Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design
In sociology identity is a construct that encompasses a person's group affiliations and social roles, whereas in psychology it refers to the collection of idiosyncratic characteristics that comprise someone's personality. There is not a strict distinction between the two definitions, and both disciplines will employ aspects of either depending on the context in which researchers are studying identity. Identity is not static, but rather aspects of identity can change over time. When a person is born, their identity is constructed as they grow up by the people around them; their family, classmates, community, etc. These group affiliations include, but are not limited to, nationality, culture, language, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexuality and socio-economic background. A person may internalize their affiliations and their identity will remain relatively stable throughout their lives, whereas others may set aside initial affiliations and roles in favor of others as they age. Similarly, aspects of a personality, including how they feel about their social roles, can also change over time. It is important to note that while identity and self are closely linked, they are separate constructs.
As media video games employ ideas of identity in various ways, whether they are used to help frame a character in a narrative, or to allow players to represent themselves as an avatar, or even to allow them to imagine themselves as someone else.
We explore and construct our identities based on experience, including interactions with various forms of media, such as games. Image from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
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.
The Sims is the iconic life simulator. The game allows you to create avatars, manage their behaviors, customize and improve their houses and play out their social interactions.
A person's sociological identity is comprised of their group affiliations, many of which change over time. Designers should take this into account when they are deciding on audience to target. Teenagers ages 13 - 18, for example, is an incredibly broad demographic, with many dimensions formed around age, culture and socio-economic background. There are certainly assumptions that the designers can take for granted when designing particular group, but others must be scrutinized, particularly when trying to construct broad appeal.
Although people often place a lot of emphasis on their group affiliations, they do not strictly adhere to all of the expectations of those affiliations as they are imperfect, complicated social categories. This is also tied to a person's identity from a psychological stand point, in which their individual characteristics help form their views on various their social roles. It is important to avoid reducing players and characters to their identities.
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