Much of my work in college has centered around mapmaking & visualization of spatial data. There is generally a set of algorithmic, data-driven methods I use to understand various levels of granularity of space, ranging from individual blocks to whole cities. While this methodology may seem highly at odds with that of the ‘dériver’, elements of both are necessary for content-rich, intuitive world building.
It is difficult to ask someone to define the boundaries of a neighborhood or place a given neighborhood on a map. This is because these definitions are unique to the individual and are often based on their experiences in a given environment. One person may define the boundaries of a neighborhood by major streets and highways, while another may include phrases such as “the corner with the abandoned gas station” or “the park by my uncle’s place”. This makes for a nearly infinite number of perceptual maps and pathways in a given region. The drive to ‘dérive’ then comes from an individual trying to connect these perceptual maps with the singular manifested infrastructure of a place.
A non-ARG example that comes to mind is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where it is fairly easy to diverge from traditional game play elements (objectives in story mode) and instead wander the game’s digital environment in an entirely interaction-specific path. The map itself is a provocative take on an American city plan, composed of multiple neighborhoods and a hypermodern infrastructure. The architecture (the curvature of a highway, a brightly lit arena, etc) dictates the underlying reasoning for following a set path on the map just as it does in the physical world. And yet, the digital interface brings out the ludic nature of ‘dérive’ in its ability to embellish the sort of ‘rabbit hole’-type curiosities present in a real city. The natural interruptions of police chases, street pedestrians, and unprompted violence in a virtual environment block off certain paths and move players from neighborhood to neighborhood. The actions taken / seen in the game direct an otherwise entirely free movement through the map.
How does this apply to ARGs? Well, players of ARGs navigate a physical & digital environment with many different perceptual maps in mind. Just as someone wandering around the Logan Center does not anticipate room-specific encounters, a player of an ARG does not anticipate the physical components that occupy the game world. Each of these encounters modifies the paths players choose to follow and restricts the many perceptual maps. Using data-driven methods (distribution of rabbit holes, foot traffic frequencies, network analysis) to fill in the game world keeps game navigation mostly free while directing players progress along steadily.
These are just loose ideas I have about navigating space, nothing substantially coherent or factual. I ideally want to implement mapmaking methodologies into final game module design and I figure these are some good guiding principles for doing so.