‘Of Particle Systems and Picturesque Ontologies’, Art Journal, Volume 79, Issue 2, 2020.

Video-game studies is increasingly concerned with the histories and spatial politics of digital worlds. Recent scholarship has located video-game landscape along a historical trajectory that spans Western painting, photography, and Hollywood film—all of which posit the subject as outside the represented scene, looking in. Video games, however, offer the unique experience of being “inside” the scene, and this introduces complexities around questions of landscape, nature, and agency that are shared by similarly interactive historical forms of representation, among which is the c18th Picturesque landscape garden. Although realistic game environments may resemble Picturesque compositions, this essay is concerned not simply with the way that an environment looks, but with how this look is achieved and the questions this raises about the ontological status of nature. Like the Picturesque landscape garden, the video game is not a straightforward representation of external nature. Nor is the player’s agency limited to the perception of autonomy and control within the game; rather, it is distributed, as it was for the visitor to the Picturesque garden, across human subjects, spaces of representation, and the physical world.