What Type of Gamer Are You Today?

In my post from last week, I described the many different reasons why we play games. But if there are different reasons why people play gamer, doesn’t that suggest that there are different types of games? Now, if you ask a member of the self-described “gamer”culture, he or she (most likely it will be a “he”) will tell you that there is only one type of gamer: someone who plays hardcore shooting, fighting, or real-time strategy games; everyone else is not a “true” gamer. However, I suspect that the truth goes deeper than that.

I am hardly the first person to ponder the question of different player types. In 1996, Professor Richard Bartle, a game researcher best known for being the co-creator of MUD1 (the first Multi-User Dungeon) in 1978 and the author of the seminal book Designing Virtual Worlds, presented a paper that evolved into what is now called The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology.  This test is a series of questions and an accompanying scoring formula that classifies players of multiplayer online games (including MUDs and MMORPGs) into categories based on their gaming preferences.  The result of the Bartle Test is the “Bartle Quotient”, which is calculated based on the answers to a series of 30 random questions in the test, and totals 200% across all categories, with no single category exceeding 100%.

The Bartle Test is based on a character theory. This character theory consists of four characters:

  • žKillers, who like to provoke and cause drama over other players.
  • žAchievers, who are competitive and enjoy beating difficult challenges.
  • žExplorers, who like to explore the world – not just its geography but also the finer details of the game mechanics.
  • žSocializers, who are often more interested in having relations with the other players than playing the game itself.

These character types are often described as a quadrant model where the X-axis represents preference for interacting with other players vs. exploring the world and the Y-axis represents preference for interaction vs. unilateral action.

In more recent years, practitioners of gamification, the process of applying game mechanics to non-game environments such as work, commerce, health, activism and education to motivate engagement and loyalty, have seized on Bartle’s Player Types to help them determine which game mechanics are most effective with different types of users. The problem is that the Bartle Player Types was meant to categorize the motivations of players in Multi-User Dungeons, and any attempt to apply them in a different environment is a misrepresentation of Bartle’s work.

One gamification designer whose work I do admire, Andrzej Marczewski, came up with an alternate set of user types, with some consultation with Richard Bartle, if I am not mistaken. In this model, there are six types of users:

  • Socialisers are motivated by Relatedness. They want to interact with others and create social connections.
  • Free Spirits are motivated by Autonomy and Self-Expression. They want to create and explore.
  • Achievers are motivated by Mastery. They are looking to learn new things and improve themselves. They want challenges to overcome.
  • Philanthropists are motivated by Purpose and Meaning. This group are altruistic, wanting to give to other people and enrich the lives of others in some way with no expectation of reward.
  • Players are motivated by Rewards. They will do what is needed of them to collect rewards from a system. They are in it for themselves.
  • Disruptors are motivated by Change. In general, they want to disrupt your system, either directly or through other users to force positive or negative change.

As I look through these user types, I can see myself and what motivates me when I play games or engage in other experiences.  Yet I don’t always have the same motivations for each game I play or experience I engage in.  As Johan Huizinga explained in his concept of the Magic Circle, when we engage in play (or any other type of ritual), we agree to take on different roles.  When I play Tetris, I’m motivated by Mastery.  When I play World of Warcraft, I’m motivated by Autonomy and Self-Expression.  When I’m at the gambling tables of Las Vegas, I’m motivated by Rewards.  And when I take on the role of teacher, I’m motivated by Purpose and Meaning.

As we play different games, perhaps we all are different types of gamers, based upon our mood or need at at the time.

So, what type of gamer am I?  Depends on what game we’re playing today!



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on May 30, 2016, in Game Design, Gamification and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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