The Use of ASCII Graphics in Roguelikes: Aesthetic Nostalgia and Semiotic Difference

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This article explores the semiotics of the “roguelike” genre. Most roguelikes reject contemporary advances in graphical technology and instead present their worlds, items, and creatures as American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters. This article first considers why this unusual graphical style has endured over time and argues that it is an aesthetic construction of nostalgia that positions roguelikes within a clear history of gameplay philosophies that challenge the prevailing contemporary assumptions of role-playing games. It second notes that the semantic code for understanding the ASCII characters in each and every roguelike is different and explores the construction of these codes, how players decode them, and the potential difficulties in such decodings. The article then combines these to explore how such visuals represent potential new ground in the study of game semiotics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalGames and Culture
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2015


  • roguelikes
  • semiotics
  • semantics
  • role-playing games
  • aesthetics
  • nostalgia
  • permadeath
  • rogue
  • nethack
  • decoding

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