When I was young, I often wondered about the worlds of the video games I played. Given only sparse information and basic “defeat the bad guy” plots, games were semi-open canvases for me to speculate. This desire is what led me to my earliest internet communities—video game fanfiction sites. Over the years, I began to notice a general distinction for anyone looking to explore beyond what’s available in their favorite works, between those where a bit of exploration reveals mountains of supplementary canon information, and those where the details remain sparse.
I once attributed the difference in fan involvement for filling in the blanks to just a natural consequence of the works themselves. Video game plots were simpler in an age before RPGs and cut-scenes were everywhere, right? More recently, however, I’ve been considering how the two avenues—abundance vs. dearth of information—appeal to different types of fans, and how more and more creative works purposely aim for one or the other (and sometimes even both, if they can manage it).
The “abundance” examples are many, as seen in lore-dense properties such as the Type Moon universe, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien fantasy. My personal favorite example from yesteryear is the Street Fighter Plot Guide on GameFAQS by Tiamat, because it’s for a universe that is otherwise pretty simple (as fighting game narrative tend to be), and it involves a healthy amount of fan extrapolation by Tiamat. On the “dearth side,” there’s Touhou and Overwatch, which invite fans in to elaborate on characters and character relationships. Broadly speaking, the former appeals to “sculptor”-type fans, while the latter appeals to “builder”-type fans. Sculptor I would define as those who like to reshape what’s already there, while builders prefer raw materials to weave their own elaborate ideas. Both types can make fan stories, but their differences lead to the two classic modes of Star Trek fanfic: the “hard SF” technical explorations, and the “softer” character-building and relationship works. Not that I think of those distinctions as rigid and wholly separate, of course.
An entire character profile and running joke was based on the Touhou character Cirno being labeled “baka” in an instruction manual.
While I am admittedly no expert on The iDOLM@STER, I’ve noticed that both researchers and builders exist within that fandom, possibly stemming from a generation divide of sorts. The original iDOLM@STER games were very involved experiences, where players interacted heavily with their idols. Roughly equivalent to a more animated visual novel format with some RPG elements, players could learn extensively about the characters’ histories, likes and dislikes, and generally explore the idols as fleshed-out individuals. At some point, however, The iDOLM@STER also became prominent as a series of mobile games where that active RPG aspect takes a backseat to more simplified story modes. Here, the visual impact of character designs can matter much more. For fans, especially those who have limited access to all The iDOLM@STER media, “headcanon” expression is a somewhat common Twitter activity.
Take for example the character of Tokiko Zaizen. Based on her appearance alone, one gets the idea of Tokiko being a sadist/dominatrix type, but the fans take that a step further.
Not all fans fall into either the “dearth” or “abundance”-favoring categories. Some prefer to take the story as-is, and then aim for criticism over speculation. Others might dip their toes into both of those worlds. Whatever the fan approach, the ability for fans to thrive in whatever space is left for them speaks to a kind of flexibility in what it means to be enthusiastic about the creative media we consume.