BreMM19 | Stamenković & Wildfeuer

Dušan Stamenković & Janina Wildfeuer
University of Niš | Niš, Serbia
University of Groningen | Groningen, The Netherlands

Constraining the Open World: A Multimodal Empirical Approach to GTA V’s Game Modes

Following the procedure of identifying elements and semiotic modes on canvases of real-time video games presented in Bateman et al. (2017), the present paper aims at building a semiotic repository of Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North 2013) in order to systematically and empirically analyse the ways in which various semiotic elements are employed in the game’s modes. With this, the paper particularly tackles the challenge of addressing the immense range of meaning-making elements in complex audio-visual and interactive artefacts. By providing insights into a specific case study, it will exemplarily discuss how such an empirical endeavour can be met with well-developed and robust analytical frameworks evolving from the cooperation of game studies and multimodal semiotics.  

One of the many reasons why the action-adventure video game Grand Theft Auto V became the third-best-selling video game of all time with over 95 million copies shipped worldwide is definitely its immensely rich open world design, which invokes a degree of ergodic work by the players, partly stirred by the depiction of the real world in the game (Rambusch and Susi 2008). Although the open gameworld lets players roam freely, the game’s progress depends on completing the main story missions, as well as a set of side objectives and activities – all of these contain aspects that (at least) temporarily constrain the world’s freedom by means of visual (both textual and graphic) and auditory features that get imposed on the usual gameworld elements.

In order to be able to capture this richness of the GTA V world, our empirical multimodal approach ensures a wide scope of the analysis that allows to first extract and explore the possible semiotic options present in the game. As a next step, it identifies missions in which different combinations of these modes are used and classifies them in accordance with these combinations. The results will reveal the complexity of the seemingly smooth gameplay and present different ways in which an open world can be constrained for the sake of providing a structured and ludic notion of progress.

Our long paper presentation will thus show both a corpus method for compiling the Grand Theft Auto V’s semiotic repository as well as a methodologically tailored research practice for analysing this repository with regard to the specific meaning-making functions of the semiotic elements in the gameworld environment.


Bateman, John A., Wildfeuer, Janina and Hiippala, Tuomo (2017), Multimodality: Foundations, Research and Analysis A Problem-Oriented Introduction, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and Boston.

Rambush, Jana and Susi, Tarja (2008), The challenge of managing affordances in computer game play, Human IT 9, 83–109.

Rockstar North (2013), Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar Games, New York.


Dušan Stamenković is an assistant professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Niš, a researcher at the Center for Cognitive Sciences, and the current Head of the Language Cognition Lab. His research interests include cognitive approaches to linguistics, metaphor comprehension, multimodality, comics and video games studies, as well as contrastive linguistics and translation studies. He published over fifty articles, one monograph and co-authored one textbook.

Janina Wildfeuer is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Information Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen, NL. She conducts research on film, comics, and other multimodal documents within several projects exploring the notion of multimodal discourse. Her publications include several monographs and edited collections on the analysis of multimodal artefacts and performances from various perspectives, often combining qualitative and quantitative approaches and theoretical and empirical issues.

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