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?