Welcome to the Fall 2013 Issue of Mediascape, "Urban Centers, Media Centers." This issue’s central theme considers the city as both a site of production, as a “media center”, as well as the subject of cultural production. Of course, in the contemporary age it is necessarily important that we recognize that the historical model of understanding media centers as capitals of production (Los Angeles and New York in particular) no longer holds. Instead, a wide variety of urban centers viewed through national, international, and transnational lenses frame our approach to the connection between urbanity and production culture. The result is that even the most isolated urban centers begin to take on meaning from their representational counterparts. For instance, though Chicago plays the role of Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, the internal logic of the city itself can be understood cinematically (thus the underground roadways are both a venue
for transportation as well as for combat). Similarly, Thailand is understood both as an urban dwelling as well as the site of a Tsunami’s destruction in J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible (the understanding of which is necessarily limited by cultural proximity to the scant news stories and films made about the tragedy). Ultimately, this issue is about expanding our understanding of cinematic space beyond the barriers that we perceive, as a result the fully digital nature of this journal allows us to more readily engage with this topic across media in order to ask if representations of urban space and their relationship to the media centers, themselves, need to be reexamined.
This issue’s Feature article offers an insightful and innovative approach to the conceptualization of digital urban space and how it relates to our cultural understanding of mainstream media. In “Moving through Videogame Cities,” Bobby Schweitzer advances the argument that videogame city spaces are neither static environments nor stationary views. Instead, he proposes a model that frames videogame space as fluid and interactive. He thereby posits the videogame city as a product of a player’s movement through, as well as her interaction with, a digitally rendered spatial sphere. Schweitzer’s methodology emphasizes the notion of space not just as an architectural construct, but also as sensual experience of both motion and movement. His essay reveals the significance of the phenomenological implications of “play” which is too often neglected in theoretical discussions of digital media. Providing a comprehensive taxonomy of gamic movement in various popular games, Schweitzer
examines game design vis-à-vis its functionality in the larger realm of spatial theory, ultimately offering elucidating insights into the identity of the videogame city and how it can be navigated and experienced as a cultural entity.
The Reviews section looks at the problematic nature of the representability of destruction in urban environments, particularly when traumatic content is at least symbolically linked to real world events. In “The Impossible – Or How I Learned Thailand Was Filled with European Tourists,” Jose Gallegos navigates problematic aspects of South Asian tourism and the breakdown of space along ethnic lines in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, as well as the complex racial implications that governed the adaptation of those events for the screen. Meanwhile, James Gilmore’s “Absolute Anxiety Test: Urban Wreckage in The Dark Knight Rises” navigates the fictional space of Gotham City as emblematic of post-9/11 cultural anxiety (particularly in the final film of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy), in addition to the manner by which film converts “the spectacle of terrorism” to “the terrorism of spectacle.”
Columns approaches the question of urban space by focusing on its functionality as a “digital city.” In “Dimensions of the Digital City,” Oscar Moralde discusses how urban spaces are often used in video games as either a theme park (as in sandbox games) or as puzzle boxes that ultimately force the player to interpret them as a framework for the flow resources and goods (as in SimCity). Meanwhile, Matthias Stork’s “Space-Wars: Mapping the Aesthetics of Post-Cinematic City Space in Action Films and Video Games” seeks to link central importance of urban space in contemporary action films to their role as subjects and objects of play. This is most readily seen in filmic uses of the city as a game or obstacle course (such as in car chases or diagrammatic representations of city space), or in game spaces that are themselves modeled after the urban (such as in Tron).
Meta offers a comprehensive study of the variability of videogame space. Harrison Gish’s article, “Negotiating Transitional Spaces in Classic Games,” focuses attention on what may be termed the liminal space of videogames, the moments in between levels. Gish’s engaging analysis traces the historical evolution of this transitional space from classic to contemporary games, emphasizing the process of narrativization as a key component of the medium’s development and maturation. In “Invisible Walls: Narrativizing Spatial Limitation in Ico and Assassin’s Creed II,” Bryan Wuest considers the notion of (not) overcoming interactive spaces in videogames. He examines how distinctive spatial design patterns interface with player perception and gameplay in various ways to create a unified, sometimes disruptive, sense of experiential play that informs a player’s relationship with videogame space. Finally, Andrew Young’s “Perpetual Game Space in Crime City: Game
Design in the Age of Social Network Gaming,” demonstrates the expansion of video game spaces into the interactive-communicative realm of social networking platforms. This extension of space, as Young observes, is equally tied to the implementation of “real” digital and analogue spaces that come to define the experiential play of casual games.
This issue of Mediascape then is designed to raise pointed questions about the role of the city as a center of both media and cultural production, especially in relation to our experience of mediated reality. The ultimate goal is to ground this larger discourse in a more specific discussion of cinematic space and its transformation in the ever-expanding era of digital media. How do films represent the city in a time of technological change and aesthetic evolution? How has the wholesale implementation of digital technologies impacted the use of space in cinema? And how does the digital era affect the relationship between the off-screen and on-screen spatial environment? Looking at the distinctive aesthetics of urban space, it is our belief, allows for an examination of how we perceive and engage with the iconography of our world. Our intent is to problematize what we understand as the urban, and how strongly it relates to our relationship with contemporary media.
--Matthias Stork and Andrew Young