simulated space

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

What I’m trying to do is set up a conditional tension between spatial awareness, which, of course, is perfectly real, and temporal awareness, also real, and image (physicality), which may or may not be “present.”

Conclusion: existence is a constant (not inconstant) act of cognition and memory. Existence is a big and dynamic map I constantly create and draw.

Try to see a room, a white room. In the walls are three windows that look out over lawns, gardens, and life. Getting in or out is simple. Against the wall that has no window is a TV monitor and a PS2 game console, a place to sit and play, and a game running, a simulation, racing: Grand Turismo 3 to be precise. Why this game: it’s a simulation and I like to screw around with these sorts of things.

All these items on the screen are real in the sense that the words I’m using point to real things rather than imagined beings like Hobbits or super detectives. Anyway, that a sim is playing on the console works pretty well for me. A player begins to play Grand Turismo as you would any game, by traying the CD and working through the intro material and figuring out when the fun begins and how to make the fun happen (of course, I mean fun in general). In this case, I begin the game with a few thousand dollars with which to purchase a low-end vehicle. Vehicle options include manufacturers by country. Japan offers Toyotas and Nissans; Germany, Mercedes Benz; US, Ford and Chevy, and so forth. Prices range from 10 grand to well over a million dollars for highend rally and touring cars. Other options include upgrades to any vehicle, such as turbo boosting, stabilty controls, tires (several options here), and a whole host of other under-the-hood and powertrain items, some of which are pretty pricey. In this sim, you can’t just buy and power up whatever you want–you have to earn what you drive. Once a player purchases a beginner car, the money’s pretty much gone and a player has to win purses (by winning fairly simple races) to upgrade that Miata so it has good acceleration, traction (tires range from 5 to well over 15 thousand dollars), stability, braking, and, best of all, competitive capability.

To cut into this for a moment, the room I described before getting to the game is what we might call a first order space or primary space. The room is immediate and can be altered fairly simply; it may even be mine. Even the garden outside the windows is primary or first order (these terms will change, have changed, but they’re good enough for now). The player is in the room, as any person, family member, or thief, might be. That is, the room is part of my regular experience and I rarely think about it. It can be defined, built, and decorated and it also has economic value, significance, and is objective on many levels. The game console is a part of the room, but the game running on it , on the other hand, is second order “reality,” meaning that the images of cars and menus on the flat screen TV have been programmed and designed to “simulate” in its specific context (in this case, the context or desired simulation is a kind of control of kinetic energy and friction) first order space as a Renaissance painter would want to do. The game plays off the CD, on the screen, and inside the room, where I’m playing. It is real, as is the experience it stimulates, but the experience it stimulates is not the same experience of driving a car. Perhaps as the word “cat” is to the animal, GT3 is to racing in terms of visual grammar, but this I don’t know, and it’s perhaps not the best comparison.

I’m the kind of player who likes to just jump right in, and as sims would have it, this isn’t always a good idea . . .


6 responses to “simulated space”

  1. Beverly says:

    Ah! A favorite game my boys enjoy. Actually, they play Need for Speed (NFS). When they want to get away from immediate space they take to the road. They race to reach new heights in their comfort zone. Instead of having to drive to get to work or to get chores done, NFS has internal focal points for the desire of the individual.

    Spatial existence and time are something we all experience early in life. I look back to a valuable lesson on this subject that story time at the local library can give three year olds. During the many visits I made there, I was amazed at the surrounding space children would possess when they became engaged in a story read aloud. Having this shield of space was like a protective barrier their instincts provided that allowed them to become absorbed by the story. A child that did not know how to create this space lost out on the story because of being preoccupied with where their boundaries were. The achievers had concentration and practice.

  2. gibb says:

    Better still, and more bizarre thought (and thank you for providing an environment in which to place it): What you think is the primary space, is not. The room, the player, the gardens, heck, the whole ball of wax known as Earth, is just a visual on someone’s even larger screen. We are, in fact, Sim World. There is a better player, who through experience has seen that dinosaurs soon had to be eliminated; they left big holes with heavy feet, and ate the tops of trees preventing growth, or anything that moved that was smaller than themselves. Overpopulation can be controlled by cancer, AIDS, and faster cars, and to add some sense of mystery, the characters themselves are endowed with love, and greed and anger allowing twists and turns the Master Player can’t foresee and has to overcome. The software of the history of Sim World comes with updates and sequels to keep it challenging, and eventually, the characters may even move beyond the pondering of the same things Plato pondered in earlier versions. Maybe that will be the ending of the series, and a whole new game will take its place.

  3. steve says:

    Susan, unfortunately, I won’t be taking this space thing into the theological realm, although you have touched on a fairly recent scientific conception of the universe as a hologram, a sort of projection or confluence of certain types of “information” available to use as evidence of its existence but that also suggests other universes. It sounds also as if you are coming around to the earlier statement that the universe or life is a vast game, too. I like it, the cosmos as sim.

    Both you and Beverly point to borders, which is where the essays may take me. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Maureen says:

    Beverly, the space you talk about..the space children inhabit while listening to a story at a libary..Isn’t that the ability to imagine?..To get lost in a world all their own?

    Do we program our kids to the point where they cannot imagine or create their own space? [Giving them too many “scheduled” activities, etc.]

    Very good points.

  5. Christopher says:

    And this is why I love to come here. Steve the way you write grabs me and forces me to continue, caught until I see the tagline.

    I long for such a simple empty white room.

  6. Steve says:

    Just wait, Chris, your game is going to be part of this analysis of spatial tensions. At this point, I’m about three parts of the essay ahead of the weblog.