Carnegie Mellon University
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Video Games as Data: Gathering Place-Based Data from Player Exploration in Video Game Environments

posted on 2020-12-08, 22:53 authored by Hannah GundermanHannah Gunderman
This original research was presented at the 2020 Royal Geography Society - Institute of British Geographers Digital Geographies Research Group Symposium (virtual) on July 1st.

Video games provide players an opportunity to explore fantasy worlds, virtual representations of real landscapes, and alternative realities to escape from, and enhance, our daily lives. The 2016 release of Hitman and the 2018 release of Hitman 2 offers players the opportunity to explore in-depth maps of places across the world, including Mumbai (India), Miami (USA), Hokkaido (Japan), Colombia, Paris (France), and Italy. These maps are heavily researched by the game developers, who take great care to closely mimic the real geographical areas on which their maps are based. While the player has objectives they can meet to “win” the mission, they are not required to complete the objectives and can, instead, explore the maps freely. Characteristics of these maps, including NPC (non-player character) dialogue, scenery, clothing, and architecture, all represent data sources which give insight into understanding the geographical area being represented in these missions.

In this 5 minute digital short, I describe how I conceptualize the maps in Hitman and Hitman 2 as data in which we can extract information about the geographical areas being represented. For those who cannot travel to places like Mumbai, Colombia, and Hokkaido, playing these games may offer a chance for the player to gain a better familiarity with these geographical areas from a distance and in a digital capacity. I also offer a caveat for using these maps as data for better understanding a place in lieu of actually visiting there, as these games may perpetuate certain harmful stereotypes about geographical areas.

This record includes the slide deck (in PDF format) and associated script (in PDF format) used during the presentation. The recorded presentation can be seen at the following link at 37:36: