Video games, a permanent fixture in pop culture, concentrates talents in areas not necessarily considered at first glance. Like environment, where art imitating life through architecture comes into play. Other areas include biomechanics, vehicle design, character design and even elements as ephemeral as economic systems and cultural/social dynamics. It is at the point of art imitating life as much as the other way around.
For those old enough to remember what prime entertainment was like before video games, seeing material at one time only envisioned in the mind as actual three-dimensional representations in a digital world is somewhat of a cultural shock. The human mind handles time in a linear fashion, but memory and cognitive abilities make connections instantly, no matter the interval of time between them.
For instance, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien could only be visualized in the mind through the aid of maps and description. Later, movies would bring these locations to life in ways familiar and unfamiliar. There would be many an instant where one would go: “Ohhh, so that’s what that looks like!” Through the wonder of video game technology, players can actually walk the lands of Middle Earth in the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) The Lord of the Rings Online. An actual physical connection in distance can be made between Bree and The Shire (although in video games, time is very much compressed). Dangerous places such as Moria and Mirkwood are experienced first hand, bringing Tolkien’s creation to life in ways he might not have thought about.
However, that is only one of the prominent franchises brought to life through video games. Battletech, where players kept track of how much damage was done to their BattleMechs on paper, and played across large tabletop maps, has seen its concepts represented through a series of video games. What was meticulously tracked data with pen and paper, such as distance, line of sight and damage, is now all background calculations behind the visuals of the actual game, of which Mechwarrior Online is the current incarnation. The architecture recreated in the maps in startling 3D detail is short of incredible, right down to the streetlights and civilian vehicles, again a good example of art imitating life after a fashion.
Other games, currently out and poised for release, bring fantastic worlds to life—and even worlds not so fantastic. Bioshock Infinite brings the astonishing architecture of Colombia to breathtaking life with its unique aerial style and game mechanics. The MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic brings iconic movie locations such as Tattooine and Curascant to full 3D sandbox life. The term sandbox represents the player’s ability to affect change in a game world’s environment. Which comes around to sandbox video games such as Second Life and Entropia Universe where players can create lasting structures in the game world.
What of true sandbox games such as The Sims and Civilization franchises that put the power of environment building and management completely in the hands of the player? Such games are prime examples of art imitating life as such concepts as city planning and management are brought into play.
What is one of the building blocks in video games, as much prominent as behind-the-scenes? The architecture. From the gritty neighborhoods of Watch Dogs and Grand Theft Auto, to the otherworldly yet unnervingly familiar worlds on Mechwarrior Online, on through the true-to-scale environments yet to be seen in Star Citizen. Architecture is a true representation of art imitating life, for the exacting calculations and codes that govern the construction of a real world building applies in the gaming world. The decisions these days for budding architects is: To pursue a career in the real world or the virtual world?
Editorial by Lee Birdine