Games without active space?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about a unified theory of videogames as virtual manipulable space lately, and some of this is in regards to my own games as I deconstruct what I have made to learn from it and hopefully produce better games in the future.

Thinking on Happy Turd, it came to my attention that this is a game that has none of what I call ‘active space’ – that is, space over which the player avatar has immediate control. To demonstrate what is meant by this, I shall by way of comparison look at the active space in its direct inspiration, Flappy Bird.

Flappy Bird's active space

Flappy Bird has a binary control system; that is to say, the player is either making bird flap – or fall. As such, the active space is represented by these two actions. It is worth nothing a few things, illustrated in the approximation of bird’s movement above. These are:

  • Bird falls fast, but flaps weak. In any given moment this lends a bias to downward movement.
  • Bird travels forward at a steady rate, meaning that backward or pure vertical movement is impossible.
  • Bird’s movements are not immediately predisposed to pure horizontal movement, as the two methods of locomotion prevent this; they may, however, be used in conjunction to this same end – a flap, followed by a short fall will result in a loose horizontal shift.

Indeed, the consistent ‘push’ of forward movement means that the player has access to a potential space that looks something like this:

Flappy Bird's potential spaceNote that the increased velocity of the falling actually gives the player more space below than above. This is perhaps offset by the large chunk of land at the bottom of the screen, seemingly designed as a space for users to ‘tap’ with their finger or thumb.

The titular bird is the only element with which a player interacts in the whole game; which is ended upon collision with any other element. Ergo, there are no cause-and-effect interactions possible – no causal space.

I now consider Happy Turd:

Happy Turd version 2The same forward locomotion is present, with a very similar flap/fall mechanic. It is fundamentally the same game, but with a definitive shift in player interaction that changes the whole dynamic: the player does not directly control the avatar in any way. This results in absolutely none of the space being ‘active’ in a conventional sense. The player clicks in the right-hand portion of the screen to place rolls of paper, which then are able to interact with the turd avatar. It is entirely causal space as a result of this.

It is arguably also potential space, although I am unsure at this time how potential space functions outside of its relationship with active space and is a thing I shall consider in the near future.

Games with passive interactions and no de-facto player avatar are generally those without active space. Examples include (but are not limited to): Lemmings, Command and Conquer, Echochrome, Sim City, Theme Park and The Incredible Machine – the latter of which is a beautiful example of causal space at work.


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