Social Isolation Together: The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology

This post is part of a new series that I plan to keep up as long as we’re still seeing recommendations to socially isolate in the US because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I prettied up the basic graph depicting the player types & their motivations.

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about multiplayer gaming experiences, and how we interact with each other in virtual worlds. I am still adamant in my belief that I don’t really want to play games with others. At the same time, I’m watching my husband struggle with limited gaming interests, but an overwhelming social one.

So when I saw something about the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology on my Twitter timeline, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take the quiz, even though I was pretty sure I already knew how it’d come out.

Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them.  They try progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for interesting features (ie. bugs) and figuring out how things work.  Scoring points may be necessary to enter some next phase of exploration, but it's tedious, and anyone with half a brain can do it.  Killing is quicker, and might be a constructive exercise in its own right, but it causes too much hassle in the long run if the deceased return to seek retribution.  Socializing can be informative as a source of new ideas to try out, but most of what people say is irrelevant or ol dhat.  The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence.

The paper on which the quiz is based is a bit dated now – games have evolved quite a bit since 1996 – and because of this, I don’t think the result is as applicable to modern multiplayer gaming experiences as it could be.

But it also makes sense. I mostly treat MMOs as single player games with a chat box. I almost never take advantage of “optional multiplayer” content, and I am resentful of games that don’t allow me to progress in the main game without calling in back-up. I am slightly more achievement-obsessed than my results would indicate, but I think that has more to do with me being a goal-motivated person in general than any real comment about what part of the game is actually the most fun for me.

I guess it’s no surprise then that I prefer to socialize by talking about gaming rather than playing games together. Connecting with other gaming-centric bloggers is a way for me to say “Look at this cool thing I found!” while letting others tell me about the cool things they found.

I’m also wondering what contemporary games best service these diverse player types – where can I get my primary need for exploration met while allowing someone else to meet their primary need for socialization? Is there a game that would allow an explorer and a killer to play together and both walk away satisfied. And if these games don’t exist, is it because it’s not marketable to put extended effort into making everyone happy, or is it because it’s just not possible?

2 thoughts on “Social Isolation Together: The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology

  1. In the past, I think we saw more varied players with different motivations all co-existing in the same game, because there was simply no other choice available. This made things great for certain groups of players, mostly socializers and killers who found themselves with an excess of players with other motivations to act on, at the expense of the other two types who would much rather be interacting with the world and left alone in peace to do so.

    Now, with a bountiful number of games on tap, we see more segregation of the types into games that interest them more. This makes virtual life a little harder (or at least, less varied) for socializer and killer primaries, because now they’re left interacting with mostly players of their own type as well.

    As an EASK myself, I can’t say I’d rather have the former than latter situation, mostly because I would prefer not to be acted on by the whims of players motivated by interacting with players.

    I do think explorer primaries can coexist fairly well with socializer primaries – what one needs is a socializer-centric sandbox with building and crafting and civilization-forming rules for the garrulous and cooperative, with plenty of mappable wilderness and resources to bring back home for the explorers (just make sure it’s possible for explorers to solo as well as group too.)

    I suppose if you switch the word socializer above with killer, then you get Eve Online, which also seems to be doing well, in a way, for its specific audience.

    Throw in a bunch of checklists and achievements and guided signpost missions and you might pick up some achiever primaries as well. The only thing is, the overall population will be a lot less because everyone’s off diluted into a million other games.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s