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Surveillance City: Living on the Mirrors Edge

Editor's Note: Alexei Othenin-Girard is an on-line game designer living in the bay area. He thinks,

"games are just starting to develop their own language of design, and are borrowing pretty heavily from visual arts (Braid is basically an impressionist video game,) and also trying to move past that to find their own language." 

Today he brings us a special article about a new game that, as architects, designers and artists concerned with our built environment, proposes a truly terrifying urban scenario.


I am fascinated by virtual worlds. Mirror's Edge is an interesting case, it's a virtual world with an emphasis on virtual architecture. Mirror's Edge contrasts the smooth, surfaces of the facades and landscapes of public architectures in the game (plazas, malls,) with the bumpy, hidden architectures (alleyways, rooftops) that make up the majority of the environments that players actually traverse. It's not the first game with good art direction, but it may be the first game with a coherent (and meaningful) sensibility of interior and exterior design.

Through cropped views and impersonal vistas, the game imagines a surveillance society where civil liberties have long been abandoned in favor of perceived safety. It's the unwatched parts of the city that allow the player to move freely across the face of the city, literally jumping from rooftop to rooftop, escaping the cops.

What's interesting is that the "public" architecture doesn't look much different from what you'd see in any given downtown city. The Shard, especially, which is the center of the "public" power structure, is a faceless glass monolith that manages to look both imposing and generic. You could imagine walking past it daily without noticing, which is precisely why it works as a symbol of the implacable, authoritarian control that proliferates under the guise of "safety."

In today's climate of fear and paranoia  the only locations where we can be truly free from observation are the places in a city that are behind the scene or somehow off limits to our everyday existence

Reader Comments (2)

Generic Mirror glass facades found in CBDs and office parks across America, and now around the world, represent the apotheosis of surveillance architecture... views out, but no views in. Until nighttime that is: I wonder how the Mirror's edge represents Night?

Disembodied views of surveillance cameras are another important new way of seeing to acknowledge; the film "Cache" comes to mind. Does a tree fall in the city if no one is there to see it? Not in court.

01-9-2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom

"In today's climate of fear and paranoia the only locations where we can be truly free from observation are the places in a city that are behind the scene or somehow off limits to our everyday existence"

I find this to be a very valid statement. It makes me think about what these "off limit" places are. Rooftops, alleyways, mechanical spaces, etc...all places unintended for human presence. In today's age of paranoid security these places are being considered where they were previously ignored leaving little available as truly off limit or spaces free from observation. What is left?

I also find this an interesting and extreme example of people (ie. users) being reprogrammed for the built environment instead of vice versa. I'm sure somewhere someone has a vision for the next video game wherein humans have physically adapted to meet their new role as urban monkeys.... sounds like a good idea for Mirror's Edge 2.....

01-11-2009 | Unregistered Commenterg_a

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