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:

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