“Gotta [feel] the beat!”: space, time and rhythms of play

Next week I’m flying to Bergen, Norway to give a keynote lecture at the Philosophy of Computer Games 2013 conference. I first went to the conference in Athens in 2011, and it was a great three days of conversations and papers with a really friendly atmosphere, so it was lovely to be invited to come to this year’s conference.

My abstract for the talk I am giving is below. It draws on some of the work in my book Mazes in Videogames, but I start to take ideas about space/spatiality in videogames in a different direction by introducing the element of time and therefore, the rhythms that are created. I also reference Tom Apperley’s work in relation to rhythms and the player’s body (if you’ve not read it – I really recommend Gaming Rhythms), as well as literature on music and time. The result is a talk that will explore rhythms and action within the design of the gameworld (mainly first and third person games…mainly platform games), and how we can understand time and rhythm as a way of linking player-avatar action.

“Gotta [feel] the beat!”: space, time and rhythms of play

Videogames are inherently spatial. The fictional realm creates a representation of space that we, as players, start to explore and eventually recognise. However, space in videogames is not a fixed entity, instead it can be seen as fluid or ‘recursive’ (Wood 2012). This fluidity comes from player interaction, from the movement of non-player characters, enemy attack combinations and the positioning of objects that need to be manipulated in some form for the player to advance their avatar. Spatial configurations cannot only be seen as sites to be overcome, but sites of interaction and problem solving.

However, in order to fully understand spatial configurations in videogames, we also need to understand the influence of time on the spaces of play. Time in the gameworld can be seen as separate from the time we play in, and games present temporal constructs in various ways (Juul 2005). It is this intersection between various times and spaces, be they real or virtual, that rhythms of action are created. As Lefebvre (2004) notes, “Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, time and an expenditure of energy, there is a rhythm”. As players, we map out gameworlds through repetitive actions, through the rituals inherent in solving puzzles (Gazzard and Peacock 2011) and receiving rewards and the cycles of action that so commonly allow us to progress our avatars through gamespaces of various kinds. Similarly we negotiate our avatars via a combination of ‘prospect’ and ‘refuge’ (Appleton 1996) across the game’s landscape in order to progress.

This talk traces the rhythms of real world actions, from walking labyrinths and mazes through to the rhythms inherent in various platform games. In doing so, it recognises the body of the player as part of the flow of rhythm between real and virtual realities. The body is often seen as a way of maintaining rhythms outside of the gameworld, moving as a resultant of onscreen action (Swalwell 2008). Yet the player’s physical body as a construct in space can be seen to maintain a separate rhythm from the avatar’s controlled movements in the game. Here the avatar acts as a way of measuring spatial/temporal rhythms as paths are negotiated and gaps in platforms are jumped. By tracing these rhythms both inside and outside of the digital gameworld we can start to further explore the influence of time on our interpretation of game spaces.


  • Appleton, J. (1996) The Experience of Landscape, London: Wiley.
  • Juul, J. (2005) Half-Real: videogames between real rules and fictional worlds. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Gazzard, A. and Peacock, A. (2011) Repetition and Ritual Logic in Videogames. Games and Culture. 6(6).
  • Lefebvre, H. (2004) Rhythamanalysis London.: Continuum.
  • Swalwell, M. (2008). Movement and Kinaesthetic Responsiveness: A Neglected Pleasures in Swalwell, M and Wilson, J. (eds.) The Pleasures of Computer Gaming. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.
  • Wood, A. (2012) Recursive Space: play and creating space. Games and Culture. 7(1)


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