Book in preparation “Designing The ‘Place’ Of Virtual Space”

Indiana University Press just approved the contract for the following book in their Spatial Humanities Series. The chapters may change slightly over the next half-year, and final publication is of course dependent on a full final academic review, but here is my plan for it (and I would appreciate suggestions, links, readings to add to the final product).

Title: Designing The ‘Place’ Of Virtual Space

Despite the many architects talking about virtual environments in the early 1990s (Novak, 2015, Novak and Novak, 2002, Packer and Jordan, 2002, Wiltshire, 2014), there is relatively little publicly accessible research on making, experiencing and critiquing virtual places is only in conference papers, book chapters and edited collections. These forms of academic literature are also more likely to be found in the computational sciences, and are not often or easily accessed by humanities scholars. So I have an overall purpose here: to communicate with humanities scholars the importance of understanding how digital and virtual places are designed, experienced and critiqued.

I suggest that technology is not the fundamental problem in designing virtual places. Are there specific needs or requirements of real places that prevent us from relying on digital media and ‘online worlds’ experts? Or is it not so much that the new tools are currently too cumbersome or unreliable, but instead it is our conventional understanding of place design and platially situated knowledge and information that needs to change?

Secondly, I will review concepts in various space and place-related disciplines, both historically and in terms of digital media, to examine where they converge or diverge, and which methods and tools are of relevance to digital (and especially virtual) place-making. Here I suggest the terms Place, Cultural Presence, Game and World are critically significant. Clearer definition of these terms would enrich clarify and reveal the importance of real-world place design but also for virtual world design in terms of interaction, immersion and meaning. I will then apply these terms and concepts to virtual worlds, virtual museums and online game-environments to see if the theories and predictions match what happened to the various digital environments.

Thirdly, I will describe recent development in neuroscience and how they may help our understanding of how people experience, store and recollect place-related experiences. Can these discoveries help our design of virtual places? The chapter on learning and especially place-learning will benefit from this survey of recent scientific research.

Fourth, this book will cover game mechanics, and how they can be used in virtual place design to make digital environments more engaging and the learning content more powerful and salient. The importance of interaction design is typically underplayed, under-reported and under-evaluated. We still have not truly grasped the native potential of interactive digital media as it may augment architecture, and that is why debate on the conceptual albeit thorny issues of the subject matter is still in its infancy. I believe that understanding game mechanics is of great relevance to virtual place designers and I will put forth an argument as to why, a clear definition of game mechanics and an explanation of different types of game mechanics suited to differing design purposes.

The fifth aim of this book is to give a brief introduction to new and emerging software and devices and explain how they help, hinder or replace our traditional means of designing and exploring places-is technology always an improvement here?

The last subject chapter will then explore evaluation methods (both traditional and recent), which address the complicated problem of understanding how people evaluate places, and whether this knowledge can be directly applied to the evaluation of virtual places.

Chapters

  1. Place Theory Applied to Virtual Environments
  2. How Mind Remembers Space, How Places are Meaningful and Evocative
  3. Dead or Dying Virtual Worlds
  4. Place Affordances of Virtual Environments Learnt From Affordances in Real Places
  5. Place Interaction and Mechanics
  6. Learning from Place
  7. Place-Making Devices, Place-Finding Devices
  8. Evaluation
  9. Conclusion
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