Richard Bartle’s theory on the four kinds of players, and their implications on the classroom

Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) were the precursor to the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games (if you are not familiar with the genre, a typical MMO would be ‘World of Warcraft,’ ‘Runescape’ and ‘The Elder Scrolls.’) Richard Bartle, a professor, game researcher and writer, was a co-creator of one of the first MUDs. In his research he found that the motivations of MUD players could be broadly categorised under four groups: killers, achievers, explorers and socialisers.

Let me break it down for you:

Achievers: These people are motivated by what gets them ahead in the game. They do things only if they entail points, badges, levels and coins – rewards that get them somewhere, that allow them to ‘win’ the game

Killers: Killers are also known as ‘griefers,’ they thrive on competition and like to fight against other players.

Explorers: Explorers like to explore the landscape of the game, they enjoy discovering areas, creating maps and finding out about hidden places.

Socialisers: Socialisers aren’t really in it for the game, the game is just there as a means to interact with other people and communicate with them.

These motivations are again not mutually independent because these player motivations can co-exist with each other. For instance: players can be both socialisers and explorers in an MUD or MMO, they can travel together, sharing and discovering new hidden plots of land, and treasures. I quite like Bartle’s theory, and I say this because it makes me think like a designer. It also reminds me that my students have different motivations. School seems to (primarily) cater to the achiever type. However, the reality of the situation is that some students are explorers – they are not that interested, or even that highly motivated by marks, they just like to enjoy the subject, and are driven by their curiosity – curiosity that might not directly align with the contents of the syllabus. Other students, go to school to socialise, and yes, ‘killers’ do also exist in the classroom – we just normally call these people ‘class clowns’ or if you live in Australia ‘Jonahs.’

Game designers, and gamification experts will tell you that when they design a game or a gamified system, they will use this paradigm to envisage their audience. The mechanics will reflect on the kinds of players that they wish to cater to, and most of the time, a well-designed game will try to put something in there for all four player types.

What kind of player are/were you in the classroom? If you play MMOs what kind of player are you?