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A Magazine for Sheffield

Gaming: Rewilding videogames

“You scramble up the last few winding feet of gritstone, the honey-scented heather watching as you ascend Crow Chin. The wind greets you on the summit, howling your victory…” From a walk along Stanage Edge “You arrive on the beach. The sound of the island fills your ears and sand fills your toes as you walk towards a line of pink-leaved trees past a stone gently humming to itself…” From the videogame Proteus In 2014 videogames are exploring new territory. Games like Proteus, Starbound, DayZ and Minecraft, all produced by small-scale Little Mester-like development companies, are expanding the language of games by using green spaces and repurposed wildernesses as settings and stewardship as a principle. I think they’re very Sheffield-like and Games Britannia, which I’m currently programming and promoting, is an example of what I believe is a process of ‘rewilding’ videogames. That means investing in games and game playing with the kind of interactive, creative principles we used to have in offline games. Play tig or Scrabble and you can change the rules to suit you. Play open world zombie game DayZ and the set of systems the game presents, based on a repurposed map of Chernarus in the Czech Republic, mean you can be an assassin, a lone ranger or the first videogame photojournalist. These examples of rewilding play also enrich the environment in which they’re set by bringing back a level of engagement that prompts responsibility, management and curation of a space, amongst other interesting behaviours. While Games Britannia is a gathering point for young people who might be interested in the associated Hallam University courses and a chance for games developers to spread the word about their titles, there’s an emphasis on planting player creativity within the system. And the likes of Far Cry 2, DayZ, Starbound, Minecraft, Proteus and Skyrim are as much systems as they are games. As long as they adhere to the system, players can create their own rules and guide their own play. These games exist on a sliding scale. It’s possible to create and destroy almost anything in Minecraft, for instance, whereas the environments in Skyrim and Proteus are fixed because they’re more interested in allowing the player to create by beholding a vista through their gaze and positioning within the world. But all these games use an environment as a partnership with the player. They’re tools for player experiences, with their own distinctive characters but with leeway for us to build around them. This kind of thing has always been around. You can play Pacman as a pacifist or Pong with a crowd of 200 people, as Pixar co-founder Loren Carpenter once did. But when a single game gives you the power to destroy as well as create the gamespace there’s a partnership between player and creator that reminds me of the DIY ethic that informed the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Pulp. Minecraft is probably the most creative videogame system there is. With monsters, zombies and a pressing need to build a fort before nightfall, it’s got plenty of straight-up action. But it’s also a vast, explorable wilderness you’re given stewardship of. It’s a virtual Peak District, from the Stanage Edge-like Far Lands to caverns as big as Castleton’s Titan. I’m really excited to see how Sheffield-based indie developers and players will be influenced by their environment and surroundings. Hopefully Games Britannia is a chance for them to germinate. Games Britannia Live runs from 28-29 June at the Millennium Gallery and across the city. )

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