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4 Temperaments - Some Remarks on Gamer Typology
by Alfons Liebermann on 06/19/13 03:41:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

The following thoughts are an offspring of a discussion we had with Andrzej Marczewski and – indirectly – Richard Bartle, both of whom have dealt with the problem of a gamer typology. In addition – once again mediated by Andrzej Marczewski – there are traces of Nicole Lazzaro's typology of fun, "4 keys 2 Fun". Although one cannot find her marks anymore, it is crucial for the underlying reward system.
Presenting our model we do not claim originality but just an extension of some already elaborated gamer typologies. What we can add though is our experience as well as certain theoretical assumptions that guide us.

Gamer Typology

1. Why there is a need for a gamer typology
The biggest advantage is that using such a typology for a reaction system (an AI). On this basis you allow a system to individually respond to different gamer psychologies. Although a common request, this kind of customization is somewhat rare, not because it implies some sophisticated programming but because one has to elaborate a highly flexible model of gamer temperaments, a model that does not cover basic and known prototypes but also the multitude of nuances. Therefore – as Richard Bartle rightfully pointed out - the crucial question of such a classification system does not lie in the listing of possible gamer psychologies but in a sound theoretical foundation.
Here a remark of the famous French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was inspiring. Lacan once noted that the other side of the university discourse is hysteria, and that signification arises where two presumably unlinked signifying chains glide past each other.
One may put it more bluntly: motivation is fed exactly by the things people fight with – and it is this very conflict that becomes the core of the game.
If one reads the model against this background one realizes that the respective gamer psychology is not derived from a certain prototype, but that it points to a conflict which may have many forms (and in which the psychological axes describe the dominant forces).

2. The axes of desire
We have two axes: From the right to the left we have an axis that signifies the polarity between the individual and the collective. It reflects the question as to what extent a gamer entrusts himself to a collective order or whether he feels obliged to act on his own account. One could be tempted to derive certain gamer affinities towards multi-player vs single-player games – but this is an approach that could easily lead to misinterpretations.
The conclusion at least that the POLITICIAN could be identified with the leader of a World of Warcraft cohort would be a gross misunderstanding. Whether or not somebody refers to a collectivist mindset has nothing to do with the respective social practice. It is essential though that the POLITICIAN conceives of himself as a representative of a collective order, a corporate identity so to speak. This reveals him as a strategy gamer who – from his god's perspective - is supervising his realm.
Here the second axis gains importance. It is oscillating between strictly ordered and ad-libbing gameplay, between rules and breaking the rules, or if you prefer: between tradition and innovation.
It is evident that the player of a strategy game opts for the rule (i.e. for law and order) and that he abhors the irregular: randomness, chance, the intrusion of hostile units.
Nevertheless this conflict describes his interior map as well as it profiles his preferred means. He relies on repetition and accumulation, the perpetual repetition of the law, and at the same time on the necessity of steady growth. The phantasm that drives the gamer is omnipotence – and his reward the resulting status.
Given this short psychology the diagonal points to the POLITICIAN's perfect antipode, hence the reality that he actually tries to ban. This is the appearance of the FREE SPIRIT - and the double break of the axes. Disrespecting the social order and neglecting the rules reveal him as the politician's true antagonist.
The FREE SPIRIT's kick is the adventure. He does not care for repetition but is striving for the unique moment. Ignoring the rules he tries to outdo them instead. That is his thrill: the rush of adrenaline, instant karma, paradise now.
His desire of freedom leaves no room for social arrangements. In case of doubt he opts for the shortcut. Enthusiast that he is, he constitutes an aesthetic and sophisticated avantgarde – without followers though.
From his point of view the system constitutes a natural, even personalized adversary. The system however (that you can depict as a dark imago, a punishing father) acts as a magnet, attracting him magically. To betray the system is a big motivation – and in case of success, a respective satisfaction.
Now let us focus on the upper left square. Here we have the ACHIEVER, him who takes the mastery of the machine as his very objective. If we put him on the side of the FREE SPIRIT, we could take them for relatives – and rightfully so, since both of them lean towards the pole of individualism.
What differentiates the ACHIEVER from the FREE SPIRIT is that he prefers to play within the rules. He is not interested in betraying the system. On the contrary: he is determined to dominate it. The highscore, his skill­fullness, shows him at the height of the system, and HIS awesomeness is actually what he is looking for.
While the strategy gamer is indulging in fantasies of omnipotence, the ACHIEVER is obsessed by the phantasm of the machine: he yearns for the individually sensed absolute power. In the terminology of the computer games we can identify him as the ego-shooter that stops the surging horde: the last independent, the dweller of an apocalyptic world that made warfare his home.
What he has in common with the FREE SPIRIT is the free roaming attitude, but his favored strategems correspond to the POLITICIAN's behaviour. Like him he is obsessed with repetition and accumulation. The continuous repetition helps him to improve, the accumulation serves his as an imprint of boosted competence. Whereas the objective of the games resides in the perfect control of the environment, his imago depicts him as grandiose lone fighter (an appraisal he might not able able to enjoy outside the game).
Taking again the diagonale into focus his anatgonist becomes visible: It is the SOCIAL GAMER gamer that does no care about mastery (ruling the sytem) nor struggles for a considerable excellence in playing the game. In fact this conflict can easily be discerned as the gap between high-tech shooter games and their poor equivalents à la Zynga.

The SOCIAL GAMER is casual by heart. Gaming is just a way of killing time: a dialogue without dialogue. Once again we face a paradox: Whereas the strategy gamer, the POLITICIAN, evokes a perfect social order, the SOCIAL GAMER invokes the human contact he is actually missing. In this invoca­tion of society the disparate areas overlap – and that's why the POLITICIAN and the SOCIAL GAMER are located on the same side.

Here we can see the difference to the FREE SPIRIT. Whereas the former is looking for the state of emergency, the SOCIAL GAMER is just interested in social standards, simple, easy-to-learn, predictable constellations.
Nevertheless the SOCIAL GAMER's approach is not inspired by the need of social exchange, but by his will to excel. The farmville gamer that buys himself a tractor and augments his capacities and position thereby, demonstrates that his currency is not cooperation, bus competition instead. Once again we can see the repercussion of the antipode: While the ego-shooter stuggles with his NPC-adversaries, the social gamer degrades his co-gamers to NPCs.

3. Nuances

It is evident that these 4 prototypes may seldomly be found in their cristalline form. Instead we encounter psychological nuances and a variety of behaviour instead.

The axiality permits to understand the psychological field as a map, where distance may be translated as a gradient for kinship. More important than this spatial alignment though (which is ideal for implementation) is the fact that each gamer prototype cannot be explained by itself but only through his antagonist.

In this sense the absent part of the field is ever-present – and should be understood as a key for the gamer psychology.

Hence the game reveals the logics that cinematographic narration has taught us: You will not understand a character unless you know about its inner conflicts. It' all about conflict, stupid!

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Ramin Shokrizade
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As I commented on another recent article of this type, this paradigm can be useful in designing adaptive single player experiences, and perhaps providing a range of activities in a multiplayer environment, but in a large scale multiplayer game (the direction I think we are heading as an industry, even on mobile) it is more useful to think of gamers as a collective or community rather than a bunch of individuals. This allows the introduction of advanced peer to peer interactions and group monetization mechanisms.

Isaac Knowles
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It seems to me that this paradigm is in need of a shift. When our theoretical model of player behavior has to have five or six dimensions just to contain our empirical observations, it's time to start looking for a different model.

Chris Londrie
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Group monetization does seem incredibly rare, as I can think of only one occurrence of it right now. (Guild Airships in Dungeons and Dragons Online). This is something I hope I can rectify.

Bart Stewart
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It's always good to see more exploration of different styles of play.

I agree with Ramin that play styles are more appropriately used to understand and design for general patterns of playful behavior among lots of people, rather than trying to maximize what any individual person likes. One Explorer might like or just tolerate a game designed to be particularly fun for Explorers; but among a large number of players with different styles, the Explorers will probably enjoy that game more than the other gamers will.

In other words, playstyle-aware design won't help you much with individual players, but its value increases as more people play such a game.

To the specifics of the model you suggest, you might be interested in looking over a feature I wrote that was published here on Gamasutra a couple of years ago:
_styles_a_.php .

There are some differences between your model and the one I suggested is common to numerous game designers. The main one is where you place the Power-oriented style (which I correlate with tactical ability) and the Knowledge-oriented player (which I find is usually considered a preference for strategic play). I suspect this follows from your use of a Me/Us axis, rather than the Internal/External axis I identified.

But there are some important similarities as well. One is the natural opposition of Achiever ("it's just a game but you should follow the rules") and Socializer ("it's a story about people") styles. The other is your Innovation/Tradition axis, which I think is the same functional concept as the Freedom/Structure axis in the model I outlined.

There's a lot more that could be said about playstyle models, but I should probably leave it at that for now. ;) If you'd be interested in sharing more ideas on this, I look forward to reading them.

Alfons Liebermann
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thanks for the comments so far.
@BartStewarts - I had a look at your article and found it extremely interesting.

The thing which ignited writing this article, is the insight that playing a game is a floating, highly ambigious expression - and that it can serve the player in hundreds ways, way which are in fact excluding each other.

To me it was kind of astonishing to see the "tradition" game industriy not being prepared for "social gaming". So - when we had a look at the Bartle types, we had some discussion in our company about the conflicting aspects.

That was the interesting part - to emphasize the conflicting lines (the polarity) of the Bartle types.
I can live well with renaming the axes. Tradition vs. innovation is just another conept pair which could be easily be replaced by change and structure.

But if you just take these "names" you see something which touches some aspects of mass psychology also. Structure, rules, law - all this does not adhere to individual choice but to the individual yearning to see collective patterns rule, instead of the presumably anarchic, insecure.

@Ramin Shokrizade - and that's exactly why this has some meaning also for group dynamics. In group we delegation patterns. So if there is somebody creative, the group will delegate ceratin tasks to him - and vice versa.

So the REAL question would be. What is a sucessful group? What temperaments do you need to ignite communication?

A subject for another article, I guess,

Jennifer Goss
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Why can't I be both Adventurer and Politician at once? ^.^ I don't think they are at odds at all.

I love rules, systems, order, power, status, and progressive growth - but I also love exploration, innovation, plunging into the unknown, thrill, being by -myself-, learning the rules in an unknown environment (Portal) or even being the one making the rules. I hate arbitrary rule systems that are just there to be black/white with no real foundation of ethics (aka Fable), but I love the idea of having one's moral choices affect a world (such as in Oblivion).

Think of games of Civilization or Sim City - they have rules and systems, but they are really about innovation. Also, most Adventure games are about becoming -less- independent as you proceed, coming alongside others to defend a world or joining with a cause larger with yourself, and gaining skills or information (power).

In similar fashion, competition is a huge part of Achiever (even if its against environment, but especially multiplayer - where relatedness can also be a factor), while Mastery (getting a badge, achieving a certain level) is a primary motive of Social gaming.

"@Ramin Shokrizade - and that's exactly why this has some meaning also for group dynamics. In group we delegation patterns. So if there is somebody creative, the group will delegate ceratin tasks to him - and vice versa."

This is sometimes a mistake. I'm an artist so I get 'delegated creative things' quite frequently - but art isn't actually my main strength. My strengths are in logic, brainstorming, storytelling, design, concept, science, etc. I *can* do art, and I'm not bad at it, but I do far better in pre-production positions, even if the 'final artist' isn't as skilled. For example, if I coordinate and storyboard and have a different team member write, a different artist draw, a different person do the website, etc - the the final project is more cohesive and innovative than if I took the artist role because I was an "artist".

There are many forms of personalities that lead to art, just like there are many types of personalities that enjoy strategy games, adventure games, social games, shooters (or all of the above. I play all of them but shooters, unless Commander Keen counts. Modern shooters are too bloody).

Stewart's link/graphs made a bit more sense, with the dichotomy between the players and the world, and acting on the world vs. interacting with the world. It still isn't cut and dry, but I think it would be closer. I'd be an explorer/achiever on that, which makes sense since I am a rational/INTP.