Game Design: The missing player type

Many efforts have been made to divide computer game players up into different types, in attempts to better understand why players play games, and thus how to make computer games that players will enjoy. One of my favorite attempts at player classification is Mitch Krpata’s A New Taxonomy of Gamers (this link goes to the third in an eleven-part series). The important insight that I want to talk about occurs in the section I linked to; this is the distinction between “Skill Players” and “Tourists”. In a nutshell, Skill Players play the game in order to achieve some form of mastery over it, while Tourists play in order to experience all the high points and cool bits of the game.  (Please read the article for more detail!)

A similar article is Mark Rosewater’s Timmy, Johnny and Spike Revisited.  This article is from the perspective of Magic: the Gathering design, which has several interesting features.  New expansions are released several times a year, each with more than 100 cards; therefore, a lot of cards must be designed on a regular basis. The gist of Mark Rosewater’s article is that he and his team have created several psychographic profiles which encompass the reasons for which people play M:tG. Each profile represents a type of player, but more importantly a reason to play M:tG. Once again, read the article for more detail! And once again, in a nutshell:

“Timmy” plays to experience something, whether it’s something amazing happening within the game, something completely new or just some fun times hanging out with friends. In my mind, this ties in well with the “Tourist” player type from Mitch Krpata’s articles. The focus of this player type is on experiencing something cool that happens within the game.

“Spike” plays to prove something, usually skill, by winning. Of course, M:tG encompasses several skill sets, so there are Spike players who focus on very different parts of the game; finding new deck types, tuning decks or mastering play tactics. This ties in well with the “Skill Player” appellation, seeking mastery over the game.

And finally, “Johnny” plays to express something. These players usually focus on deckbuilding; their decks can contain innovative card interactions, or the decks can be constructed in offbeat or themed ways. This ties in with…wait.

The missing player type

It seems to me that Mitch Krpata has missed an interesting point here. But he’s in good company, as I haven’t heard this idea discussed very often.

There are computer game players who wish to express something with their play. Here are some of the ways they do so:

Some players create things which are meant to be artistic, using the game as a medium. The Dwarf Fortress Map Archive allows players to submit and rate maps, showing things they have created in Dwarf Fortres—tunnels, walls, fortifications, living quarters, treasure rooms, magma fountains and so on. (The most popular map is Flarechannel—Be sure to zoom in to zoom factor 1, actual size, then drag the map around and go to other levels!) Minecraft is also known for this sort of appeal.

Some players will play through a game and make a record of their actions, calling it an “After Action Report” or a “Let’s Play“. These transcripts can be written in the form of a narrative, as with GuavaMoment’s X-COM Apocalypse/Interceptor Let’s Play, or Porkness’ Uplink: Trust is a weakness Let’s Play. Sometimes the narrative emerges through play, as with Boatmurdered. (And I have to say, while Boatmurdered is probably Not Safe For Work with tons of profanity and occasional gore, it’s also hilarious and astonishing.)

Dominions 3 is a fantasy strategy game with a staggering amount of possible unit combinations and strategies. One of the best players goes by Baalz; he’s spent a lot of time playing the game (I hesitate to speculate exactly how much), and he’s good at coming up strategies for just about any nation. The interesting part is that he writes guides to these strategies, which are in themselves quite fun to read! Baalz is really able to express his personality with these guides.

I would also argue that players can express themselves through character customization—not just picking clothes, but also choosing equipment and strategies. And there’s an entire “Narrativist RPG” idea I haven’t touched on. But I think this is a good starting point, at least; that creative expression can be an important part of games, and it will only become more important in the future.

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