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Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities 2017/2018

Open World Structures

Author's Screenshot of Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerilla Games 2017)

Architecture, City- and Landscape in Computer Games

Dr. Marc Bonner | Institute of Media Culture and Theatre

Postdoc project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

Whether in the form of archipelagos bathed by the ocean, valleys bound by steep slopes or a sea of houses as far the eye can see, open world computer games simulate a lucid vastness and evoke the explorer instinct in users through complex networks of diverse topological strategies that involve them. This project takes as its starting point the finding that unmanageable vastness and and seemingly untouched wildernesses become self-perpetuating. This marks a change of focus in the worldbuilding of the mass media of computer games distal to traditional narrative concepts. Just as in-game world experience is conditioned by behaviour patterns of reality, it also regulates – like film and photography in the past – the comprehension and appropriation of actuality.
This project is a taking transdisciplinary approach to the architectonics of digital game worlds. Thereby, both the technical constitution of the digital space-image and its communication of the game intrinsic space as well as the players’ perception are of special interest. In regard to cultural history, the critical research will contextualize established the aesthetics and strategies of artificial adventure spaces like landscape gardens, theme parks, natural preserves as well as dioramas and photographies. This will be merged with theories of urbanistic and anthropogeography. As databases, computer games are based on modularity and variability and use media-specific techniques of illusion such as interior mapping, cutmill-rom spline, sky box and frustrum culling.
The investigation will focus on the layout of digital game worlds and the complex patterns thereof which generate and govern a media specific distillate of historically habituated man-made action patterns that derive from the hunter-gatherer era. Today, the latter continue to have an effect as aesthetical experiences. Both the usage of distinct biomes and architectural styles as well as adaptions of physical real places of popular culture’s collective memory are thereby also of interest. The media-centred analysis model comprises the aspects of both aesthetics of production and aesthetics of reception and should therefore provide the heuristics for future

Text: Marc Bonner


Institute of Media Culture and Theatre
Dr. Marc Bonner