This article is a must for any game designer and game studies academic. Although it was written in 1996 and based on MUDs the application of its content is absolutely current.
There are four proposed types of players mapped into a two axis chart according to playing styles.
- Action versus Interaction
- World-oriented versus Player-oriented
The four labels to these styles are:
- Achievers (action-world): getting treasures, killing mobs
- Explorers (interaction-world): discovering the topology, physics and mechanisms of the world
- Socializers (interaction-player): communicating with others
- Killers (action-player): Bothering other players
According to Bartle, players have one of these styles as the primary, and will only shift to other style to keep advancing in their goal.
The main application of this analysis was to promote balance in MUDs. Game developers of current Triple-A MMO use this player classification for fine-tuning, like in Pirates of the Burning Sea, game designers not only ask to the beta testers what computer they own but what kind of player they were, if achievers, explorers, socializers or killers!
But what happen we want to know gaming styles in other genres? Bartle’s work has initiated a broader analysis in digital games: player taxonomy. For instance, Bateman and Boon have developed a classification that includes players of different games and platforms; they coined the term “demographic game design” to the application of such analysis into the game design process. However, Bateman and Boon taxonomy heavily relies on Bartle’s which is concerned about multiplayer online, so their classification might be letting out a more sensitive taxonomy that includes different types of games. There is the relationship with my thesis; I’m trying to identify gaming preferences attached to personality traits, that could lead to a refine taxonomy of players.
David Freeman developed a series of techniques that concerns writing issues; it is called “Emotioneering” ™ and has the goal of moving “the player through an interlocking sequence of emotional experiences”. He points out that it is much harder to lead such a path in games than in film, since the former has exact timing for circumstances whereas games use “multi-linear (multi-path) elements and structures” plus the timing among player is likely to vary. This clockwork feature as a main difference between the two arts has also been mentioned by Bizzocchi who specifies that the narrative arc (sequence of setup, complication, development, resolution, and denouement) can not be tightly controlled due to interaction, although some resort could be done by micro-narratives (or micro-questions in erotetic gameplay, Perron would say).
Having to mention other authors to get a better frame is not by chance. Although Freeman’s book addresses emotions, there is no a clear definition of emotion, he just rests on the common sense of what emotions are, and presents his battalion of writing techniques.
Doug Church makes the same claim Costikyan did five years before him, but he goes further. Both of them are concerned about the need of a polished vocabulary for the game design discipline. Whereas Costikyan revolves around a definition of game, Church thinks about this vocabulary as a kit of tools for game designers. It would lead to a better understanding of games and their creation.
He remarks that the plurality of game genres and audience shouldn’t be a problem for achieving this goal. For that reason, these tools have to be abstract: Formal Abstract Design Tools (FADT)
I’d say that he proposed method for identifying such tools is “case study”: choosing a “good” game and abstracting the “things that work well”. It may be seen a bit esoteric but the results are fruitful.
The tools mentioned in the article were “extracted” by analyzing Mario 64. The remarkable aspect was allowing the players what to do next. I may say here that this aspect calls for going beyond interaction; yes, there is interaction, player input, the game state changes but game can be richer. Church names the tool intention to refer the action plan that players make. And, if they screw up it should be quite clear why it didn’t work; that is a perceivable consequence of their actions.
The story tool is powerful. We know that a highly crafted world with detailed scripting will get a detriment to the player choices. Although this balance is pointed out in the article, what concerns me is that Church’s examples of “better” use of the story tool rely on simplicity, ranting about how RPGs don’t allow player intentions.
At the end, one could say “thanks for the heads up, but there was nothing new”. However, the value is on the development of a vocabulary-tool and the understanding of them in the design. Overall, the article is quite tight. I wish Church had coined more tools.
What I enjoy about this article is its objective: to provide game designer with tools to analyze games. This is not a minor attempt from someone from the industry. Academics love analyzing games but industry articles are almost always a recipe. Here Costikyan is making a call to game designers and to the game industry for a “critical language”.
All sciences come across with the need of a critical language. It usefulness relies on the refinement of the understanding of the object of study, and a consensual vocabulary.
However, if the article successfully achieves such high goal is another story :)
For instance, he starts by defining game, and what is not game. He establishes that game is not puzzle. But rather than not a puzzle, is the “static” characteristic of them the opposite of games. He agrees that almost all games have a puzzle-solving component. It’s the interactivity and state changes what define a game for Costikyan.
He is overexcited about game is not a story. I believe that is due to what was happening back in 1994 when he wrote the article. Interactive narrative was trendy. I don’t think he denies the narrative aspect of games, he overemphasizes that an interactive narrative is not a game just for being interactive. This is not the only part outdated, it is pointed out computer games as solitaire, no social activity. Although he mentioned the possibilities of network games, and its socializing aspect. This last envision is what we now recognized as MMO.
There is a section about information and how it should be displayed by the interface in order to give to the player the information he needs and too much. Raph Koster also talks about information and how getting information is part of playing a game. He considers that getting information outside the game, such as reading walkthoughs is a way of cheating.
Caillois takes as starting point Huizinga’s work. He states that, although the usefulness of Huizinga’s writing, it’s “broad and narrow at the same time”. However, I believe Caillois ended up with the same deficient.
His contribution is rich, specially the continuum from paidia to ludus, where games evolve through the spectrum as they become more complex; plus the four quadrants: Agôn, Alea, Mimicry and Ilinx. But these “areas” are defined in such a way that would allow to include almost any activity in one of those.
One of the mentioned difference between play and work heavily relies on the “no wealth, good production”. The pressure of earning money can change how we perceived the situation and the experience of enjoyment; however I wonder about the blurry line of producing good and having fun. I’m not talking about game sweatshops, I’m thinking about gamers that make some profit, for instance selling a character. Are they gamers the whole time? Do they stop being gamers? I think they are.
Something similar could be argued about Caillois’ claim that “play is essentially a separate occupation”. Games have invaded different contexts. Games are used for training; huge investments have been made in edutainment.
The world and the reception of games have changed since Caillois published his work.
First time playing “Settlers of Catan” :) Glad we did!
It confirmed once more that there is no better way to get the game than playing. After Michael’s introduction, we started playing, and as we advanced in the game the rules were showing themselves more clearly.
The two “experts” of the game, Michael and Magy, were teamed together. They could make better estimations, foresee strategies while some of us were still recognizing the pieces. This situation reminds me to what Caillois said about the equated powers of contestants “so each may have the chance until the end”, otherwise the game wouldn’t be pleasant. We didn’t have equated powers, it was fun though. But more sessions should be made. Few games support disparity of strength among players. Think about a FPS deathmatch, players start with the same resources. Then if you’re bad at it and your opponent is good, it’s highly likely you’ll lose, and the game won’t be pleasant. However, the game Go allows overcoming difference of strength between players. Handicap is given, the initial setting is changed so both have equal possibility to win.
The Alea ingredient in Settlers was fascinating for me. You roll dice in your turn but that chance might give resources to other players (and none for you). So your turn has effects on others, and others’ turn might have consequences on you due to chance.
In my opinion, it increases the thrill and awareness of the whole game. Using Costikyan’s words, these random elements provide “variety of encounter”.