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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

The Problem With Bartle, Part I

Posted by OddjobXL Monday March 16 2009 at 9:41AM
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You can't really blame Richard Bartle for the Bartle test.  That was someone else adapting his ideas to another end. But here it is:  Explorer, Killer, Achiever and Socializer.  This is the checklist of motives that drives players in the minds of most game designers. 

Roleplayers are, evidently, socializers.  To an extent that's true.  You can't roleplay alone (that's just writing) and much of what happens in practice is socializing if in costumes and with adopted personae. 

But roleplayers are also killers, achievers and explorers.  You'll find them as the most colorful pirates in Eve Online.  They  lead guilds and look for recognition in SWG.  They explore not just world topography but the meaning of a setting and their character's place in it in every MMO I've found roleplayers in.

Roleplayers are, as a group, immersionists.  They want to lose themselves for a time and become someone else somewhere else.  I talk about the key elements of this in "On Immersion" and "The Power of Selective Perception."

This something that doesn't make the checklist.  We don't hear many folk talking about this in cogent ways.  It's fine when talking about any other form of media to discuss how effective a book is at drawing one in to its reality or laugh when a mic drops into a shot because we all know that ruins suspension of disbelief.  But when it comes to MMOs this line of analysis seems to be utterly missing.  Even singleplayer computer or console games about some known setting are compared to it, how it works, as a matter of course.

When skimming through Bartle's "Designing Virtual Worlds" the other day it seems the man has some odd ideas about roleplaying.  He even offers a checklist on how to pretend to be someone else that includes cooking up a different RL identity for yourself in an, evidently related, section called Masquerading.  But let's get to the nubbins of it.

"Players can adapt their characters.  Role-players determine not to.  Role-playing is therefor a sub-class of playing.  Both are paths to fulfillment, and both offer the same overall goal:  Being someone else in order to become a better you." - Bartle, 190

I roleplay because it's fun to be someone else for a while and it can be a challenge to play someone different from myself or to research a new wrinkle to exploit in a setting.   I'm pretty sure nonroleplayers aren't grinding mobs and levelling characters in order to achieve enlightenment either.  I may misunderstand Bartle's point here but it seems an odd perspective.

"Role-players map themselves onto a character.  They don't map the character onto themselves.  In so doing, they can come to an understanding of what makes their character tick.  The key is they change but their character doesn't."

"This then is the roleplaying paradox:  As a roleplayer, you try to become your character however if you succeed then you're no longer roleplaying. 

So roleplaying sets up the necessary conditions for immersion, but the harder you role-play the less immersed you get:  Thinking about your character as a seperate entity breaks immersion.  The more you think about a line to decide whether it's right for your character, the greater a distance you put between yourself and that character.  The conscious post-editing of your characters words means the subconscious seperation of you and your character."  Bartle, 191

Now this doesn't match my experience at all.  Yes, we do map ourselves onto characters but the characters often push back over time.  They take on lives of their own.  Writers often talk about characters that come alive and surprise them as they're setting down a story.  This happens constantly with roleplayers as a byproduct of immersion.  Some part of our brain is making notes about our planned and improvised choices as we play and, over time, hits autopilot. 

The more you roleplay a character the less hard you have to think about what he or she will say or do.  Yes, we do edit as we go but I'd describe it less as a "conscious post-editing" as a "post-conscious editing."  It comes instinctually.  Selective perception, as described in my other post, also works wonders for a player's internal editor.  We compartmentalize without realizing it and immersion is sustained.

A character grows and develops all kinds of nuances and quirks the longer you play him.  There's often something unplanned that pops out of his mouth a player may find himself wondering about that adds depth if it's explored.  Always notice what you notice, right?.  I suspect once a character becomes that established in the imagination that auto-pilot tends to reel in related stuff on a subconscious level.   More than one time a character's tossed out a word I had to look up afterwords only to find I'd used it right.  Evidently resonant associations on a subconscious level are part of the process.

Part II will explore how Bartle sees setting and its role in MMORPGs.

Sakky writes:

Exactly my own experience, at one point, a RP'er may have to think about responses, but as things progress, you know instincually what hey would say/do. Or even, act without concious thought, Quite often I type something, hit enter and think "Wow, thats Sakkra... where did it come from?" It came from part of my mind, trained over time, to BE Sakkra. (Sakkra is my SWG Trandoshan, lizard alien lady, quite fun, definatly does not think like a human.)

At first being, acting alien in the true sense of the word was hard, and required effort that could break immersion, but really did not. Why? Even then, the thought process was not part of the experience, and quickly forgotten. Immersion maintained.

Later, as I said, it became ever easier, I log into SWG, and the Sakkra part of my brain turns on. 

Good RP results in a controllable multilple personality disorder. Much fun.

Mon Mar 16 2009 12:45PM Report
Loxius writes:

Let me begin with the lead in that I have "known," Oddjobxl, or, "Mandash," for years now.  So I am biased.  I have found him to be a true gamer's philosopher.  He has been a peacemaker, fellow rabble-rouser and insurrectionist, and barn-stormer, as he refers to it in a previous post.  He is quite simply one of the most literate and thought-provoking people I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. 

First, I am pleased to have encountered this blog at last and actually plan to read it (that's a big deal for me!). 

What Mandash has always been able to do for me, much like another fellow I hold in high esteem, Davyn, also from SWG RP days, is to fill me with hope and giddy enthusiasm for RP and exuberance for immersion.  And if more RPers were like Mandash and a select few others, RP immersion in MMOs would be painless and sweet.

Yet, quite

Mon Mar 16 2009 7:19PM Report
Loxius writes:

(Sigh, accidentally posted)

....that is to say, quite few have the maturity and consideration for fellow RPers and gamers like Oddjob and company.  Many want to "win" at all costs.  They cannot stand their character to ever lose any interaction, and therefore RP can devolve into the silliness of he said she said arguments. 

I am not trying to be pessimistic.  Chances are better than even that I will try and RP again with Oddjob.  To paraphrase him and others, when it works, it is amazing.  The immersion is beyond description and stays with you as a cherished memory for life.  But gone is my innocence, if you will regarding this, and I will be very careful in the future about who I interact with. 

I suppose the truest immersion of all is accepting the reality of any world which contains humans-real or imaginary-not all the inhabitants want to or know how to play nicely with others. 

At any rate, Oddjob, for what its worth, thank you for spreading hope, and please keep up the blog!

Mon Mar 16 2009 7:30PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Wow. Lox, and I didn't even ask you to come read this! I swear, folks, I'm not paying this guy.

I don't know if I'm all those things you say, though I appreciate it. Much of what's in these posts is something that's cropped up in one chat or another over the years and I'm mostly just thinking out loud, with the help of a morning caffiene rush, as I put it all together. A friend called these posts my "manifesto" but it's really more of a proto-festo.

I'd really like more people to join the discussion and chime in or argue or put forward their own ideas too. Hopefully I'm not so out there that folks can't relate!

Well, Sakky can, but she's a goddess. All knowing. That kinda thing. She makes us worship her, Lox. A tough but fair diety.

Mon Mar 16 2009 7:36PM Report
Loxius writes:

First off, your check cleared, as you can see!

Secondly, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what your commenters have had to say as I scroll back through your blog posts.  Glad to see you continue to attract the wise ones!  ;)

In all seriousness, you said something to me recently that really resonated, and that was, if I may paraphrase, that roleplaying is about taking the good with the bad, and being able to adapt and adjust on the fly, or else you are simply a playwright or actor who is unwilling to accept unfettered interaction.

If I may be so bold, I would assert that RP takes a sort of social contract between participants.  I am not asking for a writer to hand me a script, but after our past experiences with RP gone horribly out of control, is it so unreasonable to ask for a director?  Or perhaps even a lone security guard should one of the actors go bonkers?

I really would like to hear your take on this--we agreed on this once long ago--and it goes back to the core of immersion (to me).

Thank you!

PS- all hail Sakky!

Mon Mar 16 2009 7:43PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

He's a quick learner.  Sakky, you've got another one.

I'm not sure what I said back then.  The whole VR situation was stressful and I was pretty pissed towards the end.   At everybody, Founders and LED folks alike.   I got better.

I guess my conclusion after all this time is that it was my choice to place so much faith in people.  I own that.  That was my call.  You can pour an awful lot of yourself into a community and come to see that as the whole fishbowl but that's what it is, a fishbowl.  You can always leap out and go somewhere else.

The unique problem with Vagabond's Rest, on that account, was that it was unique.  A massive community, literally a city, of roleplayers and with all the history, personal ties and sentiments both IC and OOC that come with the package.  There's a pretty powerful undertow there so instead of giving up and heading back to shore you keep on dogpaddling and hoping it somehow works out because, well, what's the alternative?  No VR?

Hence you get involved in the bickering yourself.  Or maybe, in my case, I didn't get involved enough and really make a difference when it could have counted.   But I couldn't just keep being mad at folks.  I just don't have the attention span.

That's a central theme of "The Power of Selective Perception."  You have to keep in mind you're in charge of you.  When things aren't right just ignore what's wrong and leave.  Find a new perspective and people who share it rather than getting caught up in petty disputes.  They're rarely productive.


Mon Mar 16 2009 8:03PM Report
Loxius writes:


Do you see what I'm saying about this guy folks?!  To speak in the vernacular, he is teh win!

You're absolutely right, my friend.  I could do well to keep some of this in mind as your angry Security Chief on your away teams in STO! 

In all seriousness, well put, but I still think Davyn had something in the post-VR gaming world where he suggested that at least some form of mild moderation can help reduce the retardation of people with personal OOC agendas from destroying it.

But hell, you're absolutely right.  I left myself in the fishbowl.  I was actually over-immersed in that world.  I was playing all the time, I was neglecting real life obligations and relationships, and I was all about the immersion in that world.  Not that it wasn't fun, but I think in retrospect, I clearly set myself up for some of the heartache I reaped.  But that does make me think about your earlier postings about immersion and how that is the ultimate goal. 

What's scary is that when it really is immersive, Roleplay can consume you.  And I think a lot of us probably had some issues seperating our characters from ourselves.  The true "professionals," amongst us, as I call folks like you, Davyn, Treble, Oose and Trochus, to name a few, always seemed to excel at staying immersed, but also being able to maintain a mature detachment.

Those that played it as a role and kept that perspective seemed to weather adversity well.  Which really makes me wonder, is love of RP and immersion enough?  What if I just play things too close to the chest?  Perhaps as mature as I like to imagine myself, I lack the ability to really meaningfully RP?

Does that explain why I am off to go shoot people in Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead?  Or is there hope and I just love killing zombies?!  Thanks for the thought-provocation!



Mon Mar 16 2009 8:28PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

That's a good point.  That's a really good point.  It is possible for roleplayers to get too caught up in things but that's true of anyone.  All kinds of groups and guilds have drama whether they roleplay or not.  That's just how people can act sometimes.

But there is the added depth with roleplaying because can get a little attached to the creative rush of playing a favorite character and immersion that the shared narrative history between characters brings.  "You can't break the band up, man!" 

I don't think even the most "professional" players are totally seperate emotionally from their characters.  They're just used to how all this works and know when to step back from a situation that's not productive.   The thing is even actors will tell you that sometimes a role does follow them home and they don't have to write their own lines.  It's just something you pick up with experience.

VR was quite an experience for all of us, man.

Mon Mar 16 2009 9:27PM Report
Loxius writes:

Sorry, I can't resist lousying up this cerebral discussion with levity. 

Speaking of fine thespians:

Prosecutor: Over Macho Grande?
Witness: No. I don't think I'll ever get over Macho Grande.

Mon Mar 16 2009 10:10PM Report
Flatfingers writes:

Well, this is interesting.... :)

I just noticed the links to this blog from the Star Trek Online forum. From OddJobXL's literate and intelligent posts there, I discover even more interesting commentary here.

Sometimes I think this Internet thing might just succeed after all.

To specifics! I've been a student of personality for well over a decade, and a gamer for a lot longer than that. So when I encountered Richard Bartle's typology of gamers, I found it pretty fascinating. And I've been yapping about it ever since.

So I have some opinions on his original four Types that I hope will be relevant to the original blog post, even if I'm coming to it a bit late.

1. It's important to distinguish between what we want and what we do. The Bartle Types get expressed through action, and are often talked about in terms of defining gameplay activities. But that's not what they're about -- what the Types describe are motivations; they distinguish one fundamental kind of human need from another.

The trouble is that we only see those motivations through what people do. If what people can do in some setting is constrained, then that's automatically going to distort our understanding of what we think is driving those visible behaviors.

This is why it's usually a bad idea to try to define a model of player types from watching individuals play one or a few recent MMORPGs. For various reasons, MMORPGs implement as gameplay only an extremely limited subset of the kinds of things people fundamentally want to express. Looking at the very small (and usually competition/accumulation-oriented) list of actions permitted in a MMORPG, an observer could be forgiven for thinking that everyone who comes to play these games must be an Achiever... but they're not! It's just about the only thing the gameplay as coded allows players to express. It's just what they do -- it's not who they are.

The point here is to address the initial observation in this blog post. Certainly anyone can express the behavior of roleplaying in a MMORPG that provides some game content to that end. But the people who are most often found enjoying this content will be Socializers, because that is the motivation that finds its most comfortable outlet through roleplaying content.

And that's really all the Bartle Types model is about: what style of play do you enjoy most, regardless of whether you can express that desire in one actual MMORPG or another? Seen in that light, I think it makes more sense.

2. On immersion: I regard that as being of particular interest to the union of Socializers and Explorers, not Socializers/roleplayers alone.

Both of these gameplay motivations care about setting because setting is a necessary feature for their preferred style of play to work. Socializers/Narrativists/roleplayers need rich settings to be able to construct enjoyable stories; Explorers/Simulationists need highly detailed settings in order to have deep, complex systems to tinker with and try to understand. For both types, "worldiness" matters greatly in a MMORPG.

My theory as to why this Socializer/Explorer relationship towards immersion exists is related to how I see those two Bartle Types as gaming-context analogs to the Idealist/Rational temperaments in David Keirsey's temperament theory... but that's another blog entry. :)

3. Finally, to the point about how Richard sees Socializers as focused on "becoming" their characters... it's best to let him express that in his own words. But I do have a take on it that I hope will make some sense in the context of what I wrote in item #2 above.

Which is that, as Idealists, Socializers are innately concerned with the process of improvement towards an ideal state. In their gameplay, this gets expressed as "pretending to be other people" -- as roleplaying -- in order to discover things about themselves. Playing a rogue gives them access to certain realizations about manipulating others for profit; playing a guild leader reveals some truths about group dynamics; and so on. Roleplayers don't roleplay just to roleplay; they're doing it because it satisfies their distinctive basic need to realize other ways of living in order to improve their own real lives. Not "improve" in terms of possessions (that's the Achiever goal) or worldsystem-understanding (that's what Explorers want), but improvement in the sense of being the person they believe they can and should be.

If I understand Richard, he's saying that roleplaying is a means to that end of "becoming." By "being" someone else for a while, we become more of who we can be.

Idealists are interesting people. :)


Obviously this is a subject of some interest to me. I hope the notes above are, if nothing else, fun to consider. I discuss this stuff more over on my own blog, in the "Bartle's Player Types" ( and "Styles of Play" ( posts. If anyone else is interested in this sort of thing, I hope they'll find some useful ideas there.

Thanks for a very provocative post, and an excellent blog, OddjobXL. I can see I have some reading to do...!

Mon Apr 06 2009 10:11AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Thanks for the feedback and I'm delighted to see you're here Flatfingers.  As you know I've been mightily impressed with your posts on the STO forums even on the odd occasion we disagree!

There's quite a bit to respond to here and even more that's food for thought.

Let me just address the last:

Different roleplayers may have different motivations for roleplaying.  Some might really be exploring aspects of their own internal character by creating avatars for expression.  Others just want to be someone else for a while for fun and because their friends are doing it too. 

Me?  Well, in Robin Law's terms I'm a "Storyteller" player.  That doesn't mean I want to be the big puppetmaster behind the scenes, like a DM or ref or admin, but that I want my character's actions to fit into an exciting or interesting narrative and the choices I make are often with that end in mind.  It's about the recreation, in personal and original terms, of stories I've experienced as a passive observer before.  Of course it's easier to be convincing and more exciting to be playing a character if you don't know exactly  how the story will play out.

For ideas on how roleplayers think and function, our version of Bartle, I'd look at Robin Laws' "Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering."  It's listed along with many other handy books in my blog entry "The Roleplayer's Shelf."

But more to the point, I don't see creating a great character as the goal (that, in Law's terms is the Method Actor kind of player) of roleplaying but creating a character that expedites strong storytelling and brings others into the moment with me.

In tabletop games I'm often almost collaborating with whomever's running the game to keep it together, well paced and heading towards some dramatic conclusions if, of course, with the occasional diversions and challenges in order to help preserve the illusion of freedom of choice.

Mon Apr 06 2009 11:15AM Report
Flatfingers writes:

If you've had a chance to take a look at the "Styles of Play" entry at my blog, you'll have seen that I do in fact reference Robin Laws's suggested player types.

From my perspective, it's an OK system. The parts I like are, naturally, the ones I think are isomorphic to the four-style system that others keep seeing. :) I don't think it's a perfect typology: it's simply a random counting of observations about types rather than a set of types that flow from a model (as do the Bartle Types); and the Specialist type isn't IMO a "type" at all (it's a variant of the Powergamer).

Still, it does perceive some types I think most of us can agree on: the Powergamer, the Butt-Kicker, the Tactician, the Method Actor. I understand and accept that you may disagree, but I would say that the Storyteller is something of a cross between the Method Actor and the Butt-Kicker -- the point of a story is the exciting ride, the action, the experience.

Accordingly, I'm strongly inclined to see the Storyteller as another facet of the Butt-Kicker rather than a distinct type of its own. If the Storyteller's main interest is in doing things just to see what happens, that strikes me as exceedingly similar to the manipulative impulse of the Experientialist/Killer-Manipulator/Artisan type.

(It's very important to understand that, unlike some people, I don't consider the Manipulator motivation to be inherently negative. Virtuoso musicians are "manipulators" of their instruments; successful salesmen and politicians are skillful manipulators of people; fighter pilots and experienced craftsmen are masterful manipulators of tools. So when I say I think the proposed Storyteller type is actually a variant of the more general Manipulator type, that is not in any way a negative or insulting comment. In fact, I'd say that a good storyteller will be one who is skillful at manipulating characters and plots and settings in order to produce a desired reaction in a specific audience -- there's nothing whatsoever negative about that.)

Bottom line, then, is that I distinguish between "roleplaying" and "roleplayers."

Roleplaying is an action that anyone can take. The mere act of engaging in roleplaying doesn't mean the person doing so is necessarily a roleplayer by nature.

A roleplayer is a person who is innately wired in such a way as to find it most enjoyable to deeply experience a story as an imagined character in a dramatically-rich secondary reality.

In many cases a person who is by nature a roleplayer will -- not surprisingly -- tend to engage in whatever roleplaying content a game permits. There is a correlation between being a roleplayer and doing a lot of roleplaying... but seeing someone roleplaying (to some degree) does not mean that person must be a roleplayer.


Making subtle distinctions like these usually means we're reached the point of "it's just my opinion." :) And of course that's pretty much all the above is -- if you or anyone else disagrees with any of the foregoing comments, I don't object in the least.

Thanks for the great intro post that got all this started!

Tue Apr 07 2009 1:04AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I tend to disagree with your evaluation of Robin's Laws.  I've actually run into all of the types he's talked about in my tabletop games.  In fact, his types are based on practical field observation that I can back up with my own experience.

The butt-kicker is a guy who wants to do just one thing, to kick butt.  He's not a power gamer, necessarily, as he may not care enough about learning rules or spending time min-maxing.  He's no storyteller as he doesn't care about story.  He's no tactician as planning gets in the way of his good time.  He just wants to find a fight.

The specialist is someone in love with the romance of a particular image.  He's a Ninja!  He's Wolverine!  He's A Private Eye!  He's a Lady's Man like Bond!  And he wants to play the same character in every game.  It doesn't matter if the game doesn't have martial arts, for example, he'll pick up some generic brawling skill and basic stealth skill and make something as close to a Ninja as he can make.

This has nothing to do with min-maxing skills and can often lead the player to a less powerful character build because of his fixation.   The powergamer must have the most powerful build and will play any kind of concept that takes best advantage of the mechanics to get it. 

Other players might look at the butt-kicker and wonder why he isn't just home playing Halo.  In fact, there are fewer and fewer of this typpe around these days because they are home playing Halo, beating up newbies in WoW, or pirating in Eve Online.

I mentioned in an IM I sent you that I'm fairly skeptical of any system of describing people as the folks making them tend to share a Victorian fascination with categorization that likely arises from them sharing a particular personality type themselves.

It can make for a good read but it doesn't always follow the contours of real experience.    It's one thing to read Law's words and another thing to have been out there living them.  I discovered him fairly late and was very delighted.  I know these guys he talks about.  I know why he broke things down as he did:  to get not to the actions but the motivations and with the goal of satisfying those motivations.

What makes any one of those guys happy may or may not help another of those guys.   Law's thinking is wonderfully sound and each type really is distinct in practice.

As for what makes a roleplayer, I'll tell you the truth:  I think everyone is but they just don't know it yet.  If they can have the other stuff they want and also really be immersed in a story as part of it I think they'd all be on board.

This is why I suspect roleplaying, and simulationism, transcends these types.

The butt-kicker just wants to kick butt but if he could do it in a way that fed a story without inconveniencing his needs overmuch he'll be on board.  We call these PvP-RPers.  They do exist.  In fact, they're often better roleplayers than the powergamer because they're less concerned with min-maxing so often you'll see them in a variety of guises and roles.

The powergamer will adapt to his game and doesn't require the game to adapt to him.  We'd often see powergamer roleplayers though they'd usually set their character up to be "glorious" in order to further feed their egos and need to assert their prowess.

Both powergamer and butt-kicker are often going to be involved in PvP but the butt-kicker is generally happier there because he doesn't need to win all the time.  They're both killer types but the powergamer edges more to achiever.   Both are social because both need people to get things they want.  Only the powergamer is necessarily an explorer (of rules and optimal ways to do things) and an achiever (because he needs to win).

The storyteller is an explorer (needs to know the setting to understand what stories are possible and often 'tests' whomever's running the game by going off on creative, exploratory, tangents to flesh the experience out) and a socializer (one needs friends to tell a story with and keep it interesting). 

I'm having trouble with Bartle because his system is just too simplistic and doesn't address motivation.  Motivation is the real key.  I'm a behaviorist myself but even I recognize observed behavior isn't the whole story.  There's often something very different going on under the hood even if similiar behavior is observed.

Tue Apr 07 2009 6:53AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I would say that most types of roleplayers are innately socializers but they have different motivations for being there.  The tactician is a little more curious though.  He's often fine, or even better, wandering off by himself or with just whomever's running the game to conduct his schemes.  He's often a secretive note passer or he'll latch on to whomever's leading the group as a right hand advisor.  He's often annoyed with all the other types as they mess up his plans with their "roleplaying."

Like the powergamer, he wants to win, but unlike the powergamer he doesn't need adoration or to be at the top of the pecking order so he doesn't need other players as much.  His motivation is testing his own mind and abilities in the context of the game not, as the powergamer, by necessarily making an uber character and pushing the bounds of the rules for every edge he can get.

In fact, he likes a nice concensus about what the rules are so he can get about his business rather than getting into fights about rules for his own personal advantage.   That said the tactician can be most contentious about rules he sees as unrealistic or improperly interpreted.

I think the tactician sees the roleplaying experience as providing a good backdrop for tactics and his immersion into the tactical puzzles that crop up but not an end in itself.

Tue Apr 07 2009 7:06AM Report
Hagonbok writes:

I'm not really sure how someone could right so much about a game (STO) in a "comparison like this when they so obviously know so very little about it.

This person really has a skewed idea about what STO will be folks. Much of the information released to date about the game runs counter to the "spin" this person is trying to put on things.

Tue Apr 07 2009 8:35AM Report
Hagonbok writes:

*write rather


Tue Apr 07 2009 8:36AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Hagon's referring to another post:

Tue Apr 07 2009 11:02AM Report
Flatfingers writes:

>> I tend to disagree with your evaluation of Robin's Laws. I've actually run into all of the types he's talked about in my tabletop games. In fact, his types are based on practical field observation that I can back up with my own experience.

If I haven't made this clear earlier, let me be sure to do so now: I'm in no way trying to suggest that the player types suggested by Robin Laws have "no" utility. For one thing, I personally think they do have value; for another, if they demonstrably help you or someone else better understand gamer motivation, then they help, period, regardless of what I or anyone else might think. I'm actually a subscriber to several of the types suggested (Powergamer, Tactician, Butt-Kicker, Method Actor), and I approve of Robin's approach to model-building that starts with observation of real gamers.

My criticisms are twofold:

1. I'm naturally suspicious of any model that simply enumerates perceived types without showing how those types are distinct. One advantage of Bartle's Types here is that the four original types he noted aren't just "I think I see these four things -- might have been three, or eight, or twenty-three; just happened to be four"; the four types emerge from identifying two key axes of motivation and recognizing that each of the resulting four quadrants denotes a distinct motivation of play.

2. No model of human behavior is perfect -- humans are too quirky. This applies to the Bartle Types as well as to the types suggested by Robin Laws, as well as to the preferences that Nick Yee believed he saw based on his questionnaires, and so on. I personally see several of the types proposed by Robin Laws as being more similar than different, and I think doing so leads to a more useful model (because IMO it comes closer to describing more fundamental motivations), but that's a subjective perception which I don't expect others must share. No model has to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough to be useful.

>> I'm having trouble with Bartle because his system is just too simplistic and doesn't address motivation. Motivation is the real key. I'm a behaviorist myself but even I recognize observed behavior isn't the whole story. There's often something very different going on under the hood even if similiar behavior is observed.


I happen to disagree; through my own personal experience I'm satisfied that his model in fact does a better job than most of getting at the essential motivations of gamers, and that there are sound functional reasons why this is so. (The "Keirsey/Bartle" and "Big Chart" blog entries of mine get into the gory details of that.)

I definitely don't hold your viewpoint against you, though, as I hope you don't hold mine against me. Ultimately I consider it healthy to approach this subject of "what gamers want" from different directions.

Different perceptions are what make conversations interesting. :)

Thanks for the great exchange! And I look forward to reading your other posts, both here and elsewhere.

Wed Apr 08 2009 11:12AM Report writes:
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