Video games have changed the way we interact with space. From their very inception, these increasingly complex virtual worlds have been forcing new perspectives and new ways of interacting with the world beyond. Once they were able to represent cities, their role in shaping our everyday urban experience became even more acute, thrusting players into environments that they would otherwise have never come close to and exposing them to representations of urban life which will have had countless effects on the way players experienced cities in real life.
But while it’s long been accepted that film, music and other established forms of culture have been instrumental in crafting people’s perception of city life, the role of video games has hitherto been rather neglected. This, despite the fact that the industry is in many countries bigger than film and music combined. If we do not accept the wide-ranging and increasingly significant role that video games have in shaping the way people interact with city space, then we leave it open to conservative or reactionary portrayals of city life and space more generally.
The initial inspiration for this episode came from one such reactionary portrayal: the crime-ridden inner city of Streets of Rage. Considering the way this game helped shape a specific neoliberal policy narrative emerging in the late 1980s, the episode questions how and in what ways games can do the opposite: expanding, rather than narrowing our perceptions of city life.