Virtual Hero: Narratives of Playing the City

Virtual Hero: Narratives of Playing the City studies the contradictions and freedoms of cities as fictional worlds governed by real rules. There is a limit to the freedom of movement and collision of virtual bodies before they appear unnatural. But of course, our digital avatars have always existed as dreams of desired bodies within fictional landscapes. Computer-aided design produced a space where play functioned as an organizing mechanic of the city. This history intersects with the production of first-person perspectives in computer games, and thus the emerging industry of virtual immersion. Commercial 3D modeling tools and computer game technology standardized the human body, reinforcing a built environment designed for a fictive demographic. Yet these worlds have a tangible logic missing from an ethnography of a real metropolis. Patterned behavior of non-playable characters, idle animations, and texture mapping define a politics of computation. The Virtual Hero studies how artists, architects, and players have produced digital assets, narratives, and performances that transcend proscribed rules of play. Working between narrative fiction, computer art, and gameplay, this thesis explores the history of simulated cities and the formation of player-identity in digital space.