Do you play like Alice, Dorothy, or Wendy?

alice-lewis-carroll (If you answered ‘tinkerbelle’ then take a well-deserved time out at Dorn’s fabulous blog.)

If you have ever taken the test that classifies players as socialisers, killers, achievers and/or explorers in MMOs (I’m ESKA, by the way) then you’ll be familiar with Dr Richard Bartle’s work.

We know that one of the big appeals of MUDs and MMOs is that they support a lot of different types of play. So there’s no reason why an achiever and a socialiser can’t happily play in the same game, even though they may not want to play together.  And this paper is really the seminal work in starting to classify those different types.

But the problem with this model from my point of view is that it dates from about 5 years BWE (Before the WoW Era). The virtual worlds he was observing were MUDs, or very closely based on MUDs. Trends in game design have changed. And there are some new emergent types of play that simply weren’t big in the MUD days (or  in the types of MUDs he was considering).

MUDs, for example, were never well known for their deep and immersive storytelling narratives. MMOs may have a long way to go, but with the rise of quest based levelling, storytelling is here to stay. Also although you could group in MUDs, I don’t remember team-based play being quite the cornerstone that it is in many MMOs today. Raiding in WoW has more in common with team based games like Team Fortress or Settlers than it does with a Diku MUD. (No one would ever had joined a MUD and asked immediately which endgame guilds were recruiting or what classes they most needed.)

So the fact that Bartle’s categories don’t include the narrative-seeking player or the team player just shows how there are new emergent playstyles coming alongside.

So I was intrigued to read in the Virtual Cultures blog about his keynote speech to the Indie Multiplayer Games Conference (via Massively) about ways in which players approach modern games. And here he’s tackling one of the big issues which is the divergence of sandbox games (like EVE or Darkfall) and ‘theme park’ games (like WoW and LOTRO).

I’d been thinking about this anyway, since Averaen commented on my post this week on virtual hangouts that s/he thought it was a mistake to treat WoW and similar MMOs as if they were virtual worlds. I don’t really agree; if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then maybe … just maybe… it could be some odd breed of duck. And WoW is certainly a massive persistent virtual world, it’s contiguous (you can fly from one end to the other without zoning), it has consistent-ish storylines, it has cities and villages, it has hangouts and places where players can buy food and drink, it has auction houses and a working economy. How can it NOT be a virtual world?

Anyway, getting back to Dr Bartle. In his keynote he picked up on three different types of play experiences in virtual worlds, using a metaphor of heroines from children’s stories.

  • Alice: the explorer, who wants to see things that are “curiouser and curiouser”
  • Dorothy: who wants to get to the end of the yellow brick road (ie. follow the railroad)
  • Wendy: the content creator, who wants to tell stories for her brothers and the other lost boys

He’s using the play types to describe different types of world, rather than just different players (eg. Alice represents sandbox games, Dorothy represents theme-park, quest heavy games, etc). He also notes that MMOs have been on a divergent path, with social and game oriented MMOs tending to separate. But that this is a bad trend because game-oriented MMOs become repetitive and meaningless, and social MMOs become impenetrable and unfocussed. I can’t speak much for the latter but we know that the former is definitely true. What does it even mean for a game to not have an end?

Bartle argues that a good MMO/ virtual world should offer opportunities for all of these playstyles. And NOW we’re talking about playing styles I can more easily identify with. Because I enjoy all of these things in games. And in an era where games seem to be becoming more and more focussed, it’s a call to arms that I hope someone will hear.

Because dammit, that’s the game /I/ want to play.

7 thoughts on “Do you play like Alice, Dorothy, or Wendy?

  1. Bartlett = Bartle & Burnett? 🙂

    I tend to lean towards “Alice”, and it is sad that most games nowadays cater so much for “Dorothy” and are heavily linear theme park games.

    I am a bit sceptical about Bartle’s schemes and other typology tests.

    I know so many players that scored as ESAK or EASK or whatever, but in the end WoW and satifisied WoW players are big “A” and very little “e” and “s”, and the player killing “k” of olde is also not comparable to e-sports and IMO does not even exist anymore.

    The Myer-Briggs-Typology tests that is so popular says I am an INTJ. For some odd reason, the huge majority of people who take it are INxx at least, if not INTJ, too. That could mean most of us are actually that kind of player, but I know so many INTJ guys that are so totally different, it just cannot be true.

    The new Alice, Dorothy and Wendy idea seems to fit better modern times, and I share his observation: We get virtual worlds like Metaplace and Second Life, IMO rather glorified chat rooms, and game worlds that brim with achievements, basically to-do-lists for ever content hungry gamers.

    This is just sad. Both extremes are dumb and boring. I also wonder why it should not possible to combine an interesting game with socialization and community spirit.

    Many people do sports not only for sports, but to meet friends. And they do not play dumbed down games so that they can easier socialize. Or just go to a bar to have a drink with someone.

    • Oops, fixed the typo. Thanks for spotting that.

      I’m not convinced about how good the various tests are, but coming from an engineering pov, a model can still be useful for designers even if it isn’t 100% accurate (or even 80%). Even without agreeing with the classification, I know some people play very differently from me. (I’m kind of an anti-achiever in some ways and hate achievements .. but I really like raiding and killing bosses and getting loot. Other people I know are totally opposite.)

      And yeah, I agree totally. I don’t see why games have to specialise so much. I’d like to see more of a mixture too. And I agree also that most players aren’t ‘pure’ achievers/socialisers etc, they may even change from session to session.

  2. Indeed. It’s high time MMOs actually understand the “big tent” concept of a truly massive audience. Funneling everyone into an overused Achiever engine isn’t really doing much for the genre.

  3. I commented on this issue already at Tobold’s so I won’t repeat myself except to summarise.

    WoW is not a linear game or an Achiever game or a yellow brick road. WoW is probably the most accomodating of different playstyles of any game, including notable sandbox games like Eve.

    “Bartle argues that a good MMO/ virtual world should offer opportunities for all of these playstyles.”

    Dr Bartle only thinks WoW is not this type of game because he quests to 80 to, in his own words, “update my qualifications” then stops with a sigh of relief.

    While he is quite correct that a good MMO should offer those opportunities his perception of WoW is fundamentally flawed because of the way in which he chooses to experience the game.

  4. I like a bit of all 3 styles, personally, though if I had to choose only one it’d be Alice.

    @ Stabs: “WoW is not a linear game or an Achiever game or a yellow brick road. WoW is probably the most accomodating of different playstyles of any game, including notable sandbox games like Eve.”

    I respectfully disagree. WoW is quite linear and the player experience is guided with clear objectives from 1-80 and into the raiding game: gain exp and loot so as to increase your character’s power. There’s a tiny, cursory exploration mechanic tacked onto what is 85% achiever and 14% killer (though that ratio can change on a PvP server). There’s little to no focus on socializing. Yes, players can work to spend their time exploring, or socializing, but the game doesn’t really mechanically support those playstyles – in the same sense that I could choose to live in my car… but it doesn’t have plumbing, or refrigeration, or a comfortable place to sleep. Just because you can force WoW’s square peg into a round hole (with a lot of obvious effort) doesn’t make it a round peg.

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