Gregory Whistance-Smith (MArch 2014, BEDS 2012), recently published his first book, Expressive Space: Embodying Meaning in Video Game Environments (De Gruyter 2022).

Whistance-Smith approaches video game spaces as new corners of the built environment, ones with potent links back to architecture, cities, and designed landscapes. He argues that the interactivity of video games allows them to simulate space  instead of simply representing it. This allows virtual environments to express meaning and communicate ideas in ways traditionally limited to architecture. While most video games are not targeted to architects, a growing number offer memorable spatial experiences that are relevant to the profession.

“In writing Expressive Space, I wanted to embrace the role of curator and introduce readers to some exceptional video games that they may not be familiar with,” he says. “I also had the hope that some readers with a background in architecture, but without much knowledge of video games, may give the book a chance due to the perspective I bring.”

A framework for spatial analysis

The book takes readers through 12 case studies to explore the diversity of contemporary video game environments and the many forms of meaning that can be woven into their worlds. It draws on work in philosophy, cognitive science, and psychology to argue for the central importance of the human body in spatial meaning. Pride of place is given to the emerging field of embodied cognition, and Whistance-Smith develops a framework for spatial analysis out of five theories from this area.

Drawing on the architectural notion of typology, Expressive Space organizes its case studies around four common types of virtual space: ones designed for exploration and inhabitation, for kinetic enjoyment, for enacting a situated role and for enhancing perception. Together, these varied environments suggest the range of ways that video games can enhance and enrich our embodied lives.

“This spatial view invites us to understand video games as places we go that shape our bodily actions and provide us with a role, regardless of whether we are controlling a single character, a whole army, or managing a virtual city,” explains Whistance-Smith. “We can now use video game environments for expanding our horizons, transmitting cultural forms, developing skills, building empathy, and deepening our engagement with the physical world. I hope that more architects begin to take this new spatial medium seriously; it has a huge potential for both good and ill.”

Whistance-Smith is currently an Intern Architect at AVID Architecture in Edmonton. To learn more about the book and his work, visit gregws.ca.