I received my first dedicated video game system for my ninth birthday while living in a three-bedroom apartment. It was a game boy color, and the first game I played on it was Pokemon Red. The original Pokemon games had a very simplistic representation of space—top down view, simple humanoid sprites, and a rather repetitive way of representing houses, trees, etc. In the original red and blue versions of the game, there was only one basic color used to represent the world.
However, it was a game that entirely drew my nine-year-old self in and absorbed hours of my time.
Part of the reason for this was of course the popularity of the game at the time and the vast amounts of attention poured onto it. However, I think now that part of the reason for the attraction of the game was the basic exploration properties present. The player begins in a small town, but most of the game is spent exploring various outdoor areas: forests, caves, and pathways. At the beginning of the game, the player has no way of knowing the areas ahead of them, and the game forces them to explore these areas “on foot.”
While I most likely would have picked up the game even when I lived in a house with a large yard and spent more time outside. However, when my space was more confined, the exploration provided by Pokemon and subsequent games was certainly satisfying.
For the most part, the Pokemon games fulfilled several aspects of “boy space” as Jenkins calls it. It focuses on exploration, the outdoors, and competition. Although there are indoor spaces, homes are very minimalist and the more involved indoor spaces are mostly industrial. Later games, such as Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire allowed for customizing a personal space, or “secret base.” This secret base can be decorated with a variety of collectable game items, sometimes linked to achievements. Even decorating this personal space becomes more of an opportunity to display achievements rather than an expression of ownership.
Later in the games, players are allowed to fly from town to town after they learn a specific move. Through most of the game the player is forced to walk from area to area. As in the “Narrative Gamespace” essay, the pedestrian world makes the player interact with the world, and become more of a part of it. Even the pixilated avatar moving through the city and traveling from place to place immerses the player into the fantasy world.
This new fantasy world can be a kind of substitute for the more traditional child role-playing in the backyard. Although games cannot completely replace real-life interaction and play, they can help fill in where real-life play is limited.
-Anna Coley (acoley3)