In the middle of all things there is a secret place. A place of comings and goings, where all roads meet up eventually before parting again for distant and strange lands. And in the very middle of that crossroad stands an oaken table, an ancient work of formidable craftsmanship inviting the weary traveller and offering him a place to rest for a while. There is a tin cup too, filled with the sweetest water to cool the thirsty and wash the journey’s dust from their throats. So potent is its effect that some say it holds magical powers.
It so happened that one day, against all odds, four travellers from the four corners of the world would reach the mighty crossroad of all things together. Each grabbing a wooden chair, they eyed one another suspiciously as they took a seat at the massive, round table. Almost simultaneously they realized that there was only water there for one. Their moods darkening, the four men started measuring each other up more closely. Each man looked curiously exotic to the next: different complexions, different hair, different eyes. They wore different colors and clothes, their bags carried different treasures. A different weapon dangled from each traveller’s side.
The man of the North was the first to speak, nervously drumming his fingers on the polished wood. “I should get to drink the water. I have a long way to go still and no mount to carry me there fast”, he said. At this, the man of the East sitting beside him, replied: “I need the water to deliver it in the next town where a young maiden is lying sick with pox fever!” But the man of the South had already raised his voice, “The king of my country is paying every man his weight in gold who will bring him proof of this strange crossroad. I cannot return from my journey without this!” To which the man of the West was only shaking his head, “No. The water belongs to me. I arrived here first and I might as well kill my horse without any water to refresh him and ease his mind.”
And so a great argument arose among the four about who had more claim to the water and whose were the best reasons. As their quarrel dragged on, the sun began the second part of her day’s journey while the cup on the table remained untouched. All the while, quietly and unnoticed, the water within started fading away.
It was near dusk when the shriek of a strange night bird woke the four travellers to their surroundings. Only then they realized with a shock and gasp that the water had evaporated completely from their midst. The man of the North rose furiously from his seat, eyeing the three others with seeming disgust – “Now I will have to shorten my road and miss half of my journey!”. – “I should have left the water to you three. A great deal of good has this fighting done me”, the man of the East murmured gravely. The man of the South was already on his feet, “Wish I had grabbed the cup quickly while you were quarrelling and ridden fast for my homeland!”. Only after a longer silence did the man of the West add with the darkest stare: “I should have slit your throats. That way, one of us would have some water”, he hissed before leaving the table.
And with that the four travellers turned their backs on each other, leaving the great crossroad behind. Each was bound for his own destination, following down a different road, in his own pace. Soon their dark silhouettes were lost on the horizon, fading into the distant lands beyond, towards a different life, a different future.
On crossroads and gamer blood types
There is a strange quality to the atmosphere of crossroads. For a moment it seems as if we were indeed stood at the middle of the world, the middle of all things – and that everything is possible from there. Life is holding its breath as we consider the options before us. We can almost hear the distant rolling of our destiny. There is magic here, in allegory if not always in reality.
In online worlds more than ever, the player becomes the traveller. We are drawn towards the unknown that’s waiting at each bend of the road. We are the master of our steps. Every now and then, we chance upon another adventurer, sometimes to share a part of our journey, sometimes to part ways soon enough. Most of the time, we don’t get to know who the other person is, where he is from and where he’s going.
I’ve always been fascinated by gamer archetypes. No doubt most MMO players have heard and maybe taken the famous Bartle Test based on Richard Bartle, in search of a basic attempt to categorize their own playstyle in comparison to others. And while there is a lot more to be said about such categories and there are many more, complex aspects and variables factoring into a personal gamer profile, it is not a bad way to define four larger groups of players and player motivations. Most of all, there is a basic truth to be found here that we easily forget when we discuss our wishes and preferences. A truth that we might not even consider to be a reason for more fundamental disagreements between ourselves and other players; be it that we loathe skipping parts of a dungeon in a party, be it that we come to entirely different conclusions on our blogs sometime. We are different; and this reaches a lot further than just the mere subject of subjectivity, or things like demographic and external factors. We come from a different place and we are headed into a different direction. Everything we discover on the way, we look at with different eyes. We might simply not share the same gamer “blood type”.
It is an intriguing thought that more than anything else, it is fundamentally diverging intrinsics that present MMO developers with their greatest design challenges. While many aspects of game design can be discussed objectively and only leave room for few or even one best solution, different gamer blood types are an inevitable fact, an undeniable reality to deal with.
When I took the Bartle Test for the first time, I was surprised at the accuracy of my result. Sure, the questionnaire is rather straightforward and predictable in places – that’s not really the point though. I never attempted to profile myself or my gaming buddies in such a way before. We always knew there were discrepancies in our playstyles here and there, but we never thought to try and pin them down in such fashion, evaluating basic mindsets and outlook. The test was a good laugh too, and a lot got clearer as each of us received a spot on analyzis. I can say for myself that my outcome couldn’t be truer, especially in terms of percentage spread.
The test never gets old. Now that we see so many interesting, basic discussions on MMO design while an increasing part of the audience is turning away from WoW, I feel it has regained some significance. If you’ve never taken it, I suggest you have a go sometime out of curiosity if nothing else. It’s not too long and a fun thing to do on a boring Monday morning. Maybe it will sharpen your sense for other people you play with in MMOs a little, be it a guild mate or simply random acquaintance, and remind you that while the water on the table cannot be denied, we all want it for different reasons and to do different things.
As for the achiever, killer, socializer and explorer in my little tale – I leave it to you to spot them.