Spatial Segmentation

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The division of the gameworld into different spaces, when this division also partitions gameplay.

Spatial segmentation results from the division of the gameworld into different spaces when this division also partitions gameplay. In these cases the gameworld is not presented as a continuous whole, but rather as distinct subspaces that are navigated separately, and may even have their own special rules. Each subspace may be larger than what can be displayed on the screen; what matters is whether they are distinguished as separate locations, as well as whether there are gameplay restrictions or differences between each location. In referencing a strong sense of spatial segmentation, it is important that the player perceives that he is participating in a virtual space larger than its onscreen representation, and that this space is traversed in parts. A series of disconnected screens that bear no sense of relationship could be considered an example of spatial segmentation, albeit a weak one.

The affordances of technology allow spatial segmentation to be common in videogames, and rare – if at all existent – in non-videogames. Computers can efficiently and cheaply store the data needed to represent expansive virtual worlds, as well as generate gameworlds procedurally (Murray). Storing the information needed to represent large worlds, as well as the different rules for each segment, is relatively easy for computers. On the other hand, the spatial aspects of non-videogames are usually hampered by the limitations of actual physical space. Consider the problems of building a boardgame with 40 separate square boards, each having an area of one square meter, or a basketball court 20 kilometers in length.


Strong Examples

Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3

In Yoshi’s island, there are six so-called “worlds”, which contain eight levels each. Each level is thematically distinct from the other, not only in the representation, but also in the type of enemies you have to face – some levels will only have shy guys as your enemies, others they’ll be crammed with Koopas, or there will be Piranha Plants; castle levels will be haunted by boos (ghosts), and will also have some sections with lava. The configuration of the level can also change—from straightforward plataforming, to racing against big boulders, to moving plataforms that spin with or without your weight. Even though the props and entities may repeat from level to level, their combination and the configuration of the space make each level distinct from the others.

The sense of level is reinforced by the existence of a menu screen that shows which levels the player has completed, and offers the possibility of going back to those levels and playing them again. This menu offers a map where the player can see the continuity of the gameworld, and how each level relates to the other –in which world it is contained, and which other levels precede and follow it. The player goes back to this menu screen whenever she finishes a level, increasing the sense of independence between the levels.


In Rogue, the player is an adventurer who is exploring a dungeon in search of wealth, power, etc. The entire dungeon corresponds to the gameworld, however the player explores the dungeon one floor at a time. On each floor he may find a staircase that leads him deeper and deeper into the dungeon. In this case, the gameworld has been segmented according to the level of depth within the dungeon. In other words, each floor is a segment of the entire gameworld.

Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI has spatial segmentation in two ways. The first is the way in which there is a large overworld map, consisting of various continents and areas of terrain, as well as towns and caves that can be entered. Each of these areas have different backgrounds, music, enemies to fight, and scenes which continue the storyline. Some areas can only be accessed during certain parts of the game, or by fulfilling certain requirements such as having an airship.

The second type of spatial segmentation in FF6 is the change from one "world" to another. The first half of the game happens in the World of Balance. But after the scenario on the Floating Continent has finished, the next time the player has control is in the World of Ruin, which has distinctly different geographical makeup, background music, and visual presentation from the World of Balance. This spatial segmentation represents an entirely different stage of the game; once the player has reached the World of Ruin, they cannot return to the World of Balance or do anything within that landscape. The player is then effectively forced into the second half of the game by being put into a completely restructured world.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger presents spatial segmentation in the multiple worlds the player must navigate the characters through. In this game, the multiple worlds are represented through the differant time periods the characters travel to either through time portals or time travel ship. Each respective world has its own type of environment, enemies, and items. The premise of the game itself requires the player to travel to the various worlds to complete various missions that tie up the narrative as a whole.

Chrono Trigger also presents spatial segmentation through the two differant game areas of the world map and a specific area. In the world map, the player can only move to the differant areas stationed throughout the world map. Within a given area, a player takes the characters to actually face enemies, talk to other computer-operated characters, buy items, and progress through the narrative.

Weak Examples


XIII is a FPS for PC, with a visual style similar to that of a comic book (cel-shading). It uses the same break points as comic books, relying on narrative segmentation to break up the story into levels and spatial segmentation to separate different missions.

Burger Time

In this classic arcade game, the player has to make the ingredients to make burgers drop to the bottom, avoiding the enemy sausages and fried eggs on the way. This game is a platformer, where the player climbs up and down ladders—every level presents a different configuration of platforms, ladders, and ingredients. However, there is not a strong spatial relationship between every level; the player does not have the impression that she’s progressing from one space to the next, but rather that it’s the same space and the different elements have been re-arranged. This is why we could consider Burger Time a weak example of spatial segmentation.

Unreal Tournament

Unreal tournament is a first person shooter originally for PC. The player must kill all enemies, amassing a certain amount of kills, before progressing to the next level. The game is divided up into different levels and thus spatially segmented, but the enemies and gameplay remain mostly unchanged from level to level.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology




Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3. Nintendo (2002) Nintendo: GBA (also SNES 1995)

Burger Time. Midway (1982) Bally Midway: Arcade.