Videogame & Architecture

Ling is a walking-simulator / visual novel / photographic experiment that explores virtual spaces and the photographic medium. It tells the story of a women who confronts her memories of losing what she held most dear, in a mutated dream-space that faintly resembles her childhood home.

Ling began as a written script for a visual novel, which, inspired by my experiences doing ethnographic fieldwork in rural Southwestern China and works of still photography like Chris Marker’s La Jetée, would use black and white photographs, which I took during my fieldwork, instead of illustrations as the visual component. It evolved into a 3D, interactive experience, as I felt that the photographs placed in the story needed a place (space) to “be”. In a spatialized “visual novel”, text is no longer prioritized, and its relationship to photographs becomes mediated by the digital space that the player traverses, generating a different type of experience entirely. When framed and placed “physically” in a 3D space, the photographic images manage to regain their mesmerizing “wholeness”, which the text of a typical visual novel typically destroys by acting as its master.

In my spatial design, I strive to preserve and intensify the qualities of ambiguity, enigmatism, and subtle sensibility that photographs are so good at producing and that so closely mimic our experiences of memory. Thus the spaces that the player traverses bear little direct resemblance to the scenes described in the text or presented in the photographs, which is typically the case in visual novels. Instead, players are constantly asked to make connections between what they are confronted with in the present and the images or texts that they have seen earlier in the gameplay -- a cornfield, a door, or a sound of trains.

It is a work in progress. The first chapter of the game is playable here, available in Simplified Chinese and English (Downloadable, Windows):
Ling by ycb21 (
Ling was awarded first place to receive the Media Arts and Design EXPO24 MicroGrant at the University of Chicago.

The plan of the main segment of the level and the internal details went through multiple iterations. The particular challenge was that, unlike a typical videogame level such as a First-Person Shooter mission, Ling does not have the luxury of using action to control pacing. Therefore, I gradually expanded the level to variate the “terrain” -- controlling ceiling heights, inserting transitional spaces like corridors and stairs, as well as short puzzles.

Next Chapters

The game sequence is planned to be consisting in three sections. In the first section, the character struggles to recollect her memories. In a dream like world, her memories of home is alienated and mutated into a rigid, monumental structure, with fragments scattered across its chambers. In the second section, she wakes up in the city, seeking to forget the past but is constantly confronted with it in a spiraling apartment building. In the final section, the two perspectives merge, and she finally confronts the trauma of her friend’s death and recovers the strength to remember. The second and last chapters are forthcoming.

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