Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about gamer labels. This will not be a discussion of labels such as casual or hardcore. Those two terms are bandied about so often and so recklessly, they don’t really mean anything useful. Usually I hear gamers use them to describe other gamers unlike themselves and it’s almost always with a negative connotation. “Don’t talk to Joel. He’s a hardcore gamer and that dude will play for 9 hours straight!” “That whole guild is nothing but a group of namby pamby un-serious casual gamers. They just talk while we do all the work on the mission.” So these terms are no good for us. And even if they weren’t so often used in the pejorative, they’re still so vague and poorly defined that they don’t really give us a sense of who or what they’re describing.
There have been other attempts over the years to come up with categorizations for gamers and the way they play. It just takes some digging for us to find the more useful ones. One of the best discussions around labeling gamers I’ve come across, is also one of the oldest. In 1996, Richard Bartle published a paper he had written about the four different types of gamers he had observed who participlated in his MUD. These four types were known as the socializers, the explorers, the acheivers, and the killesr. THe key to these four types that was easy enough to notice, is that no single person was of one type. Every player who Bartle observed had aspects of the four types together, favoring one or more over the others. His theory has been adapted over time for more modern MMO’s and while it’s not a perfect match, I think it’s still the best tool we have for classifying gamers today and it’s a tool that we can apply to genre’s outside of the MMO sphere if we’re careful.
The only short-coming of Bartle’s theory today, is in the definition of the killer type. This is the type that is most commonly associated with a PvP’er or even going so far as to call them a griefer, in modern MMO’s. I think because of these associations the killer types get a bad rap. Given how many modern MMO’s not only allow but in some cases encourage this style of gameplay, it’s clear there’s still a place for it. But I also think that we don’t have all the tools we need to measure just what a killer really is. In MMO’s where killing other pc’s is allowed, it’s easy to see. But what about other competitive games that aren’t actually MMO’s. Are online chess players killers? I would argue yes. They’re actively trying to “kill” another person. With checkmate in this example, but other games that offer competitive play against actual people exhibit these kinds of game behavoirs as well.
Where this gets hard to figure out is when there is no option to kill other players in a game and instead it’s just the game constructs. Npc’s, or game ai, or whatever form the opposition takes in a game. A valid question concerning this might be what are the players who enjoy this form of killing actually enjoying? Is it the killing, or the high score? If it’s the high score we have more of an achiever. If it’s the gameplay, then it may in fact be the act of combat and defeating the npc’s. It occurs to me that game theory may have already answered this question. I shall have to see if there’s any other research out there on this topic.
Getting back to Bartle, he developed a questionairre that could be taken to assess your gamer type and through the magic of the Internet, a modern version of it can be found here:
It’s only 30 questions long and takes less then 10 minutes to fill out. I highly recommend it. Since I know you’re all wondering, my own score is this:
Your gamerDNA is:
The Socializer motto: “No friend undiscovered!” Description:It’s not what you do, but who you know, how you are known and who loves you. People with high Socializer scores enjoy interacting with other people, forming bonds and finding cooperative solutions to the challenges within the virtual world.
I’m a socializer. Big shock there. I did find it interesting that my achiever and explorer scores were both so close together. I enjoy both activities and I find it interesting that the scores showed them so close together. My killer score is of course very low which reflects my enjoyment of PvP. But engaging game play can sometimes be reward enough for me too.
What I find most interesting about this survey is how much the aspects of my primary choice affected my secondary choices. I would often be the one organizing raids (task forces in CoH parlance) and other team events. But even when I was organizing for the specific goals of getting a badge or earning exp or influence (the in-game currency), I tended to accomplish these goals by gathering together a group of people and herding them towards my desired outcome.
Even my greatest, most solo achievement in the game I did socially. LockOn was my main character in CoH. His final build was ultra expensive, and had I not had real help from friends who played the game with me, it never would have been completed. I had dedicated achievers who were literally giving me (ingame) money that they had earned so that I could complete my build. I had other friends hand over recipes that had dropped for them, so that I wouldn’t have to go buy them on the auction house. I loved playing LockOn, for dozens of reasons but three of the big ones were, his build was awesome, getting to that awesome build was hard, and finishing that build was completed with the help of my friends.
Given what we know about how games are made these days I can see this classification system (with some adjustments perhaps) actually working out well to describe gamers of all kinds of games. Even those games that are outside the traditional sense of what we typically play, like the mobile and browser based game markets. So what kind of gamer are you? Go take the quiz and leave a comment. The better understanding we have of who we are and what we like, the better games we can possibly lobby for and get. And I’m all for better games.