Defining a Digital Landscape: Sims

JB Jackson says in his piece “landscape is not scenery, it is not a political unit; it is really no more than a collection, a system of man-made spaces on the surface of the earth.” By this definition nearly everything could be a landscape. Adding the word digital to this definition gives me a working definition of a digital landscape.

Digital Landscape: a collection or system of man-created spaces in the digital world

Many a computer and online game has been created based on this definition of a digital landscape. They aimed to allow people to create their own landscape, an ideal of their life or a complete removal from the everyday. They are incredibly popular (see the hours my brother spends playing Minecraft) and have been for a long time. My favorite childhood computer games were all surrounded around creating digital landscapes of my owns. Ones that, had it been real life, would never have been financially (and in some cases humanly) possible. My personal favorites were Roller Coaster Tycoon and Sims (the original). They both allowed me to create a collection of spaces and objects that existed in my own landscape. I was able plant elaborate gardens, build water rides and build mansions in days without having to work with a budget (Rosebud;; for the win!).

However, the best example of this definition for a digital landscape is Sims. Sims allows you to literally build your own world online. You can build houses, create new people, interact with other characters, add to the world. The complete ability to not only create physical structures like walkways, walls and furniture, but also to create lives of digital avatars makes it the truest digital landscape.

What I find interesting about Sims as a digital landscape is the evolution of the game from a true CD single computer game to an online world. This transition enhanced it’s presence as a digital landscape in the evolving digital space. As an original Sims player I see that as a true form of expression in a digital landscape because the spaces and structures I created were made for my own amusement and creative expression. By the time Sims moved to an online game it became more of an interactive game. People are able to co-create a digital landscape, which enhances allows the game to keep its definition as a landscape.

Perhaps that is the key behind this definition of a digital landscape, it’s always evolving. As technology and digital capabilities move forward so too does the definition of a digital landscape. In the current digital industry it is not enough to merely build a world on your own computer, it must be a world that is co-created or at least co-viewed. It must be a digital landscape in every sense of the term.