Games as Texts: Semiotic Relationships Between Gameplay and Cutscenes

Dave Jones


Research into the textualities and presentations of games lacks a theoretical exploration of the semiotic structure(s) within games and the roles of such structures in mediating a gaming experience into a potentially meaningful one. In focusing on potential narrativity, theoretical discussions have thus far only skimmed other discussions of representation and the relationship between gameplay, cinematics, and experience.

This paper seeks to understand this semiotic relationship, particularly between diegetic actions, nondiegetic actions, and cutscenes through an analysis of three primary examples: Grand Theft Auto IV (2008), Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008), and Heavenly Sword (2007). Each game utilizes cinematic presentations with different experiential results, all three respectively articulating very different presentations by connecting cutscenes with gameplay through radically different interactive structures. Within these interactive structures, we can identify semiotic strands that establish continually varying levels of immersion by privileging one form gaming experience over another: gameplay, cinematic narrativity, or a balance of the two.