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What is a game world? Doors, keys and… good legs

Part of: The Semiotics of Video Games exhibition.

The semiotics of Video Games

Text by Dario Compagno, Ph.D. in Semiotics at the University of Siena, Italy

This is the introduction of an annex discussion to the Semiotics of Video Games exhibition. It was led by Dario Compagno on Facebook in October 2010. Please visit the discussion page to see the reactions, and don’t hesitate to post yours.

Computer games are often set into small worlds that resemble our own. The intelligibility of the game also lies in the act of grasping its physics at a glance, and on the fact that we can tell the difference between what is “alive” and what is just an obstacle, and the difference between obstacles and simple decorations. We need to immediately recognise what is “bad” (usually what we should avoid or fight) and what is “good” (especially the level’s goal).

We should consider the “logical” structure behind the game. This structure has to be made visible to players through the small world’s objects and characters. Keys and doors are prototypical objects that immediately “show” the game’s logical structure. Whenever a player finds a keys, he/she knows that a door is hidden somewhere, and a closed door is “waiting” to be opened with the right key. Platforms are a main game genre whose logics have somehow infected all or most of the other genres. In platforms, the role of everything is straightforward. Another classic game genre is puzzle games, in which the logical structure for completing a level may be highly elaborated, but this often turns the game’s small world into nothing but a decoration (and so losing all the advantages of immediate recognition that a good set has).

I would like to launch a discussion about two games that question the straightforward nature of platforms and make us ask ourselves what a game world really is, by putting its logical structure on the surface: Shift (2008) by Armor Games and Continuity (2009) by students from the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.

Shift, Armor Games, 2008
Continuity, students from the Chalmers University of Technology, 2009

Next: Questions blocks – How to make two worlds collide?

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