Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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The idea of Representation refers to the way people of different identity groups or their cultural symbols are depicted in media and how that depiction is in conversation with the broader cultural discourse of a society. It is concerned with the development of of characters, the use of identity as frame, as well as the use of stereotypes and tropes. It is also concerned with which identities are represented, and which are not, and what effect that has on the the beliefs of the media consumer.

Lens of Representation

By being aware of the broader cultural conversations around the depiction of different identities, designers can create more nuanced characters and stories, and avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes.

POC elves 2 by lesueurpeas

Focusing Questions

* Who is going to be depicted in your video game?

* In what ways is that person/ group going to be depicted?

* In what ways is your game similar to other games and media in terms of representation? In what ways is it different?

* How are various identities important to your game's characters?

* How might you craft characters that are informed by identity in a nuanced way?

Can be instantiated by




Gone Home

Spoilers Gone Home is a first-person, exploration-based interactive narrative that puts you in the role of a sister visiting her parents home for the first time after traveling through Europe. As the experience unfolds, you learn about your younger sister's experience in high-school and the developing relationship with her girlfriend. The narrative largely revolves around your sister's coming to terms with her sexuality.

Walking Dead

The Walking Dead exists in the same universe as the graphic novel and T.V. series, but it follows the the journey of Lee Everette. Lee is an black man trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic Southern United States. His identity as an African-American isn't the central to the narrative, it informs how the other character see and interact with him, adding a level of complexity to the story. He is never defined by this identity, but it is very important to his character.


People look for meaningful representations of their identities in media.

People identify with characters depicted in media for a variety of reasons, but they often look for characters who are like them, who share aspects of their identity. They want to have their identities acknowledged and fairly portrayed. It is important to include depictions of identities that have largely been ignored or misrepresented in media to facilitate a broader sense of understanding across cultural identities. This does not mean that every game must, or even should, include representations of all identity groups, but designers should consider including characters from under-represented identity groups. This is particular applicable for games with large casts of characters.

People dislike seeing their identity depicted as a stereotype or a part of problematic tropes in media.

No one enjoys a their identity represented as a stereotype, nor do they appreciate have their identities employed as part of a tired and problematic trope, such as the damsel in distress trope. It is important for game designers to be aware of the cultural contexts in which these stereotypes and tropes exist, and to be careful of obliviously employing them. Putting a positive spin on this consideration, players want to see characters who represent aspects of their identity depicted fairly and as fleshed out personalities. This doesn't mean that every character has to be “good”, just complex and human. Moreover, characters should be invested with agency, and designers should be careful in how they curtail this agency, not just as part of a problematic trope or a plot device. Also, everyone wants to be the protagonist from time to time.

The use of cultural symbols is complicated.

Symbols are fraught with connotations, and come with cultural baggage. It is often unclear how a symbol, such as a type of jewelry from a particular culture, fits in to the broader cultural discourse your game participates in. Is it working towards positive representation or adding to the stereotyping of a group of people? These are hard questions that often do not have a straightforward answer, but it is worthing engaging with them. It is important to maintain an open dialogue with members of the cultural group your game seeks to represent.


Allison Bechdel Test




Motivations: Identity

Motivations: Self



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lenses/lens_of_representation.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/19 06:16 by rlumsden