The Four Travellers (and Bartle)

Art by GC Myers

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.


  1. I wonder what it says about the test that my score is so completely different from yours, yet the two of us often agree on game design issues.

    This is my score from the early days of my blogging (as well as the last days of my raiding, incidentally.)
    A80 E53 S40 K27 for those to lazy to click the link πŸ˜‰

  2. It seems a little funny at first. some of my best playing buddies have different profiles too – still, we get along and like playing together. in that particular case, social factors certainly play a role, the willingness to do content with/for someone else rather than just yourself (a tolerance that is considerably lower in a PuG). on the other hand, this has its limits: there must be clear enough similarities – which is also something I was able to detect in my close environment. it really is about the whole mixture of the 4 factors, not just highest/lowest.

    In contrast, my partner and I are so opposed that we had to give up playing WoW together ages ago lol, it was not a pretty sight. πŸ˜€
    he has a huge PvP orientation and very low E/S and while K is second place for me too, we’d only be able to share this in BGs (I was mostly busy with PVE in WoW). so maybe we can say that differences are a bigger issue in relation to how exclusively an MMO handles each playmode? if WoW had featured more dynamic open world PvP that was significant for a majority of players, we might could’ve played together much more.

    I think between you and me, the difference is not actually dramatically big. we have an easy time agreeing on topics revolving around story/setting/simulation etc. and that’s what we write about often. I can imagine our mutual agreement or rather interest would drop considerably, if I suddenly started dedicating loads of articles to PvP or you to achievement hunting? your E is still second place after all and we share S in third position.

    Out of curiosity: how do you explain such a high A for yourself? is it accurate for you? (in which case I have simply not noticed it as much in posts of yours)

  3. Oh it’s accurate, but that doesn’t necessarily control my overall view on game design.
    I highly enjoy efficiency and working towards a clear and challenging goal. That makes me an achiever by default I suppose. It doesn’t mean though that I go achievement hunting – I’m quite opposed to most (but not all) types of achievement-badges.

    Things really depend on the game I’m playing, however. (Which blurs the whole Bartle distinction somewhat.) My inner achiever was a lot more active in WoW (where active and efficient raiding/Raid leading was what kept me playing) than in LotRO (where I’m soloing mostly for the pleasure of some Lord of the Rings lore and the odd “new” game mechanic.)

    Even in PvP, I care about winning, but not so much about killing. It’s all about getting better myself (and proving that by winning) than about destroying someone else.

    In some cases, I find achievement most interesting because it is one of the easiest things to get right in a game. Most game worlds are (to me) simply quite boring to explore which in turn makes exploring less important. The same goes for quests & story.

    I like being really immersed in a story/world in which case I don’t care all that much about achievement. (Though I’m still quite a bit of an achiever in solo games with lots of immersion.)

    Finally, my life has changed quite a bit since I took that test. Back then I was a student with ample time for raiding (and all its savory achievement-goodness.) Now I have a full-time job and little time for proper achieving. That makes exploration more interesting.

  4. Explorer: 100%, Achiever: 53%, Socializer: 47%, Killer: 7%. I would have bet on this almost precisely, to tell the truth. I’m not surprised that Syl and I share our core trait but that our second traits so greatly differ; that would certainly explain both our overall agreement but also our infrequent disagreements.

    At any rate, very interesting read; the narrative element at the start did a lot to draw me into the topic (not that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, just that I enjoyed it and found it very effective). Great post!

  5. @scrusi

    You make some very good points abut how we also change depending on the game we play. I certainly don’t play AoC with the same motivations and goals as WoW.
    age also factors into it. it would be fascinating to get some data on how numbers change here for the average player over the course of 10 years or so. my guess is that especially A and K will diminish to some extent.
    it’s definitely worthwhile repeating the test every few years for yourself.

    Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed the read. truth be told, I was actually looking for an opportunity to write a tale this week, writing fiction has been one of my passions for many years. πŸ™‚ so I’ll make blatant use of the odd MMO design topic when I can, hehe..

    and you have a point! I had already forgotten that PvP debate, but that’s indeed a good example. it seems we’re fairly in sync otherwise though!

  6. I have to say, I’d love to know the Bartle profiles of more bloggers now – this has already been such an insight for me personally. thanks a lot for adding your profiles, scrusi & stubborn! =)

  7. Huh… I’m slightly surprised. Didn’t expect the achiever to be last, but I guess my recently found enjoyment of PvP has skewed the results a bit. Not to mention questions like: “Would you rather win a trivia quiz or an arena match?” I’d rather participate in a trivia quiz than in an arena match, but I haven’t seen many of the former around while I do know that winning in arena is quite satisfying, so… overall it seems like a fair enough assessment though.

  8. You know, just the other day Issy (I think it was) discussed what people actually look and sound like being of interest to her, and I was thinking that maybe the blogging map could be integrated into some sort of larger information database. We could have bartle profiles, server information, pictures, audio links, etc all tied to that map. Obviously it would be totally voluntary (double obviously) so people wouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable, but I think that the map is such a great idea that there’s no reason not to further its usefulness. Thoughts?

  9. @Shintar
    Haha yeah, some of the questions ARE a little obvious! Am not surprised about your profile Shintar, I would’ve guessed similar! =) short-/long-term changes have an influence, overall though it seems to me that everyone who left their link now are in the same boat when it comes to loving to travel and explore.

    Funny, I was thinking profiles might be a fun addition to the map myself just yesterday! not sure how many people would be up to take it though; it’s obviously also a bit of a transient thing. but you could definitely suggest it to the Pot, why not. πŸ™‚

  10. This.. This is something.

    In regards to the opening text. I wasn’t sure where the relevance of the context was heading. However, I really quite enjoyed it. I was almost sucking into the story, so immersing. A joy to read.

    Actually, the same can go for the whole post. Not come across such a structure/piece before. It’s as though it didn’t have a conclusion and left the rest to us.

    Enough of the rambling.


    – Jamin

  11. Loved your post as usual Syl πŸ™‚

    My results are:
    Explorer: 67%, Socializer: 53%, Achiever: 47%, Killer: 33%

    I think it says that I’m scatty and enjoy lots of things about a game?? πŸ˜€

  12. EASK here, 100/50/50/0. I’d be 150/25/25/0 if the test allowed it. The questions are obvious, and often, I’d not prefer either option, but rather, to just go explore.

    The Killer type most interests me in game design, as it pretty much actively works against community. It’s hard to keep those players without annoying the others.

  13. I had never heard of the Bartle test — ESAK here of 93:53:40:13, so I suppose I’m a lot like Tesh.

    I love your writing style Syl, and I’m jealous of the fact that you can be so entertaining while simultaneously making interesting points. I know I tend way too far in the direction of dry philosophical treatise but I’m hoping to get better πŸ™‚

  14. Here’s my ranking: E 93%, S 47%, K 47%, A 13%, rather similar to Syl.

    If you are interested in MMOs and haven’t read Dr. Richard Bartle’s original paper, you should. Note that he isn’t responsible for the test named after him, but he did identify the four motivations.

    One thing to note is that Richard says a game must address all four motivations. In fact, he recently posted on his blog about Why Achiever-Only Massively Multiplayer Games Don’t Work. So, a gamer insisting that the game be catered to his or her preferred playstyle misses the point, as the four characters do in that intro story.

  15. @Jamin
    Thank you very much! it’s great to know someone enjoys this stuff. πŸ™‚
    And did you actually take the test, too?

    Cheers Issy! It’s fun how these results are working out, yours is again a slight variation, but not surprisingly again the high ‘E’! =)
    we need an “explorers rule” – badge soon!

    Hey, you don’t get to make even numbers like that!
    and that’s actually a very interesting topic there about the killer type; got enough for a whole article already? I would love to read more about it.

    Actually that means you’re a lot like Issy, hehe!

    I really appreciate your feedback, thank you. I think blogging is the perfect thing you can do to experiment with your own writing and commit to it regularly. it was my main reason to open this blog, too. I think I’ve come a long way in allowing myself to relax a bit and run freely, whatever way the mood strikes – sometimes it’s more about allowing yourself to be silly or rantsy than anything else. =) to just keep going is the best you can do and above all, enjoy yourself!

  16. @Brian

    Thanks a lot for the links, I shall look into that second one with great interest! =)
    it would indeed never work to base an MMO on merely one or two aspects alone; all the profiles linked here have proven that we’re all about variety and enjoy different activities. what the results really do for me is show an overall mindset or focus rather than exclusive traits.

    the analogy of my tale is just about that; arguments about the “better” playstyle lead nowhere – you only end up with an empty cup for everybody.

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