Teleporters, tunnels & time: Understanding warp devices in videogames

Alison Gazzard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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The warp is a device that reframes notions of time and space. It is a common cultural artefact, one that audiences have come to recognise and believe in through various media. We accept the bed in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the
Tardis in Doctor Who, the supralight speed engines of science fiction, as time/space travel devices in order to get characters from A to B, to advance their progress along the story path. The warp as a path device can also be seen in
board games such as Snakes and Ladders, where both the snake and ladder sections break the linearity of moving the character piece from square to square regularly up and down the game-board. It is therefore natural that such a
time/space device has continued and been reconstructed within videogames.
The virtual gameworld is itself a place able to reconstruct time and space; both Juul [10] and Atkins [3] discuss how players’ perceptions of time and narrative elements within the videogame can be rearranged, but the warp, a significant
‘re-arranger’, is rarely discussed further or in detail. The warp is used as a common device within videogames to transport the player from their location to somewhere else within the gamespace. Although commonly acknowledged
through the hidden tunnels within Super Mario Bros, the warp is not a straightforward device, and can manifest itself in various ways during gameplay. It may be found in deliberately installed puzzles, and by the ‘aberrant player’
[7]. It may be a way of avoiding danger, of ‘jumping’ over sections previously achieved, or even of cheating. It may be the punishment for straying from a ‘good path’, or the reward for a particular act. Whatever its use or function, the
warp exists within the virtual world as a means of managing time, space and narrative. The warp turns paths experienced by the player into fixed ‘tracks’, where navigational control is removed whilst in the warp sequence, and understanding the warp in this way allows us to further understand the player’s relationship with the game paths they are moving along, the stories they move
within. This paper discusses the multiple characteristics of the warp
by identifying its use in contrasting videogame genres. These characteristics open up ways of discussing the aesthetics of the warp experience for the player and how its use affects path structures as well as time and narrative
elements within videogames. The discussion will include both the built in, deliberately installed ‘puzzle-based’ warps and the ‘inadvertent warps’ sought by those seeking to discover more of the games ‘algorithm.’
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of DiGRA2009
PublisherDigital Games Research Association
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventDiGRA2009 - , Netherlands
Duration: 14 Sept 200917 Sept 2009




  • warp
  • space
  • time
  • narrative
  • path


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