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.
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 ā 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.
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!