A New Taxonomy of Gamers

Last week we had an interesting thread where we played around with and discussed a Myers-Briggs style personality inventory targeted at identifying what type of gamer a person was. While it definitely seemed clear that the design of the test was flawed (or at least needed a few more rounds of iteration to begin to be useful), it certainly brought to the top of my mind an interest in finding new ways to classify the basic drives that cause us to have differing tastes in games.

So this morning I was listening to an interview with N'Gai Croal on the Brainy Gamer podcast and among many other very interesting things they briefly mentioned a series of blog posts by Mitch Krpata from earlier this year called A New Taxonomy of Gamers.

The basic gist of the series is that the commonly used categories of "hardcore" and "casual" used to classify games and the people who play them are inadequate, and that new vocabulary would be useful when people make an effort at understanding both the tastes of gamers and how games work to appeal to them. While Krpata doesn't attempt to formulate a comprehensive personality inventory like the Myers-Briggs thing from last week or a comprehensive anything else for that matter, he does suggest a new set of descriptors that I found to be rather insightful.

The basic thesis of his essay is the following:

Mitch Krpata wrote:

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."

He later further breaks down the "skill player" descriptor in the following way:

Mitch Krpata wrote:

It may be that Skill Players themselves, while broadly similar, have different motivations for playing games, and can be further classified into two more similar but distinct groups: Completists and Perfectionists.

And finally, he adds a finance/value axis to his set of descriptors setting at one end of the spectrum "wholesale players" and "premium players" at the other:

Mitch Krpata wrote:

Any bad game is a waste of money (although you could argue that many games become more attractive in the bargain bin). Not all good games provide an equal value for your gaming dollar -- but your idea of value depends on the worth you ascribe to your own time. Someone who levies the "good and too short" criticism wants to minimize his dollar cost per hour, and considers value through that lens. A 10-hour game that retails for sixty bucks is worth $6 per hour. A 40-hour game at the same price costs only $1.50 per hour -- a relative bargain.

That calculus only works if your time is worth similarly little. That's not meant to sound as brutal as it does. It just means that a person who has forty hours to commit to a single game is selling their own time in bulk, and can afford to charge less for it. Consider now the person for whom gaming time is at a premium: it may be a better value to them to pay more per hour of gameplay, because otherwise they're not actually getting what they paid for -- they may play half of a $60 game, or $30 worth. We'll delve a little more deeply into this matter in the next case study. For now, we need to think of what to call these people.

Again, while he doesn't endeavor to provide an exhaustive new language for describing gaming tastes and tendencies, he does do an excellent job of showing how using and understanding the implications of these descriptors can go a long way towards understanding differences in opinion that may otherwise seem intractably perplexing. For example, I personally am equal parts tourist and completist, with sensibilities leaning towards the premium side of his value axis. Recognizing and understanding this put a fine point on the differences in tastes I have with folks who I regularly game with who share an equal level of tourist tendencies but lean towards perfectionism rather than completism, and wholesale rather than premium values.

Anyway, give it a read -- I'm sure many of you will get as much out of it as I did.

I appreciate the run-down and the link. It's interesting seeing how the language we use changes as the industry does too.

A really good read.

I'm definitely a tourist.

Classifications like this never work out for me. What about those of us that play some games for one of his two given reasons and play others for the opposite?

For instance I'd definitely say I was a "skill" player in CoD4, Rainbow Six, or Forza 2, but I'd argue that I'm very much a tourist in Uncharted, Ace Combat 6, Command & Conquer 3, and any number of others.

I probably haven't gotten into a game enough to be anything but a tourist for several months now.

I'll never be anything but a tourist in Soul Calibur IV or Too Human, but I fully expect to get way too into Left 4 Dead.

Come on. Define me.

Well, I think what is interesting about Krpata's piece is that he's not so much interested in defining people as he is in labeling drives that people have, and I think this is much more useful for precisely the reason you just stated. No one really approaches every game the same way, but I think is interesting to understand and name the aspects of our personalities that that cause the varied elements of different games to appeal to us in different ways.

My summary of his thoughts really doesn't do them justice, though -- the full piece is far more insightful than what I've boiled down here.

Thin_J wrote:

Come on. Define me. :P


What the article tries to say is that our motivations are complicated. It is really about getting away from the hardcore/casual duality that is the scourge of gamers everywhere, rather than providing new, strict definitions to put people in their boxes.

Personally, I like being labeled. It means I get more opportunities to confound people by defying their expectations.

Myself, I'm a premium tourist with some perfectionist and completist tendencies that lean toward the wholesale.

Which is a complicated way of saying "I like pretty much any type of game so long as it's fun."

Thanks for reminding me of that great read. I especially find the language we use to describe gamers themselves to be interesting, and the evolution of terms like "hard-casual" or "core gamer" or my favorite nonsense term I heard recently, "casual-core," which, like it or not, are used to talk about the realm of "people who play games."

Wow. Interesting find. I am most certainly a completionist. I can't stand having a game I haven't beaten at least once. I generally play at high difficulty levels, but I don't feel like I have to beat the game on 'ultra-hard' unless I get something for doing it.

Consider now the person for whom gaming time is at a premium: it may be a better value to them to pay more per hour of gameplay, because otherwise they're not actually getting what they paid for -- they may play half of a $60 game, or $30 worth. We'll delve a little more deeply into this matter in the next case study. For now, we need to think of what to call these people.

I think I have just the right term. Wait for it... Gamers With Jobs. Tadaa! *bow*

*Ahem*, I'm not trying to insult the career choices of those of you who tend towards wholesale views. Instead I'm just trying to hit all of you with one swathe of the paintbrush that says you're all like me. Time-poor to the point of bankruptcy. In fact, the only reason I'm still awake right now is because for the second time this month, I have no clean underwear. I must stay up or else go commando to work tomorrow.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, "If you label me, you negate me".

I think it is interesting for your own self-discovery, but that it's it.

The moments these labels are distributed, they mean nothing. Because you yourself may not believe what type you are. Myers-Briggs testing is hokum used by Corporate America to identify the malcontents who work for them. They are used essentially pigeonhole into 4-character codes.