It is interesting that we define a media as being 'interactive' when the viewer becomes a player and so gains the ability to effect on screen space. This notion of control however is illusionary as both two and three dimensional spaces are entirely fictitious in their representation of the real. This however doesn't reduce the powers which space holds but simply serves to point out the nature of such definition. In order to function space requires interaction with an audience. Through the participation of a player, space becomes an active agent of affect.
We as the player are given the notion of control, we can navigate a world, perhaps open a door but it is the space itself which holds the real power. The player may interact with the space but this interaction is always confined by what the space itself allows. Space dictates when and how far we can move, which doors can be opened and most importantly, it holds the potential to strike feeling, tap into emotion, cause visceral reaction and provoke mental, physical and psychological response both conscious and subconscious. We tend to believe that we are the ones playing a game, playing a space, when in fact, it is the space that is playing us. The affective nature of space is dynamic and without limit. Such interaction is mutual, a cycle of the player effecting a space and in turn, being affected by it. A space itself may not be 'real' but its power as an agent of affect certainly is. This realisation or perhaps more a clarification is rather enlightening as it enables us to look at space as a construct of communication instead of a physical enclosure - space is abstract, space is a concept.
In continuing this train of thought, the video game Portal serves an effective example in exploring the concept of interactive space. The goal of Portal is to escape from the lab you're trapped in by reaching the elevator at the end of each chamber. To do this you must create portals through which you can travel through to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Moving through portals is a true manipulation of space as the operation of such is far more extensive than simply teleporting the player to a new location. We can look through a portal like a magic mirror as space becomes indefinitely extended. It is interesting that this space is in fact infinite as the game presents the illusion of confinement (perhaps something which makes this experience of spacial manipulation all the more potent). Portals also have their own set of physics which enable the player to propel themselves across rooms as well as become stuck in eternal loops.
|An example of the physics of Portal|
The mechanics of portal highlight for me the potential that emerges when we stop thinking of space as a simulation of our own expectations of reality and instead allow it to function as an architecture through which we can experience a virtual world. By fracturing the mindset of what the viewer perceives space to be enables the agency of such a space to operate in much more interesting ways. Why put the restrictions of a physical reality on a concept that is inherently abstract?