Ideal and Implied Gamers

Corvus Elrod recently discussed the role of the gamer, and proposed the idea of an Ideal Gamer, a conceptual person who replaces “genre” as the guiding light of the innovative game designer. Elrod is currently tracking down Umberto Eco’s The Role of the Reader and meditating on the importance of player expectation to the game happening - a kind of Gamer Response Theory.

Player expectation is dear to my heart, and the description of an “Ideal Gamer” makes me reach for my Dictionary of Narratology by Gerald Prince:

Implied Reader
The audience presupposed by the text; a Real Reader’s second self (shaped in accordance with the Implied Author’s values and cultural norms). The Implied Reader of a text must be distinguished from its real reader. In the first place, the same real reader can read texts presupposing different audiences (and let himself or herself be shaped in accordence with different implied authors’ values and norms)…..
(Booth, 1983, Genette, 1983)

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Following Booth and Genette’s descriptions, I’d suggest the term “Implied” rather than “Ideal” Gamer. By analogy, a Real Designer sits down and imagines an Implied Gamer, and then designs a game that will imply to the Real Gamer what sort of gamer is the type who would enjoy this game. That Real Gamer may already be the sort to enjoy the game - or may take the hint and decide to become the sort of player that would enjoy it, in sympathy with the perceived goals of the imagined Implied Designer….

So how does changing the term relate to Elrod’s critique of genre? In the “implied” model, genres are sets of assumptions that precede the design (“the genre is whatever my Implied Gamer is already expecting”) and precede the gameplay (“genre is whatever my Implied Designer probably expects of me”) - and during the design and play process, those expectations are sometimes confirmed and sometimes broken. Because genre is the point of departure, it remains important even for highly unconventional work - as the thing you were expecting, the originality of the design or the play could be described as the extent to which you don’t get it.

Taking a step back, the Implied Gamer is probably a specific case of the more general Implied User of interactive systems of all kinds - and in industry, one generally accepted term for an imagined user (who you might want to imply, or alternately ward off) is a “persona” - a good article on personas is Dan Saffer’s Persona Non Grata (Adaptive Path, August 17, 2005).

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