Lev Manovich's Navigable Space
Manovich suggests that computer games1 as well as bringing new aesthetic forms, they give rise to new aesthetics of navigation (Manovich, 2001). While Doom (Id Software, 1993) has the user running through a maze-like level in a fast pace Myst(Cyan,1993) allows the user to explore the world around her. Manovich points out that, these games place the user in a place in the story at the beginning of the game as well as in a spatial place. The user has to explore most of the game's environments before she can reach a narrative end, since the game goals are completed and the story is retold by navigating through the 3D space efficiently (solving puzzles, defeating monsters) rendering the storyworld and the gameworld intertwined, the navigable space being the glue between the two.
Murray's Digital Environments' Spatiality
According to Murray, one of the four properties of digital environments2 is spatiality(Murray, 1997). While traditional media can convery information that would represent an environment, only interactive, navigable spaces allow us to roam as we choose in these representations. The interactively navigable nature of space represented in digital environments sets it apart from the representations of space in other media by giving us a sense of being at a point in a particular space by responsing to our input accordingly.
The perception of events by the user is also different than other media. She suggests that in theater, the events are happening on stage and you, as the spectator, merely watch – while in interactive navigable spaces there is a more dramatically engaging spectacle, you make the events in the virtual world happen and they happen to you. This gives the navigation dramatic power. (Murray 1997)
Murray's Pleasures of Navigation
As Murray defined earlier as a characteristic of digital environments, spatial navigation can be pleasurable in-itself regardless on the contents of the said environments and the mechanics of the game that contains them. Intentional navigation, is a participatory pleasure just like the sport of orienteering where people traverse an area based on clues such as landmarks.
Murray identifies two different configurations for orienteering in electornic environments; the solvable maze and the tangled rhizome.
The Story in the Maze
The maze has a place in Greek mythology, Daedalus builds King Minos of Crete a Maze to contain the deadly Minotaur. Theseus is the hero in the story that slays the beast by succesfully navigating the maze. “The adventure maze embodies a classic fairy-tale narrative of danger and salvation. Its lasting appeal as both story and a game pattern derives from the melding of a cognitive problem (finding the path) with an emotionally symbollic pattern (facing what is frightening and unknown.) ” (Murray, 1997). The maze, Murrey says, is a road map for telling this story.
On electronic narratives, the maze is a space where you can interact with other characters and objects and if need be, you can retrace your steps back to a point where you missed something, like Ariadne's thread.3
The drawback of a maze structure in narrative environments is that “it moves the interactor toward a single solution, toward finding the way out. The desire for agency in digital environments makes us impatient when our options are so limited.”(Murray, 1997)
The Rapture of the Rhizome
Rhizomes4 are structures that any of it's points can be connected to any other point in it. This makes the stories that embody this structure solutionless. Murray suggests that the rhizome structure does not empower the user because of the fact that the user can not mark a lexia5 as read or mark a lexia so it can be accesed easily later in the reading process (Murray,1997). Despite the argument against the rhizome structure and the user's power over navigation, Murray suggests that these unsolvable mazes does have to potential to serve as an expressive structure:
“Walking through a rhizome one enacts a story of wandering, of being enticed in conflicting directions, of remaining always open to surprise, of feeling helpless to orient oneself or to find an exit, but the story is also oddly reassuring. In the rhizome, one is constantly threatened but also continuously enclosed. The fact that the plot will not resolve means that no irreparable loss will be suffered.” (Murray, 1997)
Murray differs games from stories as placing the user as the protagonist in the story and identifies a flow of plot that is embodied in game narratives. One of the points she identifies goes as:
“I encounter a world in pieces and assemble it into a coherent whole.”
By succesfully navigating through the environment and traversing one level after another, the user assembles a world in pieces into a coherent whole. This is much like constructing a story in one's mind from the given plot points.
4 “Rhizome” is used here as Deleuze defines it - “theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhizome_(philosophy)