The Derive and Spatial Storytelling

In “Theory of the Derive”, Guy Debord defines the situationist practice of the derive as an activity during which “one or more persons during a certain period drop…all their…usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there” (Debord). It is distinct from a stroll or other types of wandering, because it is not, as it may first sound, entirely random, but rather driven by a space’s “psychogeography”. In other words, going on a derive involves taking a walk, but it is a walk based upon a high level of awareness of your surroundings in a way that allows them to guide your wandering as certain spaces lead into others and encourage different paces and means of entry and exit.

I think that the concept of psychogeographical contours, that something about a space’s affect dictates the way you interact with and through it, is both intriguing and somewhat intuitive in a weird way, as well as very important to consider in creating ARGs or other games that make good use of spatial storytelling. If spaces have a unique psychogeography that draws your attention to certain aspects of them and not to others, or leads you into another space naturally or encourages you to enter it at a specific point, those are all things that would be useful to know when designing a game to fit inside that space. If a designer knows how players might be drawn to interact with a place the game is taking place in, they can arrange the puzzles and the gameplay and the engagement that happens within that place to utilize players’ natural inclinations, laying sequential trails and clues that lead players through a terrain in a way that is driven by its layout. To that end, it might be useful for game designers to take a derive through the areas their games will primarily take place in before the design process, to get the fullest idea of how to make the best use of the space.

I also wonder, however, how much of the perceived affect of a space is inherent to that space and how much is brought in by the person who is interacting with it. How much would different people agree, when making a situationist map, for instance, on how the spaces feel laid out and are experienced? Debord seems to posit that a place’s psychogeography is inherent and it is how much of it is perceived that is variable, mentioning different “levels of awareness” in different people. But it feels to me that at least some of the perception is always created through the act of perceiving and I think this would be interesting to explore as a game designer as well, seeing how spaces affect different people differently, based on different associations they may or may not have with various aspects of it or any other factors.

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