Friday, January 28, 2005

Styles of Play -- The Full Chart

As I spent time looking at gamer behaviors as expressions of general temperament, and seeing how those related the four temperaments described by David Keirsey[7] with the four player types suggested by Richard Bartle[1], I started running into other models of player motivation. Interestingly, many of those also noted four general styles.

The descriptions of four kinds of play given by Roger Caillois[2] and Nicole Lazzaro[9] seemed clearly analogous in some ways to the temperaments and types described by Keirsey and Bartle respectively. Even the three-style GNS model originally conceived (and then deprecated) by Ron Edwards[4] fits this four-fold pattern if a fourth style, the Experientialist, is recognized as a valid gameplay interest along with Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist. (Note: The Experientialist would be the type of gamer who plays to experience strong sensations. Adding this style to the GNS model isn't entirely a stretch on my part just to force GNS to fit my preferred model; it actually corresponds to the "Butt-Kicker" player type in the playstyle model suggested by Robin Laws[8] as an alternative to the GNS model.) Something similar also applies to the MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics) framework described by Hunicke, LeBlanc and Zubek[6] as extended with the bottom-level "Kinetics" design focus, which considers the basic sensations a game designer wants to elicit from players.

This could simply have been because four is just a convenient number of items. But what if that number isn't completely arbitrary? What if there are actually some consonances here, and people keep coming up with four fundamental styles because there really are four primary ways in which people tend to look at and live in the world?

I'm not a numerologist; there's absolutely nothing magical about the number four. (Seven, on the other hand... ;-) And as I noted in my essay on Bartle's Player Types and Keirsey's Temperaments, while a four-fold model -- if there's real-world data behind it that's properly analyzed -- may be a valid way of gaining insight into human behavior, that doesn't mean other approaches might not be equally or more valid.

That said, it's still odd to the point of suggesting some deeper reality that several people who've independently studied human behavior from the perspective of innate motivations keep coming up with four distinct styles.

So to generate additional thought on this possibility, I've put together in one chart the examples of four-fold models of general and gamer psychology I'd been noticing. This shows at a glance each of the four types in the various models, and suggests the deep-level correspondences between them so that it's easy to consider whether there's anything real-world going on.

In addition to the game-specific types, I included a few other four-fold models of personality that might shed some additional light on how gamers express themselves differently. In particular, I thought it would be interesting to include John Holland's[5] four "types of work products," which seem to be yet another way of keying on fundamental motivations. Even the leadership guru Stephen Covey[3] seems to see four fundamental values by which individuals are internally motivated.

Finally, I added a couple of categories of my own devising to offer some terms and phrases that are broadly descriptive of each of the four behavioral styles, and which encompass the core concepts from the four styles of each of the other models of personality in the chart.

So here's the overall set of correspondences among styles of play that I suspect exists (last updated 2010/06/30):














Killer [Manipulator]


serious fun






(manipulative sensation)






hard fun






(competitive accumulation)






easy fun






(logical rule-discovery)






people fun






(emotional meaning)


I think a reasonable case can be made for these relationships. They share so many of the same fundamental concepts that it's difficult not to believe there's something of the "blind men identifying an elephant" happening here. Each of the model developers discussed here has a slightly different take on the three or four primary styles they observe, but each model seems to describe the same four innate needs expressed as playstyles. Furthermore, each of the fourfold playstyle models referenced here appears to be a play-context version of the more general fourfold temperament model of personality.

For example, Socializer behavior seems to be a gameplay-specific subset of the kinds of behavior expressed by people with a predominantly Idealist temperament. The "Idealist" name got applied to that temperament because these are the folks whose internal motivation is always toward trying to approach some idealized perfect self. (Hence the "self-actualization" description.) In most cases this requires deep interaction with other people, either as a mirror of oneself or to feel better about oneself by helping others. This interest is expressed in the real world with real people, but the Idealist/Socializer also applies it to fictional people whose characters and stories matter to the Narrativist. The various descriptions of this style -- diplomatic intelligence, people fun, mimetic play, narrative- and aesthetics-orientation, and the overall emphasis on self-growth through the formation and maintenance of meaningful relationships.

These internal similarities are echoed by the resonances of terms within the other styles: the "action" emphasis of the Manipulator/Kinetics/Experientialist style; the preference for "discovery" and "immersion" in a logically consistent world of the Explorer/Dynamics/Simulationist style; the need to "win" (through following the rules) as expressed by the Achiever/Mechanics/Gamist style. In each case, the terms used by the various models of play to describe each playstyle are repeated consistently for the analogous playstyles. A description of the Gamist preference, if the word "Gamist" were not used, would bring to mind the Achiever style to someone familiar with the Bartle Types, and would lead a practitioner of the MDA system to think immediately of the Mechanics focus.

As a result, I can't help but think there's something deeper going on here, that there's some underlying foundational agreement on the most common play interests. I suspect it's because each of these theories of play is a game-context subset of a larger temperament-based theory of personality -- slightly different shades of a few fundamental primary colors.

I don't claim this is some Grand Unifying Theory of game design... but perhaps it's a step in that direction. If nothing else, I hope it may spark further study of what different people enjoy in their games and how game designers can better satisfy those distinct preferences of play.


1. Richard Bartle: "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs",

2. Roger Caillois: Man, Play, and Games (1961), discussed in the "Man, Play and Games" Wikipedia entry at,_Play_and_Games.

3. Stephen R. Covey: Principle-Centered Leadership (1992), discussed by Ameer Ahamed in the Sunday Times article "At the centre of life..." at

4. Ron Edwards: "Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist" Wikipedia entry (2003),

5. John L. Holland: Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments (1997),,

6. Robin Hunicke & Robert Zubek: "MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research",

7. David Keirsey: Please Understand Me II (1998),

8. Robin D. Laws: "Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering" (2001),

9. Nicole Lazzaro at GDC 2006:

Bartle's Player Types and Keirsey's Temperaments


Some time after discovering the four types of virtual world game players as described in "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs" by Richard Bartle, it seemed to me that I might be able to relate those four types to the four more general temperaments as described by David Keirsey in Please Understand Me.

Over the years since then, I've worked out some of the correspondences I think I can see. As a result I've come to the conclusion that the four Bartle Types are indeed aspects of the four Keirsey Temperaments expressed in an online game context. Obviously there are a lot of assumptions built into that statement, so it seems to me that if I'm going to use this correspondence of models as a basis for subsequent ideas about player-centered game design, I need to spell out why I buy into these ideas -- not so much to persuade others as to document my observations and let others decide for themselves if they think there's anything of value here.

Before I get into the details, however, I'd like to note that any and all references to the work of both Richard Bartle and David Keirsey that I make here that aren't clearly identified as quotes are purely my own interpretations, and are not to be considered official explications of these authors' ideas. If I fail to correctly or completely capture some aspect of meaning intended by either author, the error is mine and should not be attributed to either Bartle or Keirsey. Basically, if you think any of my ideas here are nuts, don't blame Keirsey or Bartle -- blame me. (And this includes the point that the four-type model I use here isn't the most current model preferred by Richard as described in his book Designing Virtual Worlds. I hope I can be forgiven for using the Web-available four-type version, which I believe still has considerable explanatory power.)


I start with a number of supporting observations:

  • Type classification systems aren't the only way to to study human personality -- they're just one useful way.
  • An example that uses multiple codes (like the Bartle Types) is the Holland Codes assessment for job placement.
  • No system for classifying human personality will ever be perfect. People are complex; no one is purely one type only, nor can any theoretical system or model fully describe an actual person.
  • A classification system doesn't have to be perfect to be useful; it just has to have some reliable explanatory and predictive power.
  • "Temperament" is a form of typing that considers the fundamental, distinct, and possibly innate motivations behind behavior.
  • Many different theories of temperament have been suggested over thousands of years.
  • Many of these temperament theories (by Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Paracelsus, Spranger, etc.) perceive four temperaments.
  • These models all tend to have certain expressions of human nature in common.
  • Jung's theory of archetypes and the Myers-Briggs type system based on Jung's work rationalized these common traits.
  • David Keirsey's temperament model is a modern synthesis of past models organized around Myers-Briggs empirical data.
After I encountered Richard Bartle's original system of four types of players of virtual-world games (Killers, Achievers, Explorers, and Socializers), it immediately appeared to me that these four player types are strongly analogous to the four general temperaments that Keirsey describes (Artisans, Guardians, Rationals, and Idealists).

To see how I got there, let's look at the foundations of Keirsey's temperament theory.

The Myers-Briggs model posits 16 types, based on four dimensions of personality. The four dimensions (and the two poles of each dimension, along with the letter abbreviation) are:

  • Need for social interaction: Introversion vs. Extraversion (I/E)
  • Source of truth: iNtuition vs. Sensing (N/S)
  • Decision-making style: Thinking vs. Feeling (T/F)
  • Time focus: Judging vs. Perceiving (J/P)
Combining all possibilities yields sixteen "types":


These are the sixteen personality types as recognized by Myers-Briggs type theory.

Through years of observation and years of psychological practice, David Keirsey concluded that there were certain strong relationships among some of these sixteen types, and that these relationships clustered into four groups. Eventually he developed a theoretical model that groups the sixteen types into four groups of four temperaments, and for convenience he gave each temperament a descriptive name:


These four temperaments -- Artisan, Guardian, Rational, and Idealist -- are the four temperaments I believe correspond to the original four player types -- Killer, Achiever, Explorer, and Socializer -- as described by Bartle.


Excessively brief portraits of Keirsey's temperaments are:

  • Artisan: realistic, tactical, manipulative (of things or people), pragmatic, impulsive, action-focused, experience-seeking
  • Guardian: practical, logistical, hierarchical, organized, detail-oriented, possessive, process-focused, security-seeking
  • Rational: innovative, strategic, logical, scientific/technological, future-oriented, result-focused, knowledge-seeking
  • Idealist: imaginative, diplomatic, emotional, relationship-oriented, dramatic, person-focused, identity-seeking
In the second edition of his primary work, Please Understand Me II, Keirsey groups his four temperaments according to their use of tools ("cooperative" or "utilitarian") and words ("abstract" or "concrete"):












There's nothing wrong with that system, but by the time Keirsey proposed it I had already worked out an arrangement I thought (and still think) better reflects how people interact with the world. Rather than two dimensions of tool-use and word-use, I think of the two most important dimensions of behavior as being "internals vs. externals" and "change vs. structure."










This structure has an additional feature: Each temperament is most unlike (and usually misunderstands or even opposes) the temperament diagonal to it in ways that are instinctively familiar to most people.

Thus, Artisans (who seek External Change) tend to perceive Rationals (who seek Internal Structure) as ineffective creators of imaginary and useless ideas, while Rationals see Artisans as ignorant, energy-wasting jocks and gamblers.

Similarly, Guardians (who seek External Structure) often regard Idealists as crusading liberal artistes, while Idealists (who seek Internal Change) see Guardians as boring, bourgeois reactionaries.

(Note that none of these perceptions is really accurate -- they're all the most negative, stereotyped view of those whose ways of looking at the world are different from our own. But they're also very common, given that most of us are strongly inclined to believe that our particular way of looking at the world is the "right" way, and therefore all others are, to various degrees, wrong.)


Similar to the table showing Keirsey's four temperaments, here is the table showing the four Bartle types (rotated 90 degrees clockwise from the way they're presented in "Players Who Suit MUDs").















I see these two graphs -- the four Keirsey temperaments and the four Bartle types -- as isomorphic. I believe they both describe the same thing, the same four fundamental temperaments, just in different contexts. The four general temperaments (Artisan, Guardian, Rational, Idealist) are expressed as the four Bartle Types (Killer [Manipulator], Achiever, Explorer, Socializer) when someone participates in a massively multiplayer gameworld.

Here's a chart that shows those correspondences.









Acting [on]








Acting [on]








[with] World







[with] Players


Considering Bartle's descriptions of Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and Killers, and comparing these descriptions against Keirsey's descriptions of the four temperaments in his model, and further noting the congruence between the 2x2 structure I saw in Keirsey's model versus Bartle's diagram, the four Bartle types give every appearance of being context-specific analogues to Keirsey's four temperaments.

First, let's consider the dimensions of behavior that determine the 2x2 organizations of player types and temperaments.

In "Players Who Suit MUDs", I interpret Bartle's use of the terms ACTING and INTERACTING as "doing" and "learning about," respectively. (Bartle uses the terms "doing-to" and "doing-with" to describe ACTING and INTERACTING, but he also seems to suggest that INTERACTING is more about understanding the properties of things than actually using those things.) INTERACTING corresponds to my notion of INTERNAL in that interacting with a thing is something you do to discover the internal nature of that thing. This contrasts with the concept of ACTING with or on a thing, which is an EXTERNAL usage of a thing.

The case for PLAYERS and WORLD as analogous to CHANGE and STRUCTURE is less clear, but the key can be found in remembering that PLAYERS/WORLD are concepts appropriate for a game context, while a CHANGE/STRUCTURE model is intended to apply to a larger set of human behaviors. In this case, the concept of PLAYERS is a special case of CHANGE, while WORLD is a special case of STRUCTURE. CHANGE happens to be the word I used for the pole of the axis that describes how much or how little order/control a person needs or wants, but "freedom" and "opportunity" are also words that could convey this meaning... and these are all attributes that are unique to human players in a virtual world. Conversely, STRUCTURE/ORDER/BOUNDARIES are attributes of WORLD objects, which must all predefined by the game's creators.

As Artisans (External Change) demand to be free to manipulate the people in their environment as they will, Killers (ACTING on PLAYERS) won't play if they are denied power over other players. Socializers as game-specific cases of Idealists and Achievers as game-specific cases of Guardians follow the same interpretations.


Let's look at each of the types and temperaments, starting with the Rationals/Explorers.

Rationals play the same way they do everything else -- they look for patterns behind the raw data. These can be patterns in space (as in geography) or patterns in time (as in morphology). Or they can be cause-and-effect patterns (entailment) or relationship patterns (connections). Ultimately, it's all about achieving a strategic understanding of the system as a whole thing.

Compare that to Bartle's description of Explorers: "The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence."

Socializers, meanwhile, are described as "... interested in people, and what they have to say. ... Inter-player relationships are important ... seeing [people] grow as individuals, maturing over time. ... The only ultimately fulfilling thing is ... getting to know people, to understand them, and to form beautiful, lasting relationships."

This sounds very similar to the Keirseian description of Idealists, who interact with other people as part of their lifelong journey of self-discovery. In a way, the highly imaginative Idealists are always roleplaying; they are constantly creating images of themselves (or others) that they feel they should model through their own actions.

Although Guardians can be very interested in forming relationships, they do so for very different reasons than the Idealist. For the Guardian, the world is an insecure place, so it's necessary to protect oneself by accumulating material possessions... just in case. Thus the Guardian focuses on earning money, on buying nice things and maintaining them, on forming stable and formal group relationships, and generally on working hard to acquire possessions.

I see strong echoes of this motivation in Achievers. As Bartle puts it: "Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal" and "Achievers are proud of their formal status in the game's built-in level hierarchy, and of how short a time they took to reach it."

Finally, there are the Killers. These can be difficult to understand because most virtual worlds have encoded rules that marginalize their playstyle. However, they can be understood as distinct from the other player types through Bartle's description of them as ACTING on PLAYERS -- in short, they enjoy manipulating the participants in the game. "Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others." He also points out that Killers "wish only to demonstrate their superiority over fellow humans, preferably in a world which serves to legitimise actions that could mean imprisonment in real life."

This aligns nicely with the Keirseian description of Artisans, who (as their temperament name suggests) delight in skillful manipulation of their environment. These are the tool-users, the combat vehicle pilots, and the negotiators par excellence. They instinctively find and exploit advantages in any tactical situation, and they express this need for dominance of their world in order to retain the greatest amount of personal freedom possible.

(I should mention here that I prefer the term "Manipulator" over "Killer" as I think "Manipulator" captures more of the motivation behind that sensation-seeking gameplay style. Although player-killing as a griefing tactic is undesirable, there are aspects of the Killer personality that could add to a game world rather than detract from it if properly recognized and enabled through appropriate gameplay features. But we're not going to get there if the pejorative term Killer is used to describe those who excel at the tactical manipulation of their environment. So I'd prefer to use the term Manipulators, but I realize I'm fighting established convention here.)


One of the steps I had to take in evaluating this theory of a correspondence between player types and temperaments was whether I was merely seeing what I wanted to see. Was temperament theory my hammer, and Bartle's four player types a handy nail?

The obvious test is to think about a particular Bartle type and consider whether it might be equally or better applied to any other temperament. Take Explorers, for example. Although they can be people-oriented, they're not as interested in social interaction for its own sake as the Idealists. Nor are they so concerned with operations and maintenance or with position in a formal hierarchy as the Guardians are. And even though they will occasionally demonstrate great skill in manipulating people or things, unlike the Artisan they'd much rather discover knowledge than apply it.

A similar analysis can be conducted for the Socializers, Killers and Achievers. Although there are aspects of behavior and motivation common to many kinds of people, each of these three types has many more things in common with one of Idealist, Artisan, and Guardian temperaments respectively. Everyone socializes, but Idealists cannot not socialize; likewise, Artisans are the most natural Killers while Guardians can't help but Achieve.

Finally, a word must be said about the idea of "temperament" and "personality type" overall. Nick Yee has consistently expressed strong doubt about the value of personality models that identify clusters of behavior patterns. Instead, he defends models that offer numerous behavioral preferences, any of which can be expressed simultaneously by anyone. While I believe there may be expressive value in the multiple-mode models Nick supports, he has so far not been willing to similarly endorse models that identify two axes of behavior and derive four "types" from the four quadrants... such as Bartle's player types or Keirsey's temperaments.

His technical doubts notwithstanding, I've personally found both the player types and temperament models to have expressive value. Each in its context has successfully helped me understand why people behave the way they do. Neither model perfectly represents the totality of human behavior, but what model ever can? I don't need perfection, I just need good enough -- and both Bartle's player types and Keirsey's temperaments have demonstrated repeatedly that they are good enough in explaining behavior to be useful, both analytically and predictively. If statistical rigor doesn't back up this empirical finding, then there's something wrong with the design of the statistical test.

But that's my reaction. You should decide for yourself whether you think there's anything to either Bartle's types or Keirsey's temperaments, and if so whether I'm seeing something real when I perceive a congruence between the two models of personality.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Fighters Should Be Poor

Why do we assume that players who choose combat skills over economic skills should be able to make lots of money?

This isn't an anti-fighter question or a pro-crafter question. It's about gameplay balance. MMOGs tend to have some skills that are obviously intended to allow characters to make money, and some skills that are obviously about defeating players/NPCs/mobs in combat. So why should anyone think that those who specialize in combat skills ought to be able to make lots of money by killing mobs?

Letting master combatants amass towering piles of cash by defeating enemies through strength of arms makes no more sense than letting a master merchant buy a high military rank or an advanced weapon certification. We don't let economic abilities translate to a high combat rating -- why do we let combat abilities translate to a high economic rating?

Fighters get a number of unique rewards from using their combat skills: combat XP, weapon XP, weapon certifications, military rank titles, interesting loot items (sometimes), and the thrill of the kill. Crafters get different rewards from using their economic skills: money, and the satisfaction that comes from creating things.

So why should fighters expect to get economic rewards in addition to the rewards they already get from combat activities?

Crafting offers only a couple of rewards. Giving fighters access to one of the few crafting rewards in addition to the numerous rewards that combat already provides only reduces the perceived respect for crafting as a valued playstyle. Crafters provide unique services to a game world. They should retain unique rewards.

Fighters ought to be poor but deadly, and non-fighters ought to be weak but wealthy. This creates opportunities for useful interactions between both types of players -- crafters should need fighters to protect them, and fighters should need crafters to give them jobs to do to make money. This would mean that fighters wouldn't be able to buy that great armor or superweapon the first week they start playing a MMORPG because they ground out a bunch of high-paying quests. It would also mean that crafters wouldn't be able to obtain resources or valuable items without the help of capable fighters. Players would benefit from working together to help each other do better over time.

Basically, if you want to make money, spend your skill points on crafting/economic skills. If you want to be able to defend yourself physically in PvE or PvP, spend your skill points on fighting skills. Don't expect to be able to make a lot of money or be safe from physical challenge if you aren't willing to pay for the skills that allow you to do so.

In short, no one player style should provide access to all player rewards. Ultimately, that leads to the worst sin any game can commit: being boring.

MMORPGs, Jerks, and the Evolution of Cooperation

Why do some online games seem to breed so many jerks?

The players in massively multiplayer roleplaying games (MMORPGS) often seem to demonstrate one of two radically different philosophies of interactive play. On the one hand, you have players who believe that they do best for themselves by helping the entire group do well. And on the other hand, you have players who believe that the best (most fun/efficient) way to succeed is by taking advantage of other players.

Their high level of social interaction makes MMORPGs fertile ground for studying what Robert Axelrod called "The Evolution of Cooperation."


In his groundbreaking work, which has been applied in fields from evolutionary psychology to international conflict resolution, Axelrod created a computer simulation of the classic Prisoner's Dilemma game, where two players must choose whether to cooperate with each other or defect (take advantage of the other player). Axelrod's innovation was to use the computer to simulate the effects of allowing players to interact many times beyond a single interaction. This permitted the emergence of strategies for play over multiple interactions.

What Axelrod found was that the consistent winner was the simplest strategy, submitted by Anatol Rapaport, called "Tit-for-Tat." TFT's rules were simple: cooperate on the first move with another player, and subsequently do unto the other player what it does to TFT. Tit-for-Tat never did very well in individual interactions -- the strategies which defected more frequently without provocation in order to try to take advantage of "nicer" strategies tended to do best in individual interactions.

But when interactions were extended over long periods, Tit-for-Tat did best overall. By eliciting cooperative behavior from other players, TFT did just well enough for itself to win over the long term.

Axelrod then modified the simulation to create an evolutionary aspect: many interactions among many strategies (including TFT) were held simultaneously as a "generation." Based on the results of individual interactions, winning strategies were retained to play again in the next generation, while losing strategies were culled from the field of players.

This time, Tit-for-Tat not only won again as the most effective strategy over many generations, it did so even more conclusively than in the previous tournament. By being best at eliciting cooperative behavior from other players, TFT did best for itself over the long term.


In his analysis of these results, Axelrod observed that while defectors tend to do well over the short term, defining the world in which interactions occur so that several conditions are met can allow a world full of defectors to evolve over time into a world full of cooperators:

  • players must be able to recognize each other
  • players must be able to remember past interactions
  • cooperators must be able to interact frequently with each other
  • there must not be a known limit on the number of possible interactions
  • cooperation must pay more than an average defection
  • the initial population must contain a minimum percentage of cooperators

In other words, game features that support reliable recognition of, memory of, and frequent interaction with other cooperators are crucial to establishing cooperation as the primary mode of play in that gameworld, rather than defection. Knowing that other players can recognize you and remember what you did to them provides just enough of a disincentive to defection to make cooperative behavior the norm through repeated interactions of cooperators.

Conversely, anonymity and lack of grouping tools breed bad behavior. Anonymity in particular -- or, in MMORPGs, pseudonymity -- is lethal to cooperation. When the odds are high that someone with whom you interact will never know the "real" you behind your avatar, or that interactions are unlikely to be repeated, the price of defection is low enough to allow defection to survive or even thrive as a general behavior. This is why it appears that gameworlds (such as WoW or EVE) which permit large numbers of characters in one area have a much higher percentage of jerks than very small gameworlds (such as MUDs) where the players have a high frequency of recognizable interactions, and may even know each other personally in real life.

If a game is structured so that it's hard to find and group with other cooperators, or if players can easily create new characters on a server and thereby remain effectively anonymous, then it is safe to expect that game to be much more of a Hobbesian environment, full of players taking advantage of each other, safe in the knowledge that they'll probably never see that other player again. Players of games whose rules permit high levels of anonymity have less incentive to cooperate because the cost of defection is low. The typical interaction will be finding creative ways to hose your fellow players.


From a game designer point of view, Axelrod's observations offer some practical tips on how to structure an online game's rules for player interaction to either promote or discourage cooperative social behaviors. If you like the idea of a dog-eat-dog, 24x7 gankfest, then you'd encode game rules that turn the knobs way down on the bullet-pointed conditions for cooperation listed above. If instead you want to create a game that rewards trust and punishes parasites, then you'd implement game rules that crank the dial to 11 on these conditions.

Here's what I wonder: What would such games be like? Assuming other game features that make those games fun to play, would a game that deliberately violates all the conditions for cooperation be successful, either critically or commercially? Could a game that actively promotes being a bastard to every other player be enough fun for enough people to be successful?

What about the opposite: how about a game that deliberately defines the rules of the gameworld so that a very high degree of cooperation is encouraged? (Not forced, just indirectly encouraged.) Would such a game be too "angelic" to survive? Would the defectors still show up and prevent the cooperators from winning over the long term? Or would such a highly cooperative game wind up being The Game that the computer-owning but non-game-playing public are waiting for?

Friday, January 7, 2005

Nothing Wrong With People Who Don't "Get" Online Games

I believe it's a mistake to characterize people who don't "get" online worlds as somehow defective. They're not. Not appreciating online play does not mean that there is something wrong with these people intellectually, ethically, emotionally, politically, or otherwise -- all it means is that they have a different understanding of what's important than people whose primary goal is something other than security.

Nor is it correct to say that this difference in world-goals is a matter of learned habits, or a reaction to some "trauma" experienced early in life, or any other such environmental phenomenon. People are just born different. They pop out of the womb with different fundamental motivations, and to a great extent they retain those different motivations throughout their lives.

A study of the behavior toward strangers of newborn babies (Thomas & Chess, 1977) characterized newborns as outgoing, reserved, or "slow-to-warm-up." Some babies would coo and express curiosity at being held by new people; others would cry if they noticed a stranger; others would express concern but would accept the stranger as non-threatening after a time in which nothing bad happened.

What's interesting is that these attitudes toward security are apparently retained throughout one's life, and underlie decision-making regardless of most life experiences. They appear to be based on innate preferences... which means that we ought to view those preferences non-judgementally.

(That's not to say that actual behavior should be immune to judgement, just that the basic motivations native to individuals are not "wrong" merely for being different.)

As for the specific motivations themselves, there are any number of reasonable categorizations, ranging from Myers-Briggs and Keirseian temperament theory to "Big Five" models to the description (by one of the DSM-IV's creators) of pathological behavior as a hyperexcess of one or two otherwise acceptable motivations. The main thing to recognize about all these models is that they begin with the modern assumption that "different" doesn't equal "wrong" where motivations are concerned.

So any of these models can work for understanding the behavior of people generally and gamers specifically. None of them are perfect ("it's only a model"), but perfection isn't required -- they just need to explain human behavior to a useful degree. I've found the models I've named generally good enough (because they're models based on empirical data, and not data generated to support a theory), but others may work as well.

Speaking for myself, I happen to prefer the model David Keirsey developed, with a few minor tweaks based on my own experience and analysis. To express it in terms appropriate for this discussion, most people are guided primarily by one of four motivations:



external change



external order



internal order



internal change

(The names given for each of the four temperaments are Keirsey's; the descriptions are mine.)

Myers-Briggs statistics indicate that there are a lot more Guardians and Artisans than Idealists and Rationals -- that is, the general population contains a lot more folks who are concerned with the physical, concrete, external world than with conceptual, abstract, internal phenomena. Most people are content -- in fact, prefer -- to concern themselves with what is "real": building things, making money, shaking hands, acquiring possessions, manipulating objects and people. To these folks, even the word "game" has certain undesirable connotations of something adults just don't do, or something not meant to be taken seriously.

OK, so some people aren't interested in -- and live perfectly satisfying lives without -- playing computer games. So? How is that a problem for those of us who do find satisfaction in playing (and thinking about the playing of) games? Why should we consider others broken because they aren't like us?

Of course it's also true that Guardians and Artisans are wrong to consider gamers somehow defective because we don't share their externals-directed motivation. If someone doesn't want to play games themselves, that's fine, but if they go beyond this to attacking the value of gameplay (in moderation) to others, or even trying to prevent others from engaging in appropriate play, that's not fine and it deserves to be challenged.

But it's not a mistake we should copy. If someone is wrong to deny the value of play, let's not emulate them by questioning the value of security. If we don't let others be different, why should we expect them to let us be different?

If we don't respect their motivations, why should they respect ours?