When gamers mesh well with each other, it’s not just because they’re gamers. On the contrary, a lot of us can get on each other’s nerves, simply because we have opposing opinions on the games we love; even when we agree on the games themselves! So what exactly differentiates one gamer from the next? The people over at Quantic Foundry have put together six “gamer styles” that break down different types of fun we have playing games.
This isn’t just another internet quiz. This group is really trying to get some science behind their categories, and so far it’s the best one of these types of tests I’ve found. No, it’s not perfect, and due to their fairly short quiz it’s not going to be completely accurate. But at the very least, it’s something to seriously think about, not only when you’re talking to other gamers, but when attempting to analyze the games we love. I highly recommend checking out each of the category breakdowns in their quick reference chart. The full gamer profile has more details on each, so I also encourage you to try that out.
I was labeled as an action-oriented, spontaneous, relaxed, social, immersive gamer. I couldn’t agree more, and with my “style” it’s no wonder why I’ve been so drawn to RPGs: equal parts fun-with-friends and bad-ass-action, with creativity and immersion thrown in to tie it all together.
But Quantic Foundry goes one step further and breaks each of their six categories into two distinct types of fun. In the interest of RPG game design, I’d like to take a good look at what types of fun a tabletop RPG can offer. Specifically, I want to explore player options that we can implement to allow any type of gamer to have fun in our game (e.g. through character abilities). Obviously different games will offer different things, but I’m going to try to be as generic as possible given the games that I’ve experienced. Feel free to tell me things that I’ve missed, any extra examples from other games you have played, or if you disagree with anything I discuss below!
How do RPG mechanics give the players' options to have their style of fun?
Almost every RPG out there has combat as either a main mechanic, or at least described in some detail. Besides combat, there can be intensity in danger: deadly traps, crumbling bridges, or a fragile political gathering. If there weren’t obstacles to overcome, we wouldn’t be playing a game!
Not even all combat-oriented games satisfy the destruction gamer. These people really enjoy “collateral damage”: giant mechs stomping on buildings, a fireball that explodes the whole bar into flames, or that single bullet that splatters the alien’s guts up and down the wall. This is something that mostly falls to the GM to describe, but I think it’s neat when games include specific options for this style of play: the chaos wizard, the grenadier, the bloody mess perk. These are mechanics that let destructive players employ chaos, despite what’s going on in the rest of the game.
Twists in the story, the thrills of the setting, and the dangers that the players find themselves in are all elements of story that ‘excite’. I think this is almost a purely feel/theme based category, meaning it’s mostly up to the GM. Some people will really enjoy the adrenaline of a good chase scene, while others prefer the deep exploration into social encounters. Besides equipping the GM with the issues and dangers of the world, are there any specific player options we can include in our game for the player to employ… excitement?
Social interaction is one of the foundations for <tabletop> role-playing, and even the most crunchy, combat-oriented games still require a group of friends sitting around a table. That said, there are certainly ways to avoid the social aspect of these games, including playing a solo game.
This one is incredibly difficult to include in tabletop RPGs. Specifically in cooperative settings, it’s hard to appease these types of gamers without disrupting the fun of others at the table. IMHO it’s unfortunate to have these types of people in your games, but… they are not wrong just because they have fun this way. It would be brilliant to come up with something that will make competitive players happy, not at the cost of the other players, but I’m not convinced it’s even possible. Instead, I’ve been trying to limit mechanics that encourage competitive attitude: the “I’m better than you” mentality because of superior min/max character builds, or the “look how cool I am” attention hog.
There are also, of course, fully competitive RPGs, and I’ve even created one, but this is a completely different style that deserves discussion all on its own.
The problem I have with some games, like Shadowrun, is that everyone is too specialized. Everyone “has their time to shine”, but we’re all more or less taking turns being in the spotlight. We’re not in it together (we are - just not actually - “together”). I think this is why combat is such a central part to a lot of RPGs: everyone is participating in the same encounter area. It doesn’t have to be, it’s just an easy way to get everyone involved. No character should want to get injured or killed, after all, and even the weakest member can usually still contribute a good punch or two.
Don’t get me wrong; Shadowrun is still working together, and every bit of it oozes the teamwork/community we’re talking about, but when it comes down to the actual mechanics of the game, the decker is the only one who actually interacts with the matrix (for example). The final result is that they hack the security system, and the team can proceed; sure! But for a while, they’re just playing by themselves, with no engagement from the other players. Shadowrun really shines when the decker is hacking while the mage is banishing while the rigger is driving the getaway car. I do love Shadowrun… when it works.
Community is huge for me. I love “support” characters because they have direct game mechanics that pull in other players. I really want to highlight this in my games, and I’m going to try to include such mechanics, even in the “front line” type characters (e.g. D&D’s fighter being able to protect allies with a reaction).
This one really made me pause and ponder. In RPGs, we spend so much time focusing on how characters progress, we sometimes forget to think about how the players are going to progress. Unfortunately, there aren’t many mechanical things we can do here, except to start adding more and more complex options for players to play with.
I think the untapped recognition of mastery is through setting. In D&D, the rogue player’s intuition of where there may be traps helps him protect the party through the dungeon. In Shadowrun, the leader’s tactical prowess matters more to the lives of the Shaowrunners than usually the dice do. Mastery over the system is one thing. Mastery over a setting, I think, can bring more to the table.
It’s not difficult to roll a die. A very interesting discussion of this can be found over at the story-games forums. The challenge of RPGs is mostly due to the story, and whatever problems the GM throws at the players. Are there other ways, mechanically, we can challenge our players?
Both with the system and setting, strategy is what a lot of players get out of RPGs. It’s turn-based, it’s generally tactical, but really it’s the fact that we’re presented with a problem, and we’re putting our brains together to figure it out. It’s good to have character options to increase the players’ ability to employ strategy: just don’t go overboard, or too focused. Remember D&D 4e? Some people love it - and I’d bet they are strong strategy gamers.
In a traditional “adventure”, there are clear goals defined. When the goals are met, the game is over, and a new adventure can begin. Some people may ignore distractions and head straight for the end. Achievement style players will likely explore every room, finish every side quest, and eventually push the boundaries of the GM’s area of control. But when we throw them into a purely sandbox style world, some of them just… sit there, not knowing what to do with themselves. Very interesting indeed.
Despite the main goals of the RPG itself, I think there is a lot we can do with completion gamers. They have fun through completing quests, so give them mini ‘side-quests’ within the characters themselves. For example, Dungeon World’s “bond” system is a story-driven way to both mechanically increase in XP, but also consistently check off that little box that says “complete”! Another option is in combat: mechanics that require triggers and setup I think tickle just the right spot for completionists, because they’re working towards goals even when they’re working towards goals.
<insert obligatory yo dawg meme here>
I am not a completionist gamer, so maybe I misunderstand. Is it the final act of being finished that satisfies these types, or is it the quest for questing, as I suggest?
Not every game has character progression (through items/levels/money/abilities/influence/whatever), but I think to keep power gamers happy, it’s almost a necessity. Hmmm… but what other options are out there?
I personally like starting at “max level”, because I want to feel powerful right off the bat. To me it’s a drag to have to start at the beginning. But to a power gamer, it’s all about the path to power, and the effort required to get there, no?
While it’s up to the players to read the books, there’s a reason that some of the best sellers out there have hundreds of pages dedicated to setting, stories, and pre-made adventures. Not every gamer cares for the finer details, but those who do will notice it’s absence.
I think this is why we’re all here. We want to do cool things that are not feasible in our normal lives. By nature, RPGs let us take on the role of someone else. So what can we do to further increase the enjoyment of these players? How can we draw them even deeper in, mechanically?
Some games hit this right on the money. The Cortex system, for example, has a specific mechanic for players to alter the story. FATE also has options for players to drive the story in one way or another. But even games like D&D, with 5e’s backgrounds, have started to introduce more interesting mechanics that support ‘story’. I do wonder, however, how such mechanics would work if they were only part of one character’s options (e.g. a ‘fate lord’ character class). Would this character have too much control over the game?
In theory, RPGs should shine here. The most obvious example is the GM player, who must create things constantly before and during games. However, most games do not have specific mechanics for the other players to really express creativity. Even most crafting systems are constrained enough that they are considered ‘fixed’ or ‘solved’ systems. But how do you open it up to creativity, without letting it get out of hand?
People love customizing their characters. They want to be unique, even within the ‘classes’ or ‘tropes’ that games provide. The more, interesting, and diverse options a game has, the better. Of course, when we get to the Pathfinder level of content, it can become quickly overwhelming. There may be a hard line for some players, but in general, I think more is better, no?
Exploration is one of the major “pillars of roleplaying”. A lot of games describe movement, travel, and perception as game mechanics. But some of them miss a very important (and easy) discovery mechanic: secrets. The elf is better at finding secret doors. The rogue is better at finding traps. The rigger has scouting drones. The steampunk cowboy has special glasses that let him see ghosts. The trick is to first have secrets hidden in the world. Then, give the players the tools to discover them.
The Perfect Game?
Gamers’ styles directly affect which games they like, and we have a huge library of games to choose from because of it. If you haven’t found something that works perfectly for you, chances are that one of the thousands of games out there hits a little closer to home. For me, I’m looking to design my own - and while I clearly have grand delusions of “the perfect game” that makes all gamers happy, that doesn’t stop me from trying to get there.