Of Particle Systems and Picturesque Ontologies: Landscape, Nature and Realism in Video Games

Shinkle, E. 2020. Of Particle Systems and Picturesque Ontologies: Landscape, Nature and Realism in Video Games. Art Journal. 79 (2), pp. 59-67. doi:10.1080/00043249.2020.1765556

TitleOf Particle Systems and Picturesque Ontologies: Landscape, Nature and Realism in Video Games
TypeJournal article
AuthorsShinkle, E.
Abstract

Landscape is much more difficult to model than architecture or interiors, and it almost always provides the benchmark for graphic realism in video games. Many of the qualities that define graphic realism in contemporary video games – visual detail, dynamic lighting and weather effects, particle effects such as fire, smoke and mist – are associated with the appearance and behaviour of “natural” assets. Such assets are widely regarded as representations of ‘external’ nature, and the history of video games is typically charted along a trajectory that includes painting, film, and photography.
This essay examines a category of landscape representation that has been largely overlooked by video game scholars: the eighteenth century Picturesque landscape garden. Nature, in the Picturesque garden, was assumed and constructed as an entity and/or a set of processes beyond human control, but not necessarily exterior to representation itself. As I argue, graphic realism in video games assumes and constructs nature in an analogous way, overlaying a highly structured three dimensional framework with procedurally generated forms that are largely beyond the designer’s control. Like the Picturesque landscape garden, the video game is not a straightforward representation of “external nature”. Nor, as I argue, is agency limited to the perception of autonomy and control within the game – it is distributed, as it was for the visitor to the Picturesque garden, across human subjects, spaces of representation, and the physical world.

Keywordsvideo games
picturesque
landscape
perspective
JournalArt Journal
Journal citation79 (2), pp. 59-67
ISSN0004-3249
Year2020
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Accepted author manuscript
File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/00043249.2020.1765556
Publication dates
Published17 Jun 2020

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