Space Explored

When you think of space, what comes to mind? Vast nothingness? Galaxies and solar systems? The tiny amount of it you have in your apartment? When you imagine space, you probably think of it as a “place” for things–for yourself. But it is also a place for events. A place for narrative. A place for time.

Sheila Jones’s paper, Literary geography: setting and narrative space (2011), wishes to combine narrative theory and literary geography in an analytical discussion using case studies of The Man in the High Castle (1962), The Last American (1889), and The Great Gatsby (1925). Space, as discussed in narrative theory, is typically viewed as a container of sorts, and is used to separate the setting from the story. Heath and Cooper (mentioned in my previous post) use this definition of space, and it is often referred to as the “Renaissance perspective.” Jones, however, wishes to expand the idea of narrative space as something more than descriptive rhetoric. Using her case studies, she concludes that narrative theory and spatial theory together create something subjective and apt to change. Setting cannot be separated from the narrative, because the environment within the story heavily influences (and is influenced by) the story itself.

This seems obvious, right? All stories have a setting. They all “take place.” When speaking of narrative space, it is more than obvious that there must be an environment. But Jones’ idea that space cannot be separated from story can be directly related to Simon Kemp’s idea that space also cannot be separated from time. In his paper, The inescapable metaphor: how time and meaning become space when we think about narrative (2012), Kemp studies and explores the pervasiveness of a metaphor between time and space within narrative theory. His aim is to conclude that time is always linked to space, despite theorists’ efforts to exclude them. He uses cognitive research studies and an interesting diagram to correlate time and space within narratives, stating that the metaphor is necessary because humans have a tendency to convert time into space within their minds. He believes that the “narrative line is composed of both chronology and signification,” concluding that narrative theory is not black and white, but “nebulous and intangible,” or ever-changing.

To put it simply: space, time, and narrative are equal variables in the equation of narrative space. When one is changed, the others must mold to fit. In later posts, I’ll get into how video games can manipulate the equation, by purposefully making some variables constants. But first, I must relate the traditional and modern definitions of narrative space to video game space.

So… how does an audience perceive narrative space? Is it different between film and video games? Between novels and museums? Within Indexing space and time in film understanding (2001), Magliano, Miller, and Zwaan perform an a priori analysis of the provided films to study how viewers monitor shifts of time and space within the films. The authors brought together a theoretical analysis of the films, as well as qualitative input from participants. This paper seeks to understand and index the relationship between time and movement in films. What they find and conclude is that a viewer’s understanding of events in film is no different than their temporal understanding of events within simple text, allowing for the deduction that event understanding takes place independently of the medium provided, or the method of experience. This means that readers interpret narrative space in the same way, whether they are reading a novel, watching a film, or even playing a video game. Thus, the theories of narrative space, narrative theory, and spatial theory can be applied to the video game world in ways that still need to be talked about amongst ludologists today.

So far, I’ve helped us define narrative space through a bit of literature review. It is not simply environments and setting, but also time and story. It is rarely static. It can be understood through any sort of medium. It involves visualized as well as inferred space. In my next post, I will begin to address the relevance of narrative space in the gaming world through spatial awareness and immersion. Thank you for reading!


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