Video Game Cartography and the Magic Circle


In partial fulfillment of my designated emphasis in New Media, I’m taking a class this semester with Ozge Samanci, the author/cartoonist of ordinary things, a web comic. I am really busy with dissertation and whatnot, but I always enjoy taking classes in the New Media department as they are truly interdisciplinary–I’ve met fascinating grad students from the School of Information, Rhetoric, and Religious Studies and they give me unique perspectives on the work I do.

So one of the students in the class is writing his thesis on Narratology and classic Japanese video games, the kind that I played years ago, like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden, and Final Fantasy Tactics. I also played Civilization II, which is where the above image came from–it’s one of the only examples I could find!

Anyway, during the course of discussion regarding Seymour Chatman’s structuralist literary theory I realized that I visualize exploring space in a way very closely relating to those early video games.  When I go to a new city or go out on survey, I think of myself as clearing a path through darkness, “mapping” the features of the landscape, illuminating them in my mind. I always have the urge to clear out all of the dark space, to explore every centimeter until it is all visible, in relief, in my mental map of the space. This is probably not deeply unique, but I find it pretty funny that these early video games gave me such a rigid mental metaphor for experiencing place. As Sybille Lammes says in her excellent Cultural Functions of Spatial Practices in Video Games, “in Latourian terms, one could state that the game space consists of landscapes as hybrids of objective and subjective spatial (re)presentations.” I’ve blogged about augmented reality before, without realizing that I already experience space in a oddly cyborgian way.

Lammes also describes the ludological term, “the magic circle,” a “membrane that encloses virtual worlds,” which Lammes states is “more about games as space than about space in games” but that it still has “major consequences for the way spatiality can be understood in games.” I’ve somehow permeated the magic circle and brought a visualization metaphor out into the real life to overlay my experience of the world.

Hmph. Maybe I should carry a sword.

The Hand Drawn Map Contest

This one almost went into the Tumblr file–still not quite sure what I should post there and what I should post here.  Anyway, the Hand Drawn Map Association (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!) is sponsoring a contest that archaeologists should have no problem winning.


Sadly, I don’t actually have any of my own maps–they’re all in archives in various places.  Not that it would do much good anyway, as most of my American plans are of squares with rocks in them, and the single context plans are of little floating blobs with hachures scattered about.  People have different metrics of when you become a “real” archaeologist–getting paid to dig, heading a project–but I’m starting to wonder if it’s when you have ready access to all aspects of the excavations materials and the archive and everything that entails.  Digital meandering dissertations aside, I yearn for the day when I’ll find a site, excavate it, publish the data, and have all the artifacts and archive fully ordered and safely stashed away for future research.  I’ve done aspects of all of these things, but going start to finish on a single (complex, architectural) site would be amazing.

Entries are due April 30, 2009, but they have ongoing prizes so enter early, enter often!