1. Playing with Identity
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. 31 1 PlayingwithIdentity DESIGNED IDENTITY REVISITED Central to this book is an imaginary player. Let’s call her “Jennifer.” Jennifer is white, in her thirties, middle class, and lives in Wisconsin. She is a busy mother who doesn’t have a lot of time to play video games but likes to fill in extra gaps of time in her everyday life. She doesn’t want something too complicated, or violent, but she also doesn’t want something boring. Jennifer has complex tastes. While she is not real, I did not invent her. “Jennifer” is a player type referenced by Storm8 chief creative officer Tim LeTourneau as the targeted audience for the company’s popular game Restaurant Story 2.1 Jennifer is both real and imaginary. She is a fictional identity built off the lived experiences of many players, yet she helps to illustrate the way that women players can be designed.2 In the introduction of this book, I proposed a definition for my term designed identity: designed identity is a hybrid outcome of industry conventions , textual constructs, and audience placements in the design and structure of video games. In this way, designed identity is always an ideological construction—­ it is not something that is planned or motivated in clear-­ cut ways. It is a result of larger social structures and expectations. These expectations, in turn, seep into game texts. Designed identity is not a term meant to issue blame to game designers, artists, creators, advertisers, or others involved in the video game industry . It seems important to state this simply and clearly because blame is surely tempting. The targets of this blame would likely fall to the most obvious suspect: the creators. Given this, it is worth noting that nowhere in my definition is there anything explicit or implicit about game designers , marketers, artists, or creators. The three major factors contributing 32 . PLAYING WITH IDENTITY to designed identity are (1) industry conventions, (2) textual constructs, and (3) audience placements. While each of these elements is a result of a series of individual decisions and choices, they speak to larger cultural issues that ultimately manifest in game design and advertising. Designed identity functions ideologically—­ it is about idealizing an assumed audience and reformatting that audience in an understandable and digestible way. The analyses throughout this book are meant to operationalize designed identity, specifically in terms of video games that are designed for the player I characterize as Player Two. Player Two is not a real audience , but rather a perceived one, a counterpart to the designed identity necessitated by market-­ driven game design. That is not to imply that games designed for primarily masculine audiences—­ or even gender-­ neutral audiences—­ do not evoke different kinds of designed identity. In many ways, the work that Carly Kocurek3 has done on the identity of the masculine gamer is a similar mode of designed identity. Given this, the terminology is not meant to apply solely to feminine genres, although media meant to appeal to women provides an excellent example of this mode of conceptual design. Just as I explain how designed identity can be applied to Diner Dash or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, other researchers should be able to similarly apply it to design decisions in Call of Duty or Halo. One of the goals of this book is to introduce a conceptual framework that can later be applied to other games and audiences to better understand our current media landscape. Similarly, designed identity is not only about video games.While video games are the medium of focus for this particular work, my aim is to suggest a framework that is transferrable between media.The three major factors of designed identity—­ industry conventions, textual constructs, and audience placements—­ are always at play, and it is through this that we can get a sense of the larger ideologies driving a market. Designed identity is a concept that applies neatly to video games but could just as easily be applied to television, film, books, or other industry constructed modes of mediation. As narrowcasting becomes an increasingly prevalent mode of appealing to niche audiences, it follows that studying how those niche audiences are, themselves, designed is potentially useful. Additionally, while I discuss both video games as well as advertisements throughout this book (although more of the former than the latter ), it is worth being explicit that those who create video games are rarely PLAYING WITH IDENTITY . 33 those who advertise them. Several of the designers who offer...