Getting Lost Through Navigation

Michael S. Debus

Research output: Contribution to conference - NOT published in proceeding or journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


In this presentation, I argued two things. First, that it is navigation that lies at the core of contemporary (3D-) videogames and that its analysis is of utmost importance. Second, that this analysis needs a more rigorous differentiation between specific acts of navigation. Considering the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of navigation as “the process or activity of ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route”, the title Getting Lost through Navigation seems to pose a contradiction. Navigation, in this presentation, will not be understood in this sense, but as any kind of movement, ability or process that enables the player’s avatar to traverse the game space (and time). These kinds of movement etc. will be called ‘navigational acts’. Navigation is a constitutional part of ergodic literature (see Aarseth 1997, p. 1) and video game gameplay (see Flynn 2003, p. 8), as the user’s role in videogames is a configurational rather than an interpretational one (Eskelinen 2001). Especially in the case of game spaces, navigation appears to be of importance (Wolf 2009; Flynn 2008). Further, it does not only play a crucial role for the games themselves, but also for the experience of the player (including AI) (Flynn 2008; Van Driel & Bidarra 2009, p.153; Gazzard 2009, p. 40; Nitsche 2007). While all these studies are concerned with navigation and its connection to certain contexts, what they neglect is a differentiation between specific acts of navigation and their potential influence on the game. How do navigational acts change a game? Can we connect specific navigational acts to other concepts that have already been discussed in game studies and other fields? To answer these questions, the presentation will use a simple distinction between movement, relocation and tunneling, and apply it to examples in various games. Finally, this will show that the same game with different navigational options ends up being a different game altogether and that, for example, narrative gaps (Iser 1974) or implied spaces (Wolf 2009) are created through certain navigational acts. This, then, can have significant influence on the player’s narrative and spatial involvement (Calleja 2011), amongst other related concepts, which can be examined from a navigational perspective in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Navigation
  • Ontology
  • Games


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