The right to the virtual city

This paper uses Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial triad and his concept of The Right to the City (1968) to categorise open-world video games as contested virtual spatial experiences, interconnected with the non-virtual spaces in which they are produced and played and replete with the same spatial, capital forces of alienation to be negotiated and maintained. We do so using qualitative gameplay data (n=15), unpacking players’ journeys through Lefebvre’s conceived, lived and perceived spaces, to show, respectively, how open-world games are (1) fundamentally about space, (2) spaces interconnected with the non-virtual world and (3) disruptive spatial experiences. When critically reading games as spaces, we unearth further opportunities to value games in society, to understand games industries, and to ‘tell about society’ (Becker 2007), or teach, using games. In utilising the phrase The Right to the Virtual City, we evoke the same forces of commodification and capitalism to which Lefebvre spoke, positioning open-world video games as opportunities to challenge spatialized inequalities – and promoting further research into games as spatial, pedagogic, and learning experiences.

Jack Denham is a senior lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at York St John University. His work focuses on the field of Cultural Criminology, the sociology of consumption, and death. Most recently, he has been looking at violence consumed through video games.

Matthew Spokes is a senior lecturer in Sociology at York St. John University. His research focuses primarily on the relationship between interactive media, death and spatial theory. He is currently working on a book exploring video gaming and the sublime, which will be available early in 2020.