Earlier this week when he was talking about Skyrim's new house-building downloadable content Hearthfire, Jason brought up Richard Bartle's "Four types of video game players".
The Explorer, the Socialiser, the Killer and the Achiever. The names are rather self-explanatory: the Explorer loves to wander; the Socialiser loves to chat; the Killer loves to compete; and the Achiever loves to rack up points and trophies, even when they might seem arbitrary to everyone else.
That reminded me of critic/blogger Mitch Krpata's smart "New Taxonomy of Gamers" from back in 2008. In that series, Krpata argues that we should forget about "hardcore" and "casual" signifiers and focus on the real two types of gamers:
There are two fundamental reasons people play games. They're not mutually exclusive, but they are separate. Some people play to master a game — to perfect its mechanics, to explore every inch of the game world. Some play to "see the sights" — to hit the high points and not get too caught up in the minutiae. Let's call these groups "Skill Players" and "Tourists".
"Skill Players" is a nice, literal designation that I think will make sense immediately. We're talking about people for whom the appeal of a video game is becoming an expert at it. People who hanker for high scores and unlockables. These are the guys who pursue achievement points long after beating the main campaign of a game, because, to them, completing the story isn't the real purpose of the game. Genre may be less important to these gamers than simply having a challenge to overcome.
"Tourists" is more euphemistic, but I think it carries the right connotations. Imagine somebody visiting France for the first time. They want to see the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, and the Louvre. They don't speak the language or know the streets, and they don't much care. As long as they can get where they're going, they're not interested in experiencing what a native might call the "real" Paris.
And when the trip is done, they probably won't be heading back to France any time soon to find some hidden gem of a crêperie. Instead, the tourist wants to go to China to see the Great Wall. The Tourist gamer is the same way: "beating" a game is more about checking off the big moments than earning a 100 per cent completion rate.
In the series, (which seriously, you should go read), Krpata elaborates on those concepts further. For example, a Skill Player goes for a high score on expert difficult in Guitar Hero, while a Tourist simply wants to play all of the songs. In a nice piece of observation, he sums it up by saying that a Skill Player activates star power by pressing the select button, while a tourist activates it by tilting the guitar, which is less precise but more fun.
I've been playing so many games recently (and over the past year while working at Kotaku) that it's fun to come back to Krpata's taxonomy and Bartle's four types and re-identify what kind of gamer I am. I'm definitely a Tourist, though certain games can inspire my inner Skill Player.
As I play Guild Wars 2, I don't care much about min/maxing my character or levelling quickly — I want to see as much of the world as possible, and my main motivation for levelling up is so that I can check out new abilities. The same thing goes for Darksiders II, Sleeping Dogs, Mark of the Ninja, and every other game I'm playing right now. I guess on Bartle's scale, I'm an Explorer and a bit of an Achiever. But I must say, the Achiever side has gotten more powerful over the past year, and a little bit of Killer has started creeping in.
It's fun to re-visit this question every so often and look at why we play what we play. So, what about you? Are you a Tourist Achiever, or a Killer who likes to Explore? Do certain games bring out a different side of you? And as time passes, do you find that the way you play games changes?
A New Taxonomy of Gamers [Insult Swordfighting]