The concept of Player Types has been an important thought experiment that has helped me immensely with lesson planning. There are many player type models including Nick Yees’s Component model, Andrjez Markzewski’s Hexad, a new model One’s a recently introduced to based on traits rather than types. Each of these models unlocks various understandings in Player (or student) behaviors. From what I understand, the original Player Type model was created by Richard Bartle as he was seeking to explain player behavior in early MMORPGs. 

Bartle’s Player Types –

In Bartle’s original thought experiment, he plotted players along an X-Y grid. The X-axis shows the player type’s preference for engaging with other players or with the game world. The Y-axis suggests whether the player type tends to want to act upon (show dominance over) or interact with the players/world. So, for example, Achievers want to act upon the world. In a game sense they want to manipulate the game to earn rewards, score, badges, etc. 
There are some class applications but I find that there are too many limitations. I believe Bartle would agree since he did update the scheme to 8 types in the early 2000s. The simplicity of 4 types is intriguing, but lacks nuance that we can all see in student behaviors. Luckily there have been several updates to this player type philosophy. 

Andrzej Marczewski’s Player Type Hexad –

This is my favorite model and I have written about this before in my Avatar Type Creation Posts. Marczewski expands on Bartle’s concept keeping the basic concept of motivations in the game world but allows for a bit more complexity with engagement factors.  When using player type models for planning, the Gamified teacher should think about how to incorporate elements to engage different types. Rather than the limited Bartles model which asks questions like how can I let a student be a Griefer (or Killer depending on the chart) and show dominance over other students, Marczewski’s model offers more classroom applicable thoughts. Questions like “How am I creating Autonomy for the Free Spirits?” Or “Philanthropists want to help others in a meaningful way, so what is the meaningful Purpose for that interaction in my plan?” The behavioral motivations are still present but more easily match pedagogy. 

When thinking of Player type models it is important to remember that

  1. Type behavior is fluid. A players motivation can change from game to game or even within game play.
  2. The teacher is not targeting a specific student. This should not be seen as a tool to help Johnny specifically because Johnnys motives are fluid.
  3. Plan for as many different type engagements as possible. It might not be possible to know specifically which type Johnny will be but there is reasonable certainty that out of 20 students there will be a Free Spirit or a Socializer. Create a plan to engage each type.

Nick Yee –

Yee’s model incorporates three main Components broken into subcomponents that he suggest are the engaging motivators for players. Like Marczewski, Yee suggests that player motives are fluid and that players can have a mixture of component motives. Players (like students) are complex and are engaged by a wide variety of factors.  

The subcomponents offer some interesting classroom applications. First, it should be noted that both competition (Achievement) and collaboration (Social) are both acknowledged as engaging. While competition might be frowned upon in some cases there is no doubt that well constructed competition is engaging. All player type models suggest this but no doubt all competition should certainly be monitored and positive interactions should be facilitated. Second, mechanics or how the game controls work and the world itself functions can be an engaging experience. My first experience free running in Assassins Creed was exhilarating and hooked me onto the series. The pleasure might come from the battle mechanics or in finding optimal ways to play the game and as I have built my Dreadsheets Boss Fight Game students have engaged both by utilizing their team-based special skills to defeat the boss as well as watching the boss takes battle damage as they roll dice. The third interesting implication is the emphasis on immersion. Most teachers would look to Discovery and see that inquiry based learning checks off this component box. That is true, but the other 3 subcomponents suggest role play, customization, and escapism are just engaging but are likely far less,utilized. How often do teachers plan ways for students to role play or escape? 

Trait-Based Models

I was recently introduced to a new way to think about players and game play motivation – using trait-based rather type based models.

Here is a link to the Trait-Based Player Type Paper Jonathan Spike (@Mr_JSpike) shared with me. In my initial reading this the chart that stands out.

The big difference that I see with these models are the shift of focus off of the players behaviors and onto the type of gameplay experience the game provides. That said for the purposes of planning,for a classroom experience the shift is more subtle thana complete paradigm shift. For example, the Diplomatic Player seeks,to harmonize and seeks cooperation in the gameplay experience. This may be my misreading or not understanding the more nuanced argument, but those are the same traits of a Socialized in the Hexad or Yee’s Team-Work subcomponent. I think the argument is that players don’t seek out a particular behavior (“today I want to engage with a game by interacting with others”) but rather people are drawn to various game experiences.

Final Thoughts

Using Player Type Models is a guidepost in game inspired planning and not intended as a way to hook a specific individual student. Players/Students/People have complicated and fluid motivations and engagement is not a simple paint-by-numbers activity. However the archetypes of the player types do remain renatively consistent and if the designer of the classroom experience selects a model type and tries to create an experience for each type of player/student type it is likely that the player/student will find something to be drawn to. 

It is important to remember then that even the best designed motivator will not hook every student. This can be frustrating for teachers with our limited planning time but don’t give up on a mechanic simply because only 25% of the students were hooked by it. That is actually a pretty big number! Also, a motivator for “Student X” on Monday may not have the same impact on Tuesday. 

These archetypes are an entry point to get students hooked into the content and skills that we are all so passionate about in our classrooms. Sometimes the students just need a different gateway to see what we know is the valuable kernel in our instruction.