Implicit & Explicit Information
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
There is implicit information everywhere.. Hints that guide us through our everyday life. In game worlds we need to take extra care with these hints so that nothing is misleading.
Implicit information is when you want the player to notice something or go somewhere but you are not given 100% clear directions and are instead guided with world building, guiding lights and other composition tricks.. "Find a tall man with a hat"
Explicit information is when you state the player goal with on-screen text and/or UI markers.
"Go to that big man with a red hat with a way point marker hovering over his head!"
Here we have Mirror's Edge using implicit info in the form of guiding colors to lead the player:
Note that signs and written texts on walls or floors in your game is often regarded as implicit information even if they might explicitly state that the player for example is heading the correct way.
In-game text and signs are surprisingly often not noticed by players.
But hold your hat for this one:
If your game successfully establish rules to make it implicit KNOWLEDGE that in-game text matters, then the text becomes EXPLICIT INFORMATION, but if your game is flip-flopping between guiding with HUD way-point markers and in-game text hints, then the player will treat the in-game info as IMPLICIT INFORMATION and sometimes miss or disregard it.
What do I mean by this?
Consider Counter Strike; The game marks routes and bomb spots with spray paint on walls and floors.The in-game texts are considered explicit information and regarded as readable to-the-point guidelines that are 100% true.
The above Counter Strike example works because it pops. It is crudely spray-painted on top of the other texture as if added in later. It becomes a part of the game world while still being more in part of the GAME and less with the WORLD. This is not applicable for all games obviously, but it shows how delicate in-game texts are.
If the spray-painted B instead would have been a more properly integrated sign fitting better with the environment, then a lot of players would miss it in the heat of battle.
The most common thing in games is to use a way point marker to direct the player... It is a bit sad, but also understandable as many games want to be focused and deliver a story without players getting lost and becoming frustrated.
In most cases we WANT to have as much as possible implicitly hinted to guide the player, but sometimes it is hard and we are forced to EXPLICITLY tell them what to do.
Here's a short and sweet tweet with an image on the subject. :)