Tolkien meets GTA
by Laura Bien
What's the ominous whirlpool in the three-by-two-foot paper Words of Warcraft map in the Graduate Library's eighth-floor Map Library?
"Oh, that's just a maelstrom," says library information specialist Charlotte Franklin. As chaotic natural features go, she explains, maelstroms are a pretty popular feature in online computer games. Then she overviews the character orientations that WoW players can choose. "You can be with the forces of good paladins with glowy eyes and all. Or you can be on the death side and cast plagues on people and stuff. It's all good."
Maps of places that don't exist highlight the Map Library's April "Third Thursday" social mapfest. The event features forty to fifty maps related to board and computer games, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own.
This rich, diverse exhibit ranges from a prim seventeenth-century French geography card quiz game to maps from the violent computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Map puzzles are also represented, including a puzzle of the Paris Métro and a wooden puzzle depicting a 1906 rendition of Michigan's Lower Peninsula that makes it look like a soggy oven mitt.
Maps of fantasy realms range from archetypical row-of-pointy-mountains, ribbony-serifs Lord of the Rings-style maps to a Guild Wars map evoking Google Earth realism. Some of the exhibit's most charming, rough-hewn maps pertain to such old-school computer games as the Legend of Zelda and the pioneering walk-through fantasy game Myst. "There was a time when you had a hard time finding a computer powerful enough to play Myst," says Franklin. "Now, it's hard to find one old enough to play it."
Map Library information resources specialist Timothy Utter says his favorite is the French card game, which dates to 1669. Preserved as an uncut sepia paper sheet of several dozen cards, the game assigns one suit to one of four major geographical regions, with hearts for Europe and clubs for the Americas. Each card asks one quiz question about the rivers,
mountains, or other geographical features of that region, in delicate copperplate script.
Fancy script also appears on the large paper map of the fictional world Aarklash. A sprawling continent is peppered with cities whose names are rendered in calligraphy in various styles, evoking a range of imaginary cultures.
Some maps are not just renderings of imaginary worlds, but game pieces, such as a map showing a Lord of the Rings version of Risk (above). The work offers a stylized version of the classic LOTR maps, which originally were drawn by author J. R. R. Tolkien's son Christopher.
The maps, along with detailed, artistic screenshots from the computer games associated with them, will be on display at the Map Library's "Third Thursday" Map Night on April 17.
[Review published April 2008]