack of game-mechanical relevance behind the forest, the game has to keep the players away from its database through visual metaphors.
- I argue: Databases in video games want to be explored! Invisible walls are seen as bad game design both in classical games journalism and the gaming community. What the database makes visible must be tangible or has to be consistently protected against the player behind the thick walls of a dungeon, a space station or a underwater city.
 The space of THE PATH
|(Screenshot: Tale of Tales)|
 The fairy tale of THE PATH (The fairy tale as space)
|(Screenshot: Tale of Tales)|
- The database aesthetics of the adventure genre is common even among modern video games. However, it is not the only possible aesthetic. Open-world games and in particular ludic experiments like THE PATH offer the potential to use the database not only as marginal ornamentation, but as a major element of the game.
- In addition, the cultural memory, which is tied to the objects in the database, can be utilized productively for the game mechanics and the spatial logic. A highly structured spatial logic such as the graph can plausibly be represented through the database as a dungeon, as well as an open, contingent geometry through a forest.
- It's worthwhile to look at the databases of video games not only as audiovisual surfaces. In the practical execution of the game, they often reveal themselves as complex cultural interface metaphors for specific game mechanics and spatial logics. Similarly, computer games are aestheticizing their databases. And something has now hopefully become clear: There is something special about the forest!
 Outlook („Raumtemperatur“/„Topografie von Spielräumen“)
I thank you for your attention and look forward to your questions!
- Huberts, Christian (2010) Raumtemperatur. Marshall McLuhans Kategorien »heiß« und »kalt« im Computerspiel. Göttingen: Blumenkamp.
- Jenkins, Henry (2006) Game Design as Narrative Architecture. In: Salen, Katie/Zimmerman, Eric (Hrsg.) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge: MIT Press. S. 670-689.
- Manovich, Lev (2001) The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA; London: The MIT Press.
- Mertens, Mathias (2007) »A Mind Forever Voyaging«. Durch Computerspielräume von den Siebzigern bis heute. In: Holtorf, Christian; Pias, Claus (Hrsg.) Escape! Computerspiele als Kulturtechnik. Köln; Weimar; Wien: Böhlau Verlag; S. 45–54.
- Pias, Claus (2007) Adventures Erzählen Graphen. In: Bruns, Karin; Reichert, Ramón (Hrsg.) Reader Neue Medien. Texte zur digitalen Kultur und Kommunikation. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag; S. 398–419.
- Anderson, Tim et al. (1980) Zork 1. The Great Underground Empire. Infocom. System: Commodore 64.
- Harvey, Auriea; Samyn, Michaël (2009) The Path. Tale of Tales. System: PC.
- Lashley, Simon; McLeman, Keith (2008) Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV). Rockstar North; Rockstar Games. System: Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft Xbox360, PC.
- Molyneux, Peter (2004) Fable. The Lost Chapters. Lionhead Studios; Microsoft Studios. System: PC, Mac OS X.