Student Reflection – Semiotic Domains (7.1)

By Krystel Baker

Semiotic Domains was a small project created for Dr. Justin Hodgson’s ENG-W 350 interactive images assignment. The purpose of this assignment was to take a concept from the course and present it using an interactive medium. I chose to work with RPG Maker VX Ace because of how easy it was to pick up and start learning. I’ve always been a fan of the pixelated, top-down videogame style (The Legend of Zelda, for example) and I had been playing around with the program in my free time prior to the course. The requirements for the assignment were very flexible, and I was free to explore game design. Though I spent nearly sixty hours creating Semiotic Domains, much of that time was spent researching tutorials on how to use scripts and how to make this-and-that happen. This assignment was a great opportunity to learn more about the program and to learn techniques for game development and basic game progression. The RPG Maker community is so incredibly creative and I owe tons of credit to the script/code writers and sprite artists. I was heavily inspired by Indie RPG games like Undertale by Toby Fox, Ib by Kouri, and To the Moon from Freebird Games.

The game centers around the idea of “Semiotic Domains”, a term originally coined by James Paul Gee, the author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Semiotic domains is a term used to describe how an environment or space, or a “domain”, is based on contextual elements. A classroom is a good example; you would expect neatly-lined desks, the sound of a papers shuffling, the smell of chalk, etc. These are context clues that tell you that “This is a classroom” and allows you to model your behavior accordingly. This particular domain dictates that a student is to sit in a chair and listen to a lecture. In the game, I take the main character and remove them from their semiotic domain (the classroom) and immerse them into new ones where they must adopt to the new rules in order to succeed. Since this was my first game, I could only implement basic tasks – lever pulling, maze navigation, and simple matching – but these small tasks are enough to drive home the idea that even after “completing” one domain, you carry over skills and information into the next. This was the crux of what I was trying to represent within the game.

I intended for the main character to represent Dr. Justin Hodgson, the professor of the course, in order for him to establish an immediate connection between him and the main character. I wanted the adventure to be as personal as possible. The classroom in-game also mimics the real-life classroom where the course was taught. A few classmates have also created character sprites for me to use. This was an incredibly personalized game, specific to the course and its members. In a way, this game exists within the semiotic domain of ENG-W 350 or within the context of gaming education.

I also tried to implement other concepts throughout the game – multimodality (using multiple elements such as music, colored text, NPCs, etc.), options (a game requires active participation), meta-referencing/4th wall-breaking, motivation through taunting (seen predominantly within the maze level) – I tried to weave these concepts into the game’s foundation, since I felt that much of what we covered in class was the basic structure of many, if not all, games. My game is a brief summary of terms and ideas that describe what games are. I hoped to create a meaningful project that would represent what I learned as a student of this course – the many concepts that were discussed and how I could utilize that information to create something that other people could play and experience.