Our third CATS session was all about Semiotics. More specifically, it covered the basics of semiotics and how they can be applied to Games.
We first of all went into the definition of semiotics. The OED definition of Semiotics is “The study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation”. To put it more simply, it is the process of analysing signs and symbols. After this was discussed, we looked into specifics as to what exactly our interests were in the study of semiotics. We are interested in looking into relationships between words, images and ideas. It is also important to look into the relationship of language and image. To conclude upon the definition of semiotics, we discussed more in detail about how semiotics work. We concluded that semiotics is only concerned with how meanings are produced. Quality of work does not come into it. Semiotics discusses how meanings are constructed and how meanings could have differed by deconstructing the works into component signs.
At this point, we looked into how semiotics can be useful for Games Design.
We were shown a picture of Mario from the Nintendo DS installment of the Super Mario Bros series.
In this picture, Mario has collected the Mega Mushroom power-up to become a giant. Mario is stomping on a pipe, which breaks it in half and you can see that he is stomping on Goombas. This, combined with the size of Mario symbolises Mario’s strength and power whilst under the influence of the Mega Mushroom. Mario is moving from left to right which symbolises advancement throughout the level. Mario’s “enemies” are moving towards him, which could symbolise them moving towards their death, perhaps unaware of what is about to happen.
This, perhaps, is taking the image far too literally, but it illustrates an example of how exactly we can apply semiotics to games.
We then looked into the history of Semiotics and discussed its origins. We looked into the beginnings of consideration of language and interpretation by Plato and Aristotle. After this, we looked into the ideas from St Augustine and John Locke. St Augustine’s idea was that there is a relationship between words and our own mental images of these words. John Locke wrote an essay called “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in 1690, which covered consideration of the relationship of mental and private meanings of words.
At this point, we started to look more into the key thinkers of Semiotics, as follows:
Ferdinand de Saussure was born in 1857 in Geneva, Switzerland. Saussure is most famous for his lectures in general linguistics at the University of Geneva and also as one of the founding fathers of semiotics. His teachings were considered so important that his students published his works using their own lecture notes after his death. He was Interested in the state of language. This is defined as “An understanding of the conditions for existence of any language”.
Saussure was important as he was the first person to recognise that there was two sides to a sign. The “Signifier” (material component of the sign) and the “Signified” (concept of what the signifier stands for). He called this a “dyad”.
Charles Sanders-Peirce was born in 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Sanders-Peirce is most famous for logic, mathematics, semiotics and also the founding of pragmatism.
Peirce was important as he discovered that there is a three-way relation between the sign, object and interpretant. Peirce identified three categories for a sign to deal with this. Icon, Symbol and Index, defined as such:
Icon – “Where the sign relates to its object in some resemblance with it.”
Symbol – “Where the sign relates to its object by means of convention alone.”
Index – “Where the sign relates to its object in terms of causation.”
To conclude, we were given a group task to read images using semiotics. We were put into groups of around three or four and had to look at a given image and analyse the use of signs and symbols/symbolism within the image. My group was given this advertisement for a James Bond branded fragrance for men.
We analysed the image and found a few things that could be analysed further. The male figure in the advert is wearing dark colours and you cannot see his face. We decided that this could be saying that “you could be this man” to a potential customer. We also recognised that the advert used the very famous “007” logo for James Bond. This could allow a potential customer to identify the brand at a glance and may spark their interest further.
To finish the session, we were set a task to complete a “worksheet” on Semiotics. You can find my completed worksheet by clicking here.
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