Wednesday, March 3, 2010

S03 - Navigable Space

I find Manovich’s discussion of the distinction between the flaneur and the explorer to be extremely interesting, especially because I think that many examples of navigable space in popular video games today provide us with a flaneur-explorer hybrid rather than a distinct appearance of one archetype or the other. For example, Manovich’s discussion of these two archetypes led me to think about how something such as Second Life functions. While Manovich says that “the user navigating a virtual space assumes the position of the…explorer” rather than the flaneur, I think there are myriad counterexamples that provide that navigable space provides a hybrid of the two. For example, the inherent nature of Second Life assumes interaction amongst users rather than simply individual exploration on the part of each user. Second Life no longer functions as “Second Life” when users try to make themselves either wholly explorer or wholly flaneur. As its name implies, Second Life attempts to be a virtual instance of real life – and just as real life is dependent on both exploration and interpersonal interaction, Second Life relies on the interplay between flaneur and explorer to achieve its true purpose.

Second Life, however, does not purport to provide an exact reality, just a reflection of reality. I think the distinction between flaneur and explorer becomes even more interesting when one considers navigable spaces that are meant to be exact representations of the real world. The first example that came to my mind is how real estate companies provide online “tours” of various properties. The user is now able to act as an explorer of a real location, yet they are not exploring something that is actually real. They must then become a flaneur in order for their exploration to have any ramifications in the real world – they must interact with the agents, sellers, etc. in order to create the interpersonal dynamic required in real estate. Thus the “tour” exists as more than a simulation of the real property, but becomes a necessary aspect of the overall home buying process. Navigable spaces require a flaneur-explorer hybrid when purporting to show an exact reality, while in spaces such as Second Life, the flaneur-explorer hybrid is only incidental.

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