LARPing & Bartle’s Taxonomy
Recently, Extra Credits created a video on Bartle’s Taxonomy, one of the cornerstone design principles within formal game design. I’ll link the videos here and here. While Bartle’s Taxonomy works great for any kind of game, I’d like to try and apply it to LARPing.
Richard Bartle was the creator of one of the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) games, creating MUD1 in 1978. As the game grew over time, he asked the players of the game he created what they wanted out of the game. Everyone who was asked disagreed on what the one answer was. Bartle realized that those playing his game were playing it for vastly different reasons. So he set out to find out if there were any correlations between players, and in the end, came up with the Bartle Test, a series of questions to determine what kind of player an individual was. He then placed them on a chart:
Image from Gamasutra
The vertical axis represents a player’s preference of interacting with the world or interacting with players. The horizontal axis represents a player’s desire to either act on something, or act with something. This creates 4 quadrants which represent the different player types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. While people can be a little of all of them, they’ll typically gravitate towards one more than the others.
These are players who look to meet goals and overcome challenges that the game sets for them or that they set for themselves. They want the big treasure chest that’s guarded by the dragon, or they want to each a certain level of power or skill set that’s hard to achieve. For them, it’s about thriving on overcoming difficult tasks.
Discovering new things about the game are what an Explorer craves. They dive into every nook and cranny to find things that most others would overlook. This isn’t limited to just what can be found in the game world, either. Explorers like to tinker with the mechanics of the game. They’re always trying to build new character skill sets and find the tricks that allow them to understand the game better than even the creators ever would.
These folks simply see the game as a means to socialize with others. They actually don’t care much for the game itself so much as chatting with everyone there. They’re often involved in the community surrounding a game, asking questions and prompting conversations with the rest of the player base.
Players that like to defeat other players are Killers. They thrive on getting negative reactions from other players, with the more extreme reactions giving a Killer a better experience.
As stated earlier, every person that plays a game heavily gravitates towards one of these roles, but does not fit solely into one category. The Bartle Test gives a score in each category. Only one category can have 100%, and all four categories will add up to 200%. So you could have a score that reads: Achiever: 100%, Explorer: 50%, Socializer: 30%, Killer: 20%, resulting in a player that loves to achieve, but has some interest in exploring the game’s mechanics, likely as a means to better achieve goals set by the game they’re playing.
In multiplayer video games, you’ll have an equilibrium between the amount of Achievers and Killers, as Achievers are prime targets for Killers. The number of Killers are slightly lowered by Explorers who aren’t phased by the actions of Killers and often have tricks up their sleeves to deal with Killers, which annoy Killers. Socializers, on the other hand, increase the amount of Killers, as they provide Killers with an easy target.
Different games are going to have different percentages of player types in a given game. For example, Call of Duty will have a large amount of Achievers and Killers, with very few Socializers and Explorers. A game like EVE Online, on the other hand, has a lot of Explorers exploiting the game and its mechanics.
So how do we apply all of this to a LARP? Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question as there’s a lot of different styles and genres within LARPing. But there are certain aspects of LARPing that attract certain player types. For example, almost all boffer LARPs will attract Achievers to their games. With an easy to understand combat system and a clear goal-driven plot, Achievers can easily see the challenges to overcome.
Socializers will be attracted to games with heavy levels of role-play. LARPing is more than just beating up the monster, it’s also about creating awesome moments together, and Socializers live for this sort of thing.
Explorers will be interested in getting the most out of your LARPs mechanics, looking to see how skills and abilities can be used to their full effect or finding new ways to use said abilities. LARPs that have rules to allow for these sorts of things are what will please the Explorers.
Killers want a place to feel dominant over others. They like to take others down a peg and feel superior. A LARP that allows for this will attract Killers to it.
A note about Killers. When it comes to LARPing, unless your game has some sort of competitive element built into it, Killers are poisonous to a LARP. Remember, while not all Killers do what they do out of malice, many do. And if they’re not reigned in and controlled, many of the others in your player base will be upset by this and leave. They’ll have an impact on your community as well, being candid and aggressive with their opinions and making others apprehensive about responding in turn.
However, as stated earlier, not everyone is completely in one category, and you’ll find that there are many reasons a player comes to a particular LARP. For example, an Explorer with Socializer leanings would largely be interested in exploring the game’s mechanics, but may do so in a group, forming guilds for crafting and experimenting to create new items. An Achiever with Killer leanings will approach a game like a sport, attracted by a goal-oriented game that has a competitive edge between players.
While looking at the different player types is important, achieving a balance between all of them is also important. Having an unbalanced population will often lead to just one type of player in your game, which can lead to a stagnation in your LARP over time. But by having a variety of player types, you can keep the game fresh by providing a variety of challenges that not everyone will expect. This also allows for different player types to interact and work together, making your game more inclusive.
Knowing what player types there are, and which ones you want to attract to your LARP, are a great jumping-off point when designing a rules set for a LARP. And having a balance between the four different player types can make your game more rich and rewarding for everyone in your community.