Landscape Studies for Computer Games: The Enclosure of the Valve Source Engine

Valve Source 引擎的藩籬 — 電腦遊戲風景研究

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

View graph of relations

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
Award date14 Nov 2018


Computer games are at the centre of academic and popular debates around technology, culture and society. Often characterised in popular discourse as a virtual experience that isolates players from the world, they appear to be separate from the ‘natural’ environment. Yet, computer games not only represent our relation to our surroundings, they can be studied as landscapes. Their spatial, traversal and explorative qualities raise questions similar to those that occupied art theorists in the 18th century, when oil painting became the archetypical landscape medium. Aesthetic forms such as the Romantic and the Picturesque indexed historical power structures, such as divisions across racial, economic and gender lines, as well as the geopolitical histories of enclosure and colonialism. As such, ‘landscape’ extends beyond its colloquial definition as ‘nature’, it is the lens through which the contemporary relation between the subject, the representation, and the world can be observed. While a number of studies make reference to these art-historical precedents, the contextual examination that they necessitate in art history does not often translate into a similar methodological effort in game studies. Drawing on landscape studies and game studies, this dissertation aims to amend this problem and establish a framework for analysing computer games as the paradigmatic contemporary form of landscape. Borrowing interdisciplinary insights from the field of ‘landscape studies,’ it defines landscapes as a historically contingent mediation of the physical environment in its economic and cultural context. However, it also argues that textual analysis alone cannot produce a landscape reading of a computer game. Using the methods of play-based phenomenological analysis, it pays equal attention to cultural meaning as it does to the experience of the player via the affordances of the medium – specifically, it singles out the Valve Source Engine, and four games created with it, as its chief case study. It is through this intersectional method that computer games reveal themselves as landscapes corresponding to the cultural logic of late capitalism and Web 2.0., not dissimilarly to how oil paintings unintentionally expressed the logic of colonial power.

    Research areas

  • Landscapes, Computer games, Valve Source Engine, Digital Geography