I used to think of gamers as simply gamers. Sure, there are angry gamers and full-time gamers and casual gamers, but still, they’re all just gamers, right? Well, not quite. It was when I recently ran into a little something called Bartle’s Test that I realized something: you can call all gamers simply gamers, but that’s about as accurate as calling all engineers simply engineers. Different people game for different reasons, and they get different things out of gaming. Richard Bartle’s article here goes further in depth about things, but I’ll highlight the main details I got out of it. Also, while Bartle was chiefly identifying them as types of multiplayer gamers, I believe it can apply to gamers as a whole.
According to Bartle’s theory, there are four distinct character types that define gaming. Anyone can overlap with any or every type, but (generally speaking) we all have a stronger leaning in one particular direction. The four types are as follows: achievers, explorers, socializers, and killers. Bartle goes on to further highlight what attunes those gamers to those aspects using the following chart:
This gives some insight into personality patterns that can decide the polarities of gamers.
But now let’s further unravel the categories:
- Achievers (diamonds) are people who love to collect titles, awards, experience points, high scores, medals, and the like. They thrive on praise and admiration. They’re some of the longest-playing, richest, and most loyal gamers due to their long-term investments in the games they play. They have tendencies to be proud, and they like games to contain challenges that other gamers can’t (or won’t) necessarily overcome.
- Planners have the big picture in mind. Long-term goals. Things to chip slowly away at for the next ten-twenty years. Weapons or houses to build or collect. You’ll probably mostly find them playing MMOs (or still trying to get the highest score in Tetris or Pong).
- Opportunists tend to snatch up their achievements in bursts; seasonal events or peak or off-peak game times affect the frequency and intensity of their gaming. They’re also more interested in achievements that are relevant at the time (so that people around them are actively impressed).
- Explorers (spades): although Wikipedia’s summary of Bartle’s theory suggests that only two sub-types of explorers exist, I’ll have to say that I disagree. There’s definitely at least three. Explorers are the people who run around absolutely everywhere. If you’re watching a Twitch/Youtube feed and you’re wondering why in blazes the streamer/uploader went into that room/corner/building when the quest clearly pointed another direction, they’re almost certainly an explorer gamer.
- Scientists experiment. Scientist explorers try everything around them – all the buttons, all the books, all the combinations, all the options, all the shortcuts, and all the scenic routes as well. If it works, awesome. If it fails, at least they tried. No stone left unturned. No formulas left uncombined.
- Hackers are looking for bugs and exploits. Some might simply be amused by such glitches, but others could be compared to achievers in that they try to get to places that others can’t (or skip the hard work involved in reaching certain achievements).
- Tourists could be compared to scientists, but they’re running around more to see new things and places and characters and scenes and scenery than to experiment. They take it all in and then want more. They’re the most likely to jump between games, because unless the studio keeps tossing new places and lore for them to explore and absorb, they churn through everything quickly and are then struck by unquenchable wanderlust.
- Socializers (hearts) are the glue of every community. They talk, they discuss, they pull people together, they repair breaches in society. They’re the heart of guilds or outfits in MMO games. They’re the kind guys and gals who stop to revive you when you’re downed in the middle of nowhere. They’re the group healers and buff-providers. They’re the people who spend hours beside (or in) a puzzle with you just to have someone to talk to. If they play single-player games, you can pretty much guarantee that they’re active and proactive on the game’s forums.
- Networkers bring groups together. This usually involves bringing people from different character types into one place and gluing them there by creating bonds and loyalties and nurturing mutual friendships. They build and expand and maintain guilds and/or communities. They form teams and proactively schedule meetups/group events.
- Friend gamers are the loyal buddies who are always willing to join you, wherever you are, whenever you are there. They’ll drop what they’re doing (“forget it, I can start again from the bottom of the mountain later”) to join their buddies. They’ll come to their friends’ rescues if they’re being confronted or abused on a forum.
- Killers (clubs) are highly competitive players. They may or may not be as competitive in general as achievers, but kills and skills are their two favorite things. They’d sacrifice the score turnout for a bloodbath if kills didn’t mean wins (but kills are usually directly related to winning, whether by eliminating the opposition’s score-earners or through the kills themselves). They’re players with serious reflexes, and are either frontline brutes or veteran snipers. Some fight with honor, and are fun opponents. Others can be derisive and unpleasant.
- Wolf gamers compete and hunt. They feed on flesh and bury their muzzles in warm blood. They compete with other wolves for the position of alpha, and they form hierarchies of mutual respect and understanding based on skill and strength. They’re generally just as comfortable hunting by themselves as they are in packs – and in some cases, when in a pack that simply keeps getting in the way, they separate and scour the battlefield on their own.
- Griefers can be compared to forum lepers. Some of them may even be those. They’re in for the rush, the feeling of superiority, the chase. They’re the level-281-account players who create level-0 accounts simply to plow their way through low-level matches and watch dismay and despair seep through their opponents. They’re the group of five players who watches for ones and twos of their opponents to arrive – and then pounces on them, then waits for them to respawn so they can rinse and repeat.
There could be more sub-categories, so feel free to suggest them in a comment! I’ll even add them to the post if they stand out as unique or necessary.
I personally lean toward the tourist end of things. Sometimes I fancy myself in the wolf pack or trying to support my allies, and occasionally I reach for some low-hanging achievements, but unless I’m playing a game like Rainbow Six: Siege, I’m usually more interested in my surroundings. Getting from point A to B, C, D, E, and all the other letters. Seeing characters and scenery and worlds and stories come to life around me. That’s where most of my hours in Skyrim and The Witcher 3 come from.
What kind of a gamer are you?