This week’s adventure in MOOCing centers around creating a user persona, running that user persona through a qualitative data gathering exercises, and then creating our second user journey of the class. So…basically…creating and manipulating a fictional person. Seems simple enough, right?
Apparently not, and I knew that going into this class. I have a long history of struggling with the concept of developing personas. A persona a fictional person you create who might use the product you’re working on, whom you can then place into context with the product you’re using and play with how they might interact with the product. But it’s a fictional “real person”, somebody who could really exist, and I don’t even believe in real person fan fiction. (I got forced into collaborating on one years ago, and that’s one of many things I will never forgive that person for doing to me.)
What’s funny, though, is that I have no problem creating fictional “fake people”, or what we call “characters”. I’ve done it for years. I can create a whole cast of characters for stories. I can help someone brainstorm a character for their own stories. I’ve created PCs (playable characters) and NPCs (non-player characters) for tabletop RPGs and LARPs. People have paid me to create people who don’t exist. I don’t suck at it.
For some reason, though, while my brain can create a battle-hungry princess and her fabulous war unicorn on the spot, it shuts down when asked to create the person who would play a slumber party mystery game aimed at tweens. I can’t even get to deciding that the persona is a ten-year-old girl. Honestly. It’s awful.
And it shouldn’t happen. Regardless of where the character is being used, it’s just that – a character. A figment of someone’s imagination being set into a given context in a given storyworld. Period. And people will be watching the persona for the purposes of drawing off information, but they do that with characters, too. To think of personas and characters as separate activities is to build a false wall for yourself, and to unnecessarily stunt your creative work.