Instructor Reflection – Semiotic Domains (7.1)

By Justin Hodgson

The course this project comes from is rather unique in that it is a course on rhetoric and games that draws its readings from rhetoric, games, media studies, and the like. But more importantly, the course itself is designed as a game, with students “playing” their way through a variety of assignment challenges to achieve the grade (i.e., final score) they want. As such, there are four to five different final project types students can pursue–from creating complex interactive images to writing a critical essay. Every now and then, however, one student finds her own path, offers her own final project vision that somehow better reflects what they are taking from the course. This was the case with Krystal, who decided to pursue the Level 6 Interactive Image Project from the course, which is traditionally an image-based web text where the images serve not only as visuals but as concept metaphors for navigating a critical engagement. But Krystal envisioned her project as more interactive than merely a set of links, so she recast that assignment as the making of a video game.

To be fair, she brought a certain game making capacity with her to class–particular in terms of her familiarity with working with different gaming engines–but what she did with the assignment was really quite astonishing. She used a gaming platform to create an experience that would demonstrate James Paul Gee’s concept of semiotic domains, and she did it by modeling the space of our classroom as a conceptual starting point, with the teacher becoming the player who ends up playing the student’s game. Of course, as a participant in the setting which served as inspiration for the game’s environment and design, I found great resonance with the game itself. But the use of the professor, the classroom, and the student game within the game operates is more than just flattering as they serve as the vehicles by which the semiotic domain principle is being presented. What’s more, Krystal doesn’t simply define or describe the semiotic domain principle, rather she offers a way for us to undergo the principle, to experience its tensions and values as a mode of understanding. One play through the game and it is easy to see why a web text, even one rooted in image-based interactions, wasn’t going to be sufficient to fulfill the vision Krystal had for this project–and I’m glad she decided to pursue her own path on this assignment.