Thoughts on: From “First Person Shooter” to Multi-User knowledge spaces – Mathias Fuchs and Syl Eckermann

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Fuchs, M. & Eckermann, S. (2001) From “First Person Shooter” to Multi-User Knowledge Spaces. In F. Nack (Ed.) Proceedings COSIGN 2001 – 1st Conference on Computational Semiotics for Games and New Media (pp. 83-87). CWI, Amsterdam.

In 2001, Fuchs and Eckermann developed Expositur – ein virtueller Wissenraum, a game based collaborative project showcasing ten Viennese museums. This first person perspective knowledge space, built using the Unreal FPS game engine, made use of loci, a place based mnemotechnique dating back to the ancient Greeks, to enhance the meaning of its virtual museum exhibits by “connecting seemingly unrelated imagery to gain insight into visual similarities and connotations”(p.84).


They considered “the freedom of the user to go his or her own way in the virtual environment as an important feature that allows for individually shaped relational networks inside a complex field of knowledge”(p.84), which ties in well with Ertmer and Newby’s description of knowledge acquisition under Cognitivism as “a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner”. (1993, p.58).

From the abstract:

The content provided by these museums had to be made accessible

and comprehensible to users of different ages, educational

backgrounds and computer literacy. We developed a system of

connotations amongst the objects, which then was translated into

a spatial structure of rooms, corridors and places of different

sizes, shapes, remotenesses or proximities. The viewer/listener

of our knowledge space explores a semantic structure by

navigating virtual spaces with the topics being contained in these

rooms. The connecting architecture between these rooms

resembles staircases, passages, elevators, hidden doors or

portals, each of them referring to the nature of the connotation.

Quite contrary to web-based databases and hypertext structures,

the links therefore possess a quality of their own, carrying much

more information than just “is connected with”.


There’s a lot about this project that I like – the scope, the imagination behind it, the issues that they faced and the fact that covers a number of ideas that I’ve been thinking about. (And also several that I hadn’t thought about but now realise that I should)

This paper discusses the ideas underpinning this project – the notion of using virtual spaces and interaction to add meaning to the experience of viewing objects in a museum. Essentially it is about reimagining and redesigning from scratch 10 museums.

“We developed a system of connotations amongst the objects, which then was translated into a spatial structure of rooms, corridors and places of different sizes, shapes, remotenesses and proximities… The connecting architecture between these rooms resembles staircases, passages, elevators, hidden doors or portals, each of them referring to the nature of the connotation.”

This process was influenced by the Mnemosynic techniques of ancient Greek philosophers and singers in attaching meaning to objects in spaces to assist learning. It also draws from research by Ady Warburg on visual codes in Renaissance art.

“Warburg’s scientific method consisted of connecting seemingly unrelated imagery to gain insight into visual similarities and connotations, which he called Pathosformeln. In our knowledge space, the multiple coding of meanings contained with the exhibited objects is made transparent by the spatial relation superimposed upon the objects. (A technical drawing of a prosthesis, e.g., is positioned close to Freud’s Prosthengott quote and therefore connected to Freud’s theory from “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur”. “

Fuchs and Eckermann go on to consider how the ways that the player actually moves through the virtual space affect their experience with in it.

“To navigate the spaces of different content the users have to keep moving. They can walk, run, climb, jump, crouch, swim or fly according to the spatial situation. The Frankfurt based cultural scientist Manfred Fassler has mentioned in his recent publication that the etymological root of the German word for experience (Erfahrung) stems from fahren, i.e. “to move”. “

I have to admit that part of me thinks that the impact of different kinds of movement through the space would probably be greater in a 3rd Person Perspective or Virtual world game, where a player controls an avatar. Issues of how obvious these differing forms of movement would actually be to the user come to mind. (Swimming and flying would be relatively obvious – though they would necessitate a different control system which extends the 2 dimensional movement patterns generally used in these games)

Freedom of movement also comes back very much to issues of the user/players freedom to choose the content that they are most interested in. (This is probably something I’m less interested in for this particular project, which is focussed more heavily on developing foundation skills and knowledge and thus necessitates learning everything in the space.)

“We also consider the freedom of the user to go his or her own way in the virtual environment an an important feature that allows for individually shaped relational networks inside a complex field of knowledge”.

Fuchs and Eckermann based their design around several questions which either mirror those I have mentioned in the previous post here or which I shamelessly borrowed for that post. They often dig down into semiotics and signs and meaning, which I have a general grasp of but don’t know a lot about. (Might be time to dip into that Roland Barthes book I was given in 92 but have never quite been able to face reading after cursory dippings.)

They also discuss having to work with the limitations of the game development software – in their case they used the Unreal Engine. This is certainly an issue that I have bumped up against before and not one to which there are any easy answers. Bearing these limitations in mind they decided to do what they could to make it work and emphasise game elements from a hypothetical base to begin with.

This included the appearance of the rooms – and they make an interesting point that I’m not entirely sure I support, although I haven’t put it into practice yet.

“It seems of extreme importance for the creation of meaning how the environment the information is contained in looks like and sounds… We recognised that the richness of the architectural forms decreases the stress a person feels confronted with when navigating through this space. Former versions of Unreal allowed for just a few hundred polygons and therefore favoured boxy levels creating a higher aggressiveness and a feeling of discomfort for certain users. On the other hand, we recognised that very complex environments often create a feeling of “being lost” and of nausea”

While they do recognise the contradictions of level design for different players, I wouldn’t have thought that complex levels (i.e visually “busy” levels) would reduce stress. I can also see though that the use of curved surfaces could create more peaceful or soothing spaces. I’d be interested to know whether playing such a level on a large, smart-board type screen would be more comfortable than on a standard computer monitor.

The role of sound is really something I hadn’t given enough weight to in my thinking about game design – which is a little embarrassing as a wannabe film maker who routinely bangs on about the way that sound is treated as a second class citizen in the film production process. Fuchs and Eckermann draw analogies to the use of sound in film and identify 4 different types of use in their “game” space. :

  • Emotional Support – “The sounds can deliberately be used to value objects as dangerous, hilarious, important, historically significant or other. We use sound in this respect to add ethical standpoints to objects we have to show, like armour, prostheses and extinct animals”
  • Additional information about visible objects – “We use recorded sound material to tell about the material qualities of objects”
  • Continuity music – “We recognised that turning off the background music of the rooms in a computer game results often in a much shorter playing time. Also the speed of the investigation, the restlessness and the carefulness of exploring a specific room can be manipulated via music playing in the background:
  • Subtext – “This is an important function for content creation of an ambiguous character or for the creation of content which can be interpreted in different ways… For our game we used the method of acoustical subtext in the room showing the collection of technical prostheses… The soundtrack accompanying the prostheses hints that capitalist production and warfare can result in the same sad results for the victims of either. This information when put forward as text would sound quite banal and not lead to an intensive experience for most of the users. However, the soundscapes of heavy machinery mixed with heavy artillery and superimposed with composed rhythmical patterns does”

Sound hey. Got to factor that in better.

They also considered the use of linking sections/structures between topics/museums/objects and what added meaning these might bring.

“…there are “contour” features of visual objects and of acoustic objects, which are connoted with emotions. A rising line is usually considered to be positive or optimistic; a falling line to be negative, disappointing or dangerous.”

This made me think about the use of corridors, stairs, elevators and even having players jump down into pits to progress through a game level and what subtextual messages these convey. Great stuff.

They go on to discuss the use of avatars for the player – something I don’t entirely understand if this is an FPS based game (although it is possible to see another player’s avatar in a multiplayer game I guess) and expand upon the impact different forms and speed of movement have on the players experience of the exhibition. (Which largely comes down to learner choice and learner control – something which is less relevant to the project I’m considering at the moment).

The matter of how multiple players might interact in a game space like this comes up and they identified “the possibility for one knowledge seeker to show others their way by guiding them through the rooms. Another useful features is the possibility to exchange messages via written or spoken word… It is essential however to implement individual sets of voices and not to rely on the default voices provided by the manufacturer”

While I appreciate the intention here, the practicality of using your own voice sets seems a little tricky and understandably skirted over. Developments in the sophistication of game building systems since this project however suggest to me that in game voice communication isn’t so uncommon any more (and text based has been around for a long time) and could be relatively easily achievable. It did make me think about the options for asynchronous communication between players, with the capacity to leave messages (such as “the cake is a lie”? 🙂 for those who follow. Difficult in this kind of game building environment but more doable in virtual worlds such as Croquet.

I also thought more about other options for learner collaboration in these kinds of spaces and thought that you could create a scenario where different players have to explore different spaces to collect different information about a central topic. Only by collaborating and sharing all of the information would the learners be able to progress through the game. Making some of the information contradictory so the learners had to reason out the truth could add a layer of interest to the experience. You might need to add a time-pressure constraint to the exercise to emphasise that the players need to explore their own spaces before coming together rather than collectively exploring all of the passageways/rooms/whatever.

This paper ends with some general observations which tie it all together and offer an optimistic view of the future of games in learning.

“We think that there games – however simple they still might appear at present – contain possibilities for knowledge spaces of a delicate nature – if they are thoughtfully conceived, carefully designed and joyfully experienced.”

Syl Eckermann has more information about this project on her website at http://syl-eckermann.net/expositur/index.html

This is also where I have taken the pictures in this blog post from.

This entry was posted in activity, collaboration, education, elearning, experience, first person learner, first person perspective, first person shooter, game design, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on: From “First Person Shooter” to Multi-User knowledge spaces – Mathias Fuchs and Syl Eckermann

  1. Pingback: Eduversal Studios | The Game Learner

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