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The Organization and Exploration of Space as Narrative: Information Architecture in Video Games

Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


The chapter analyzes the organization of space and narrative in video games as an instance of the information architecture of digital environments and of the structural role it plays in shaping experience. It does so by adopting two different ways to analyze the space/narrative relationship: Lynch’s spatial primitives for cognitive mapping, and McGregor’s taxonomy of spatial patterns. These are then applied to read three different action/adventure video games: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Shadow of the Colossus, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The reason is threefold: to illuminate the individual information architectures of games that might, on the surface, be regarded as providing very similar experiences; to contribute to the ongoing conversation on embodiment and spatiality in information architecture; and to provide an example of how contemporary information architecture can be employed to critique different types of information environments.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-63205-2_18
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  1. 1.

    All three games betray the template in different ways. In the prototypical monomyth, the hero goes on an adventure, is victorious in a moment of crisis, and returns home transformed. In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the game resolves folding back on its beginning, with the narrative loop restarting anew; in Shadow of the Colossus there is no return, and players realize they might have been the villain all along; in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor there is no closure, no real resolution, and the suggestion of an upcoming fall into darkness.

  2. 2.

    A sandbox game is a game in which we have “automated responsiveness to player behavior” and where game design “facilitates and encourages a sense of player freedom, while providing a framework for play and a rich and detailed world for interaction” with the ultimate goal of supporting exploration and emergent, meaningful, rewarded use of game space (Breslin, 2009).

  3. 3.

    It could be argued that, in McGregor’s taxonomy, these areas could be also read as nodal space, space “where social patterns of spatial usage are imposed on the game environment to add structure and readability to the game”. Since both the magical fountains found here and the shrines found in Shadow of the Colossus, discussed next, represent an unrealistic practice, drinking or praying to increase one’s “life force”, I have decided to frame them as codified space.

  4. 4.

    Additionally, restoring the prince’s health also happens as an in-game action performed in codified space, through the drinking of water at fountains, basins, and pools.

  5. 5.

    There is arguably one real landmark in the game, the Tower of Dawn, that is nonetheless never experienced in-play but rather shown in cut-scenes as the prince progresses through the narrative.

  6. 6.

    To the point that they could be the same place.

  7. 7.

    The other two games being Ico (2001) and The Last Guardian (2016).

  8. 8.

    Clearly indebted to Gerard Trignac’s work and especially to his “Station Broubourg” etching.

  9. 9.

    This has led to a deluge of videos, walkthroughs, and guides that illustrate infinite variations in approach, combat, strategy, and ways to spend one’s time in the company of orcs for both Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which features an improved version of the Nemesis System and gives the player a larger game world and a longer and more structured narrative.


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This chapter follows and expands on a series of lectures and talks on game design and the relationship between new media phenomena, including video games, and contemporary information architecture going all the way back to 2012. More specifically, on my lectures in the course on Game Design at the University of Borås, Sweden, and on the following talks: Groundhogs in the Source Code at the 14th ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit and UX Australia 2013; It’s Pitch Black. You’re Likely to Be Eaten by a Grue at World IA Day 2014 Bristol; Notes on games, place, narrative, and information architecture at World IA Day 2018 Genova; and A Taxonomy of the Orcanization at the 2019 ASIS&T European Information Architecture Summit.

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Correspondence to Andrea Resmini .

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Resmini, A. (2021). The Organization and Exploration of Space as Narrative: Information Architecture in Video Games. In: Resmini, A., Rice, S.A., Irizarry, B. (eds) Advances in Information Architecture. Human–Computer Interaction Series. Springer, Cham.

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