Kevin Mercer is currently Assistant Professor of Digital Media Arts & Animation at Southern Illinois University. Mercer earned a BFA degree from Western Illinois University and an MFA degree from Penn State.
Mercer’s recent presentations include: Things Too Real: Addressing Environmental Disaster through Interactive Storytelling, Festival of Interactive Narrative & Storytelling at University of Otago and New Zealand Centre of Digital Excellence; Interdisciplinary VR: Merging Game Design & Language to Facilitate Student Engagement, Meaningful Play at Michigan State University; SALUKI-X: Investigating Ethical Space Exploration Through Hybrid Methodologies for Designing, Mapping & Navigating Virtual & Built Environments, Mid-America College Art Association Conference at Slippery Rock University.
The Socio-Spatial Currency of Dark Souls & Death Stranding
FROG 2023 – Talk
Video games such as Dark Souls and Death Stranding feature asynchronously shared virtual spaces in which the players’ understanding, navigation, and alterations of the in-game architecture are made possible with the transaction of social currency. Though purely digital, these game worlds are socio-spatial, informed by geographically dispersed, yet virtually close inhabitants, each seeking to care for said worlds.
In the case of Dark Souls, treacherous, labyrinthian environments are explored incrementally during cycles of the player’s life and death. Progress requires venturing beyond the safety of a dwelling, in this case a bonfire checkpoint, into ruins, cathedrals, and hamlets replete with vicious enemies and unseen traps. However, asynchronous online players are able to compose messages from lists of nouns, verbs, and qualifiers and leave them in the game world as signposts for others. This sharing of information, and, in many cases, misinformation, affects a given player’s creation of knowledge regarding a dangerous play space steeped in imposing, Gothic architecture (Rutten, 2016).
In the case of Death Stranding, the player is tasked with transporting resources and rebuilding the infrastructure of a post-apocalyptic United States. The gameplay loop sees the protagonist traversing extreme landscapes, seeking natural paths while also constructing roads and bridges along the way. Another example of asynchronous online interaction, Death Stranding enables players to use structures built by one another, then award them likes, perhaps the most prevalent social currency in the online world. By earning likes, the player’s standing and efficacy as a socio-spatial architect are increased, allowing them to build more, better. With time and ardor, players unknown to one another shape a virtual environment enabling easier and faster traversal for all. Death Stranding enables players by deploying them in space (Lefebvre, 1992) to improve in-game architecture, yielding a more utopian and less neoliberal play space.
Lefebvre, Henri. (1992). The Production of Space. Wiley.
Rutten, R. (2016). Beyond Proximities: The Socio-Spatial Dynamics of Knowledge Creation. Progress in Human Geography, 41(2), 159–177. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132516629003