Virtual worlds

Three new books address the rise and impact of virtual worlds

Three books trace the rise, impact and reach of virtual worlds

Love them or hate them, virtual worlds are here to stay; and three new books explore their charms and challenges

The continual blending of real and virtual worlds poses all sorts of predictable challenges, as opportunities to reshape spaces from scratch collide with real-world biases and limitations. The Metaverse is not without its detractors, many of whom embark on pioneering adventures in its unforged landscape in order to challenge these assumptions – the recent exhibition “Worldbuilding” (which explores how artists can embrace and subvert visual language and video game culture) is a case in point.

A dystopian cityscape of Half-Life: Alyxtaken from Create video games

Video games have been bridging that gap for decades. These worlds also offer unbridled escapism, creating landscapes that live in our heads long after we’ve put the controller down. These three new titles – physical books, no less – are explorations of how these spaces are shaped and the kind of emotional imprint they leave behind. If you are aware of the scope and role of the projected metaverse, remember that video games have already helped shape the spatial perception of several generations of gamers.

For the contemporary city dweller without outdoor space, free time, or transportation, a console or PC is a primary form of escape. These aren’t necessarily good things, but the emotional weight of an immersive video game doesn’t care whether the rustling wind in the grass or the rippling reflection of neon in a puddle is real or not; the brain tends to process it the same way.

Creating Video Games: The Art of Creating Digital Worldsby Duncan Harris and Alex Wiltshire

Thames and Hudson Create video games starts from the premise that “video games are a visual art”. It’s hard to disagree as we follow the authors’ journey through 12 different examples, revealing the depth of content, research, and craftsmanship required to shape the modern gaming environment.

The influence of cinema is immediately apparent in almost all of these case studies, but while the constant acceleration of computing power increases photorealism, it also creates new complexities and opportunities.

A dystopian cityscape of Half-Life: Alyxtaken from Create video games

Authors Duncan Harris and Alex Wiltshire show how advances in lighting, physics, and procedural generation – using a set of presets to create unlimited new content – continue to open up new worlds. The planets of No Man’s Sky, for example, are a riot of colors and shapes that evoke the art of science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s; the game’s algorithm determines their landscape, palette, flora and fauna, with over 18 quintillion variations. The gaming universe is, for all intents and purposes, as infinitely vast as ours.

Create video games also delves into the architecture of the game, from the neo-brutalism of Controls impressive interiors to the post-apocalyptic cityscapes of Half-Life: Alyx. There are also digressions on the evolution of approaches to style, as the processing power unleashes an unlimited palette of visual approaches, whether retro, hyper-realistic, animated, painterly or many others.

The limited edition of video game atlasby Luke Caspar Pearson and Sandra Youkhana

Video game worlds are approached from a different angle by architectural designers Luke Caspar Pearson and Sandra Youkhana. Their video game atlas (available in a limited edition at the moment, but soon to be released by Thames & Hudson) takes a highly technical approach to the vast environments of modern video gaming.

Through maps, charts, diagrams and drawings, Pearson and Youkhana establish an equivalence between virtual realms and the built environment, subjecting them to rigorous spatial analysis.

The architecture of dark soulsof video game atlasby Luke Caspar Pearson and Sandra Youkhana

The 12 games featured include No Man’s Skythe cinematic epic of Hideo Kojima Death Strandingand Assassin’s Creed: Unityone of a series of ongoing historical adventures that are regularly praised for their level of forensic detail and ability to evoke past historical eras.

A map of the galaxy No Man’s Skyof video game atlasby Luke Caspar Pearson and Sandra Youkhana

Finally, there is Genius loci, a forthcoming memoir/travelogue by award-winning writer and landscape artist Rob Dwiar. Rather than focusing on architecture or topography, Dwiar seeks to place video game landscapes in the historical tradition of taming nature, treating game designers as if they were contemporary versions of Capability Brown. , Gertrude Jekyll or Dan Pearson.

Instead of moving mountains, today’s game designers push pixels, “grow” virtual trees, and shape vistas that can be romantic, menacing, or both.

Genius lociby Rob Dwiar, to be published by Unbound

Just as we carry mental maps of places we’ve been in real life, virtual spaces in video games can also linger in the mind.

As games become more sophisticated and immersive, these limits and boundaries will continue to blur. §