Friday, May 21, 2010

Bringing it All Together

This is the third and final of my Player Type articles.

Timmy, Johnny, Spike.

Diamond, Spade, Heart, Club.

Real Men, Role-players, Loonies, Munchkins.

All of these thing boil down to a few key motivations for why people play role-playing games. While these are, of course, not very detailed, to encompass the reasons we play as inclusively as possible, they can’t be. The way I figure it, role-playing has the following things to offer:

It’s a game: Gamers are playing to play the fucking game. They want to roll dice and make strategic choices. They like the intellectual challenge of the game, and want to beat it.

It’s a story: Storytellers are here to tell a story that is completely, ridiculously awesome. They want to advance the plot, engage with the non-player characters, involve themselves deeply with the game world and make choices based on what will produce the best story.

It’s a simulation: Simulators want our game worlds to adhere as closely to the real world (or what the real world would be with the speculative fiction elements included) as possible. They want to come up with solutions to their problems that are founded in common sense, and they want to engage in worlds as detailed and nuanced as our own.

It’s a way to socialize: Socializers want to get together with their friends and hang out. And role-playing games provide a context for doing just that. A lot of people, especially the wall-flowers and the table-talkers, are just there to chill out and eat snacks.

It’s an outlet for fantasies: Fantasists have things that they would love to be able to do in real life, but can’t. They want to swing swords and sling spells and fight crime and fly blimps. Role-playing games provide a framework that is safe, interactive and fun in which they can do just that.

This Ain’t no GNS, Kids

Some people may look at the top three tiers of this categorization and find similarities to Ron Edwards’ GNS Theory. Personally, I’ve always taken exception to the idea that GNS applies to players. I don’t think you can really be a “Gamist.” I think that a particular situation in a particular role-playing game session can be gamist, but that a person who plays the game for the sake of playing the game is a gamer. The difference is subtle, but the implications are pretty intense.

A gamer is no more likely to respond positively to a gamist situation than any other player. The particular situation may or may not appeal to the gamer’s specific motivations for play, and he or she may space out when certain gamist situations arise, or perk up and pay special attention for others.

See, none of these motivations occur without some overlap. If I play a game because I a) like to play games and b) have some pretty intense power fantasies in which I am a hulking brute of man-strength, then gamist situations involving diplomacy and stealth aren’t going to appeal to me as much as gamist situations involving combat.

I’ve been talking about gamism a lot, though. Let’s look at narrativism, for a moment, just for some variety. It’s possible for a player whose key motivation is storytelling to have no interest in the above-mentioned diplomacy/stealth situation, too. If that player is telling a Shonen-esque story of growing-in-power-to-defeat-great-evil, well then shit, she’s probably got some power fantasies in the mix. Or, if the situation in which the diplomacy is held doesn’t mesh with the internal consistency of the game world (“Why would the captain of a starship be engaged in negotiations with a hostile alien force? She should be on the ship, where she’s needed. This makes no sense…), we may have a simulator on our hands.

So each of these reasons for play happen in different amounts for each of us. I think we can build a relatively universal system of player archetyping if we assume that each of us resonates with two of the five motivations listed above more than the others. Myself, I would say I’m most inclined towards storytelling and gaming, with my focus being much more solidly on storytelling. I’m a 70% Storyteller, 30% Gamer. Everything else informs the way I play to some degree, and if I wanted to get deeply involved in it, I could.

Kris Hansen’s Stats:
Storyteller 50, Gamer 20, Socializer 15, Fantasist 10 Simulator 5.

What the above does (something I’ve never seen another player archetype system do) is provide us a way to talk about player tendencies, actions and motivations while addressing the individuality of the player. Not everyone is going to value Storytelling as much as I do, and not everyone is going to focus on Fantasies as little as I do.

Moreover, it gives us the opportunity to shift and change and grow without needing to shoehorn ourselves into a specific player archetype. We don’t need to worry about whether or not we’re a Real Man or a Munchkin; we can admit that we’re 60% Gamer and 40% Fantasist, and be done with it.

Another thing this system does is makes space for a group of players that are often seen as peripherals to the game. Socializers are there to have fun and hang out with their friends. Sometimes, they’ll do the crazy, just to get a rise out of people. Sometimes, they’ll annoy other players just for the reaction they get, but the real motivation behind these behaviors is the desire for socialization within the context of the game. This is where we get our “Loonies.” This is where the “Casual Gamers” come from. They’re not here to play the game, at least, they’re not here for that as much as for the social outing.

So How do the Other Systems Fit?

Rosewater’s Archetypes

What Rosewater’s built as far as player archetypes goes is amazing for Magic: The Gathering, and the driving goals behind his psychographic writings is part of what inspired me to do this in the first place.

Timmy is here to experience something. He wants to feel something. He’s probably going to identify most closely as a Fantasist and Storyteller.

Johnny is here as a form of self-expression. He wants to show you something you’ve never seen before. He’s mostly going to be a Gamer and Storyteller.

Spike wants to win. He doesn’t care how he does it, he just wants to win and make sure everyone knows he did. He’s most closely associatied with Gamers and Fantasists.

The Munchkin File

Sadly, it’s a little impossible to take the Munchkin File seriously in regards to modern gaming. I don’t remember gaming in the 90’s being that much different than today, so I can’t even be sure it was a valid discourse on gaming “back in the day.” Still, it’s interesting to see them as extreme examples of other archetypes.

Real Men are manly men, the sort that jump in front of buses to save babies. Fantasist and Gamer.

Role-players are here to tell a kick-ass story, and to step into the role of their character. Storyteller, maybe as high as 90%, with any subtheme, really.

Loonies are here to do the wacky, and do it often. They’re trying to get a rise out of people. Socializer, maybe as high as 90%, with any subtheme, really.

Munchkins are extreme fantasists, but they achieve their fantasy goals through manipulation of the rules, putting them firmly into the Gamer category, too.

Bartle’s Archetypes

The interesting thing about Bartle’s archetypes is that most of his observations apply equally to my own archetypes. The biggest difference between his archetypes and my own is the inclusion of self-expression desires and fantasy. It’s also interesting to note that there are two types of Socializer in Bartle’s breakdown.

Spades want to explore, want to delve into the core of the game world. Simulators are analogous.

Diamonds want to win the game. They push to achieve the game’s set goals, which makes them analogous to Gamers.

Clubs are extreme Socializers, using the social aspect of the game to annoy other players. On the opposite end of that scale, Hearts play to enjoy the company of other players, which means that they are _also_ sozializers, but express it in a very different way. I believe that the focus on socializing and the lack of storytelling or fantasist behavior may have something to do with the nature of MUDs as a role-playing platform.

Laws’ Archetypes

Laws talks about a lot of archetypes in his book, but most of them are covered elsewhere. The ones we’re looking at specifically helped inform the archetype scheme I’ve developed here.

Storytellers and Casual Gamers as archetypes were both integral in building the breakdown we have here. Casual Gamers, especially, are difficult for die-hards to understand, but when I looked at the similarities between Casual Gamers and Bartle’s Hearts, it sort of clicked in my head.

Specialists are a type of Fantasist. Their fantasy involves playing a very specific type of character, over and over again. The character they play is likely a manifestation of something they wish they had in real life, hence its repetition around the table. Specialists are intriguing to me, from a psychological perspective, but I don’t really have the time or expertise to go into it too deeply here. I’ll leave that for people with some of that there book learnin’.


Brigit Law said...

Hi Kristoffer,
I enjoyed your blog about the key motivators. Thanks!

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- Murk