Friday, January 18, 2008

A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Know Thyself

This is the last in an 11-part series. To start from the beginning, read part one: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Games." Or read the previous post, "Tying It All Together."

Employing this new taxonomy, we're able to discuss games without resorting to a simplistic rubric in which games either suck or rule. And we're able to see gamers as a lot more than simply hardcore or casual. Instead of talking past each other when we're coming at games from fundamentally different perspectives, we'll be able to seek common ground and at least disagree with one another from a place of understanding.

Again, I'm not suggesting that we simply slap labels on people and let that take the place of constructive dialogue, especially because nobody is likely to fit neatly into one category or another. In particular, Premium and Wholesale Players aren't necessarily in separate groups as much as they are points along a continuum. Thinking seriously about your own inclinations can give new focus to what you like and why.

For myself, I'm predominantly a Tourist. To the extent that I have any Skill traits, Completism ranks high above Perfectionism. On the value scale, I'm more of a Premium Player than a Wholesale Player. Now that I know this, it explains a lot about myself that I had never been able to concretize before -- like why I preferred Ratchet and Clank Future to Super Mario Galaxy.

Ratchet and Clank is almost all Tourist events: fairly rudimentary combat, lots of jokes and well-produced cutscenes, and unique platforming elements from one world to the next. The Completist aspect consists of searching for hidden golden bolts and the secret components of a weapon schematic, but these parts are fully optional. Powering up each of Ratchet's individual weapons is also a Completist factor, but because this happens as a result of simply playing through the game, it's a side benefit to the Tourist. Perfectionism doesn't really factor in.

Super Mario Galaxy, on the other hand, is primarily Completist and secondarily Tourist. It's close, which is why I did enjoy the game quite a bit. But I could never quite shake the feeling that I wasn't loving it as much as I should have. The reason is that collecting stars is the objective of the game, and experiencing all those wonderful galaxies supports that aim. You don't have to collect all the stars, but to advance through the main story you do have to revisit the same places over and over and pick up most of them.

On the value tip, Ratchet was fairly short, and although there was some optional content (like the battle arena rounds), for the most part it was a linear, narrative game. That fits it comfortably on the Premium end of the scale. Mario Galaxy is similarly short for the main game, but since collecting about half the stars is optional, that puts it on the Wholesale side of the divide. As before, it's not so much that Mario is fully one kind of game or another -- it's that the parts of it to which I responded most strongly were usually not the most salient ones.

This isn't to say that I fully eschew Perfectionist games, either. Some games, like and Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry, are so difficult that they require the rigorous effort a Perfectionist craves. These games also have so much to offer my Tourist nature that I play them as a Perfectionist without even realizing it. That doesn't mean I achieve an S ranking -- or even care to -- just that it takes a greater level of effort to beat these games than I'd ordinary be willing to commit.

None of what I've written here is intended to be the final word. In fact, I hope it's only the first step toward a broader and more constructive gaming conversation. There's much more to be said, and probably better than I've said it. I'll consider this series successful not if people adopt the terms I've suggested, but if it inspires anybody to think more critically about the way they play. That's the critical next step for games to achieve cultural relevance.

I cede the floor to you, readers. What are your thoughts?

30 comments:

Tyler said...

First, it's awesome that you changed your setting so entire posts show up via RSS.

I'm trying to figure out where a classic-style adventure game (Sam and Max, Monkey Island, etc.) fit in. There's a ton there for a tourist (probably why I like those sorts of games so much). There doesn't seem to be any room for the perfectionist, in that you can't "excel" at the game. You either complete it or not. I suppose a completist would be happy to find all of the easter eggs and explore all of the dialog branches, but since there's no real measure for it, I don't think it's a completist's bag either. Is the adventure game a pure tourist genre?

Mitch Krpata said...

I changed it once I started using Google reader myself. But I also tried to put ads on the feed, and those aren't showing up for me yet. I DEMAND PROFIT

I think that the challenge of some of those puzzles would appeal to the perfectionist type of gamer. I know that I've consulted tons of walkthroughs over the years when I just couldn't crack a puzzle in those games. I've tended to play them for the plots and dialogue as much as anything, but it's not like you can just cruise from one scene to another without using a little elbow grease. You are right that the level of "competition" in these games is zero. You can't really do any better than somebody else at them, or even really discover exploits to do something like a speed run.


Also, I think the nature of the inventory in your standard point-and-click adventure game -- search the whole screen for items you can interact with -- would appeal to one's completist side, even if there's no real reward there. Generally I think you're right, that these games are built for the tourist, but even as a side effect there's still more of an appeal there for other types of gamers. That's the case with most good games, the more I think about it.

Scott said...

Wow, great series of posts. I'm particularly glad to see someone finally wrap some firm words around the premium/wholesale spectrum. MMOs in particular strike a divisive line in the sand. As the only genre to commonly measure its playtime in days, they represent the greatest deal to a wholesale player ("$.003 bucks an hour, man!"), and the worst possible thing imaginable to a premium player (you pay a subscription for this treadmill?!)

Meanwhile, its players (presumably mostly of the wholesale persuasion) all fill different ranks of tourism, completionism, and perfectionism.

Ascribing multidimensionality to a single given player's preferences goes a long way towards making a new Myers-Briggs Type-esque "Taxonomy" for gamers. Again, great posts!

Mitch Krpata said...

Thanks for the kind words, Scott. It struck me while I was writing the series that although I'd seen other people tackle the question of what kinds of games people like, nobody had considered the value side of the equation.

Subscription-based games like WoW are such an interesting example, both because they can offer such a low dollar/hour rate, but also because if you play them long enough, you can spend hundreds of dollars on them! For me, that's nightmarish: I get to spend a limitless amount of money on a game I can never beat. But that's also the allure for the people who do play it.

Stu said...

Fabulous series. N'Gai mentioned it on the 1UP Yours podcast on 4/11 and I'm glad I read through it. What struck me as interesting is how to view DLC through this prism. There are two angles - the buyer and the seller. I'm sure different gamers buy different DLC packs based on their preferences, just like they buy games. However, because the price and play length do not follow the current main retail model, as well as the fact that the DLC is piggy-backing on an already defined experience, gamers may actually move out of their preferred class of games to experience DLC. What I mean is that you might have bought a game because it appealled to your tourist/completist sensibilities, but you might buy the DLC solely because it appeals to the completist in you.

The interesting for sellers (developers, publishers) is creating a DLC/game portfolio that takes advantage of all the different classifications. If you have a game that plays heavily to the completist, but has a little for the tourist, maybe you reward the tourist through DLC. Maybe you offer two DLC products, one for completists and one for tourists? It would be a challenge, however, because you wouldn't want to alienate your primary consumer and you don't want to target DLC at an audience that wouldn't have bought the game in the first place. If you have no premium tourists buying your game, do you want to target DLC at that market? The DLC would likely flop.

You can look at a whole bunch of stuff through your new taxonomy, which is why I think it is a great tool for looking at games and gaming culture.

Mitch Krpata said...

Stu, thanks for the kind words.

I think you raise a good point about DLC, and it's not surprising to me that I think Harmonix is a company that's doing it the best. Their DLC, like their games, manages to have something for everybody.

For the tourist, there's the chance to download and play great songs by bands you love -- and to skip over the ones you don't. For the perfectionist, there are new expert-level challenges to master. And for the completist, there are ever more trophies to add to the collection.

I haven't downloaded much DLC in my time. I bought the Crackdown pack that added a vehicle and some new weapons, but without additional gangs to go after it didn't hold my interest too long. That would be an example of where the narrow appeal doesn't quite work. (Although I should say that the retail version of Crackdown really succeeds spectacularly, in my view, along the tourist and completist axes.)

Hizzah said...

Really interesting read...I skimmed through most of it, and while it was harder for me to completely understand your premium vs. wholesaler argument (I think it's more about how much time a person is willing to devote to video games in their lives), I really liked your idea of completionist vs. perfectionist vs. tourist. To review a game based on the personal needs it satisfies is so much more effective than a 10 point rating scale.

mkunze said...

Great read!

I think Halo 3 is another good example that bridges several types of players. It is good for tourists, except for the few backtracking moments. The completionist has the skulls and terminals to find. The perfectionist can turn on campaign scoring and skulls. The campaign is short enough that it works for the premium player, and there is multiplayer for the wholesale player.

I guess I would suggest the addition of social players vs Individual players. Even here there would be more room for categories, as some social players play to compete while some play to cooperate. As Stephen Totilo mentioned in the burnout vs mode
people can compete individually through asynchronous competition. I imagine there are also examples of asynchronous cooperation although I can't think of any. I guess its hard to say if anyone plays these games for these specific reasons, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Mitch Krpata said...

mkunze, that's an excellent point. I think LittleBigPlanet will provide an good test of the social vs. individual dynamic. I'll be interested to see how reactions to that game differ.

jstevens2009 said...

An excellent series, I kept reading all the way thru the 11th. I'll also be bookmarking this link as I see value that it may have in the future, specifically for reviewing games. I love this type of stuff, like the beginnings of gaming philosophy. The system should be used by sites reviewing games since it's so easy to understand and makes things much clearer for the gamer to decide.

Mitch Krpata said...

Thank you!

Yilduz said...

Hi ! Your posts are really excellent ! Would you agree in me translating a part of it into French for that website : http://www.gameblog.fr/forum/index.php?showtopic=11035&pid=330915&st=0&#entry330915 ? The casual/hardcore debate tends to get to no end and your article suggests a good way out in my opinion.

Mitch Krpata said...

By all means, go ahead.

GDI Lord said...

Hi Mitch

Thanks for the great read! Jokingly, but possibly a case of "often a true word spoken in jest," you might want to include the "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!!!" gamer. They're the kind who used to live, eat, drink, breathe, think and dream games as kids or while at school, and now that they've hit the so-called "real world" of working (thankfully no family yet ;-) they've had to scale back considerably. No longer are they able to spend 12 or more hours a day being both Completist, Perfectionist Wholesale gamers, now they are primarily Touristic Premium players, but they still have their Completist and/or Perfectionist moments, such as firing up a gamie at 8PM "to relax for just a few minutes" until 2AM instead of finishing that DLL that they were busy with.

However, it's not just that, it's the games that they play - specifically, the period that the games come from - and the attitudes towards old/Abandonware games and the new games that come out now. Jill of the Jungle vs. Tomb Raider Underworld (ok, that was kind of a VERY bad comparison.) Fallout 2 vs. Fallout 3. [Insert name of super addicting retro-ish Flash game here] vs. Crysis or Far Cry 2. Duke Nukem or Duke 3D vs. Duke Nukem Forev... Erm, scratch that one.

The point I'm trying to make is that some people are a tad attached to certain ideas and paradigms of gaming, no matter how obsolete or ridiculous they may seem. Are they lamers? Casual gamers? No. They could also be a Tourist, Perfectionist or Completist, but for those games. Do they not play other, more modern games? No, they play and love those too, it's just that some games have a more special place in their hearts than others.

On a different note, this series has given me some thinking points for game design. Thank you.

Oh, and Mitch, GET OFF MY LAWN!!! ;-)

Mitch Krpata said...

Definitely a good point. As games trend toward being more user-friendly (like with the Vita-Chambers in BioShock that N'Gai points out), there's definitely an old-school contingent that resists. They really want a certain gameplay paradigm that seems to be going out of style.

And I definitely know what you mean about occasionally finding that breakthrough game that transports you back in time and has you playing until all hours. It's nice, once in awhile, even if I too fall along that tourist/premium part of the axis.

robyrt said...

On Curmudgeon gamers: A big part of this disconnect and the growing alienation, I think, is that children are all Wholesale gamers. Now that people are old enough to look back on their formative years spent squeezing 100 hours out of a Completionist Wholesale game, they wonder why nobody is making those anymore. Of course, they themselves are probably Tourist Premium people now, so the question kind of answers itself.

Anonymous said...

How would you categorise gamers who seek out games that have long term replayability due to dynamic nature of game or multiplayer involvement? Most of the games I would buy and play on a regular basis are ones that I easily clock, like say Civ (currently Revolutions), Advance Wars, WOW (in the past), Starcraft, COD4 – but I keep returning to them because while I know I can beat them (so far as that is possible) they have an element of repetitive challenge. I’m not really getting any better, nor am I unlocking new content, nor seeking enhanced value for money (what is my recreational time worth in dollars at 2PM on a rainy Saturday for a game I’ve already played for 200 hours given that it’s a recession?)


This kind of repetitive challenge is sort of similar to the appeal of traditional recreational activities, like say target or trap shooting, skiing or bowling at the nets (with the obvious point that the former may lack the intense physical activity of the latter).

Mitch Krpata said...

It's a good question. If I knew that, I'd know why I keep playing FreeCell after all these years...

littlewilly91 said...

HARDCORE! That anonymous guy is kind of a perfectionist I think. Perfectionist-tourist- wholesale. Perfectionists love deep combat systems and depth of gameplay generally. For them it is what makes it all seem to matter and makes the escapism that much more real, since they can actually get really good at it and be tactile and strategic. It's all about teh immersion! And it's wholesale! Being in one game that can do this, the tourist part of you starts to see the endless glory of it, the endless importance that good emergent gameplay has. Not just absorbing the "culture" of something like a tourist does (that fits well lol). I mean the culture that the game actually has an impact on society and marks whatever line in the sand with it's billion-dollar production values. This is what makes the carefully designed levels of Half Life 2 so fun to play through- you're conversing in a way, with the mood setting team of developers. It's so linear, you are constantly being handled by them. It's what makes GTAIV so interesting- it's so influential, and their is so much work and... art, i guess, to be looked at everywhere. But the other part that a tourist comes for, the more human and personal part, that may not mean much in the bigger picture. The sex with the few beautiful girls you go binge drinking with after seeing the Eiffel tower, if you will. Or the cycling, or getting interested in French cooking and starting classes and deciding to stay for a week... I.E. TF2 It's a good set of terminology and discussion, but I think the term "tourist" is the most problematic. You drove in a hell of a harsh wedge when introducing it anyway. On the other hand, thank you thank you thank you for all these posts. They really get somewhere.

will said...

May I also adds; The other associations of hardcore don't matter anymore then? The people who play COD4 and Halo and Counterstrike don't get to be called Hardcore anymore because of your big decision? Nore the speedrunners at sonic the hedgehog and Tetris? Now it can be anyone with a love for games? Oh fine... NOT! These meanings built up for a reason! That's what hardcore means in gaming! I know the word itself seems like it shouldn't imply it, -especially since it's one of the only gaming terminologies everybody feels familiar with and whoever, journalists and gamers themselves, have pruported some genres to be hardcore and this is just a perversion of the medium and corrupt and biggoted- but you can't just ignore it dude. That's cackhanded. Like that guy who tried to make an exclamation-question mark in one, and shows lack of acceptance of our shameful gaming culture. It's always going to be a convoluted word, and it's always going to carry those associations. When games like Heavy Rain turn gaming into the fingers in every pie medium it should be, we can look back and see what a shallow thing it is to think that shooters are the only hardcore games. But for a long time now they have been like half of games, and are proudly the most f***ed up to play and most punishing. Hard Core. It sticks. Apart from that and the rather slow build up of the first few posts, brilliant progresssive stuff Mitch!

Derek B said...

Thank you so much for putting these thoughts (which have tended in my head to be vague and disorganized) into a cogent form that is a pleasure to read, and provokes further thought at that. This is the first series I've read here (I was referred by another blog that I don't recall off hand), but it certainly won't be the last.

Grunthos said...

Anonymous/12:34 raises an important point, but I think it goes farther than that. Much of this kind of discussion of gaming tends to ignore deeply involved and complex games with steep learning curves - I'm thinking here of the games I personally play, stuff like Europa Universalis and Football Manager - where there is a dynamic game environment that forms part of the challenge. And so I think you are missing a distinction among Tourists: those who tour for the cool vignettes and highlights, and those who tour for the narrative interaction.

When I play Football Manager, I'm not playing for the interesting and creative new concepts the game presents to me (Tourist) - it's a football management sim, it doesn't create new stuff. I'm not playing for completism (how many different players can I buy, how many competitions can I compete in, etc.). I'm not playing for perfectionism... there is no real measure as to whether I am a better player of the game than someone else.

So, what am I playing for?

I'm playing because managing a virtual team creates a story, carved out of a large universe with highly varied outcomes. I'm playing for those moments when the star striker I brought through the academy scores a late goal to win me a trophy, or when my carefully assembled newly-promoted squad gets relegated on the last day of the season after a hard struggle all year.

This neatly describes why I haven't played any flight sims since Red Baron. I *need* the fully-simulated dynamic environment with realistic missions, or the narrative never forms; and without that personally-generated story element (and I most certainly do not mean a cinematic script here), a flight sim is simply a very difficult Perfectionist game that has no appeal.

Alex Denham said...

Hi Mitch,
I've just read these series of posts again and felt compelled to comment. I founc the content really exciting, and refreshing to see somebody actually attempting to broaden videogam discussion from the inane squels of pre teens the globe over!

Hopefully this article is the beginning of many on the subject.

I can't help but see an ironic parallel between this and one of your other features - gamestop user previews! Perhaps some of those users could do with reading your article. But then they wouldn't be nearly as entertaining...

Maz said...

This was a great read, and helped me think through my own preferences a lot.

It also explains why my roommate and I can love the same game, but sometimes hate playing together. I can see that I'm overall a tourist with perfectionist leanings, and he's a perfectionist with some completionist traits.

So when we play guitar hero, I'd rather play co-op so we can rock out together, though I don't mind challenging him to face-off if I feel it's a fair fight. The problem is that he practiced and practiced way more than I was willing to, so it ceased to be an even match, and we never play together now.

It also explains to me why I loved CoD 4 and BioShock (he played neither), while I stayed away from Fallout 3 entirely and he maxed out his level and explored the entire game.

The one question I'd raise is, can our tendencies change based on the game? I just got Street Fighter 4, which I'm enjoying a lot as a learn the moves and combos. Weirdly, my roommate hates it, and will only pick it up for a few rounds at a time if I make him play me. Not sure why I approach this game differently; it's one of the few ones that I really want to "get good at." And as for my roommate, and think his lack of appreciation for it is a strange combination of thinking there's "not much to it" (two people beating the crap out of each other), while simultaneously recognizing the complexity of the system and not wanting to invest time or patience to getting good at it (which is contrary to his typically tendency).

SchattenjagerS said...

Just read this - great series! The Penny Arcade excerpts you quoted in part 3 are still two of my favorite PA postings of all time... "play in order to excel" vs "as a conduit to fantasy", and "play to beat" vs "play to see". I like your more detailed breakdown though I struggle with a few things on the Tourist vs Skill dimension:

1) I really identify with Tycho's "conduit to fantasy" and Gabe's "play to see" descriptions. In your taxonomy I best qualify as a Tourist based on my intentions, but I often find myself behaviorally falling into the Completist or Perfectionist buckets. 2 examples:

a) Rock Band: Tourist / Perfectionist: Rock Band is my conduit to the fantasy of being a rock star. But I've found that the better I get at the instruments, the more immersive the experience, and so I have a desire to learn my favorite songs well enough to play on Expert with 'flourish' i.e. not so focused on the controller that I can't physically act out the rock star persona I want to inhabit. I don't want to perfect the hardest song on Expert *for the sake of getting a perfect score* and I'd be ok missing some notes here and there but I want to really 'feel' like I'm playing all those complex riffs and drum rolls, and get positive feedback from the crowd cheering and singing along. If I were a Perfectionist Wholesale player, I might end up learning a song well enough to get a perfect score on Expert, but my current motivation forces me to improve my skill beyond even that point, in order to play with flourish. So the intention of using the game as a conduit to fantasy may in fact place me behaviorally in the Perfectionist bucket. It is for this reason that I avoid picking up fighters, as I feel that I would need to learn the moves and counters pretty well in order to fully realize the fantasy of duking it out in a 1-1 arena, and I balk at the time commitment involved to do that and just go back to variants of SF2 as I've already learnt that game from back when I was Wholesale.

b) KoToR: Tourist / Completist: KoToR is my conduit to the fantasy of inhabiting and saving the Star Wars universe as a Jedi. I found Bioware's game world so rich and interesting that I wanted to explore every inch of it, including alternate paths such as completing the game on the Dark Side, to see what I saved the universe from by choosing Light. Not for the sake of being able to say that I completed every quest, but just because as a Tourist I wanted to see everything there was to see, since everything was worth seeing. My actions might place me in the Completist bucket but my intentions were really from the Tourist perspective. For the same reason, I still haven't started playing Oblivion although I bought it years ago, as I feel that once I get into it I'll get so sucked into the world that I'll want to explore it all *for the sake of seeing it* and again I balk at the time commitment required to do so.

This isn't a ding on your taxonomy, but just a comment to reinforce what you stated at the end of part 4, that the bucketization should be done by intent not by observed behaviors. I think that a Tourist will exhibit Completist tendencies in games with rich and compelling worlds that are worth exploring to the fullest, and similarly a Tourist will exhibit Perfectionist tendencies in games where the core gameplay mechanic itself is inherently tied to your ability to fully 'experience' the fantasy that the game has to offer.

2) The taxonomy makes no mention of situations where people play games just for the sake of playing the game rather than to experience something new, improve skill or score a new Achievement. Sometimes you just play a round of Tetris or Freecell because it's fun, because you want to release some stress from a long day at work. It's no different from shooting a few hoops, popping down in front of the TV to watch a Simpsons rerun, or a favorite scene from The Matrix DVD, picking up an acoustic guitar to strum out a favorite song, or even just sitting and popping bubble wrap for a few mins. Current-day Nintendo is essentially built around this 'intention category' and it is very distinct from the other categories already discussed.

3) In your writing you imply and assume that anyone who wants to start a game wants to beat it in order to feel fulfilled by that game. I tend to do so in my game-playing but is this necessarily true universally? We've all dropped a bad game in the middle, but is it sometimes worth dropping a game in the middle despite it being good? My wife and I often attend half a concert for all but our absolute favorite bands, because of lack of time. Our thinking is that if you attend half the concert you've gotten the 'feel' of the music, and the marginal benefit of attending the other half is lower than the marginal cost of the time required (we usually attend the second half, as it's better than the first). I've occasionally found myself suggesting to someone that they watch half of a movie as it has some great moments but the rest of it is just 'more of the same'. It is of course very applicable to TV shows... do you have to watch every single episode or just watch on and off when the mood strikes, and skip the ones in between? This is perhaps an extreme Tourist behavior - don't need to explore each alley, don't even need to hit every single high point as long as you have seen enough to 'get the idea'. Could the same be true in games? Instead of avoiding Oblivion completely is it better for me to play a little bit, enough to experience several hours of that rich world, without necessarily investing all the hours I'd need to beat the game and achieve closure? In essence I guess my question is about whether the desire to 'beat' a game itself is a Completist desire and should not be assumed of everyone de facto. I'd love to see more games do what Alone In The Dark did with allowing you to just play whichever levels you want, and give you the "previously on..." snippet so you can feel caught up to the storyline.

Lastly, I think it'd be extremely instructive, for gamers as well as game developers and journalists, to see some data on what percentage of gamers fall into which bucket or 'intention category'... I get the feeling that there are many, many more Tourists than people think, and getting this data out in the open would better allow people to accurately target their games to the right set of buckets. It would certainly help give me more games like the new Prince of Persia, which I absolutely love but might not have picked up had I not decided to ignore several mediocre reviews. If reviewers can articlate things like "Tourists will love this game but Perfectionists need to go look for something else" that is a much more informative statement for me as a gamer, than just seeing a 7/10review score because it appealed to one part of the reviewer's brain but not the other.

Thanks again for pushing forward on what I find to be one of the most important things gamers need to achieve in order to break out of their current perception of homogeneity by the outside world!

James said...

I agree with the other posters calling for reviewers to change their rating system. They really need to explain what type of gamer a game will appeal to, rather than trying to give it a meaningless overall rating.

I disagree with some of what GDI lord said about the proclivities of old curmudgeon gamers. Many of us were hard-core tourists tabletop RPGers who only came over to computer games for the narrative, character development, and the thrilling sense of exploration that the early text adventures, RPGs, and adventure games offered. Today RPGs are still strong but adventure games have all but died out and many people don't even know what a text adventure is or was.

Today's gamers are mostly unaware of the fact that realistic graphics can have serious drawbacks when it comes to immersion and personal connection to the game. The early games required much more imagination on the part of the player to bring the pixelated sprites to life. Today the story-driver player really is a tourist, taking in the sights, but in the past that player was imagining the sights. I'd like to point out that this is still "tourist" gaming, but of a much more active type. More like reading a novel or playing a tabletop RPG.

Grunthos' comment about playing football simulators actually fits in here. In a sense he is a tourist, but instead of taking sights put in place by the developers, he is taking in sights created in his own imagination using the foundation provided by the developer. This goes for sandbox gaming in general. The sandbox is a foundation the player can use to build their own fantasies.

A good example of this has been what has happened to the Final Fantasy series. FF 1-6 required a great deal of imagination to bring the story to life, because the graphics were really just symbolic representations of what was going on. FF 7 was a huge turning point, bringing events to life on screen in a way the previous games did not. It was a huge success, an amazing game, certainly one of the best of all time, but it was a very different experience for me. FF8-12 continued the trend and often contained literally hours of full-motion video sequences. For a while it seemed like Square was making interactive movies more than games.

I don't want to give the impression I disapprove of the new breed of tourist games, I love them. Despite the rise of multiplayer there is still nothing I value more than a polished single-player experience and many games still deliver this. What is lacking however are games that require more imagination on the part of the player. Everything does not need to be shown on screen, sometimes events are just more exciting and emotional when imagined. One reason for this is that when you imagine something yourself, you make it personal. You feel intimately connected to it. The developer-provided action can seem cold and distant by comparison.

So, to any developers reading this, give us tourists more of the old adventure/mystery games. Actually some of best recent games have been channeling this almost subconsciously. Bioshock and Fallout 3 both had substantial text content and contained mysterious events for the player to unravel. This sort of thing is pure gold for the tourist with an active imagination. Bioware has been trying for years to bring the intimacy of the old D&D games into the modern 3D era, with limited success. Their successes with KOTOR and Mass Effect were largely due to thier ability to bring the characters in those games to life. These new games have achieved many new things and a great in all kinds of ways, but there are still a number of special qualities the old games had that have yet to be captured by a fully 3D game.

James said...

Ran out of space.

One final comment: There really is a fundamental difference between the tourist and the skill gamer. The tourist is treating video games like any other art form: books, film, music, painting. The skill gamer is actually treating it like a SPORT. That's right, a sport. The perfectionist is treating it like a hobby. I think these are actually very deep distinctions in what it means to be a video game, and in the future we are likely to see some deep divides forming between the three groups. While today video games remain a very separate art form from the rest of the art world, I can't imagine things will stay like this for much longer. As video games penetrate the mass market there will be more and more demand for movie-like tourist experiences and the skill gamers may find themselves in small niche markets.

Erane said...

First of all, thank you! It was getting a bit awkward to describe myself as a hardcore casual gamer with a dislike for hardcore games. Now, at least, I can make my preferences known by specifying that I am in fact a completionist-style tourist with a dislike for games aimed at perfectionists.

I do feel I need to point out that, as with skill gamers, there can be large differences between tourist gamers remeniscent of the distinction between perfectionist and completionist. The difference here lies in whether the tourists wants to see the sights within a game, such as viewing the cutscenes or unlocking party members' individual backstories, or whether the tourists views the game itself as a sight that must be seen at least once.

I've noticed this difference in playing Dragon Age on a friends computer (his monitor has much higher resolution). Though I was slightly more interested in doing all the sidequests where he was more focussed on defeating all the revenants, we timeshared the game quite efficiently over the course of several weeks. But when a third friend booted up a new character, we were shocked and appalled to see her blast through our weeks of gameplay in a matter of hours. Though she still insisted she loved the game, we just could not understand why she didn't replay every conversation 20 times, and how she even dared to temporarily crank down the difficulty level for boss monsters. I think now the critical difference here is that she wanted to see the game whereas we wanted to see the entire game.

That being said, in this new taxonomy I'm missing an underappreciated style of play mostly exhibited by people who will generally not be considered gamers at all: the dawdlers.

As a child, I loved playing Super Smash Bros. on the N64, and yet rarely resorted to actually beating up the other guy. Instead, me and my friend just joined a team and set a pair of Jiggly Puffs as lowlevel adversaries to slap out of the way every once in a while as we proceeded to act out conversations between Kirby and Donkey Kong. Similarly, I have spent countless hours in Super Mario 64 literally crawling circles around the castle, simply because it made Mario look like a baby.

In response to SchattenjagerS, I think I can shed some light on quiting a good game. Setting aside the times I quit perfectly good horror games simply because they scared me senseless, I have played far more games than I've ever bothered to finish for various reasons, including games I still consider to be personal favourites.

Though plenty of these were abandoned simply because the midway puzzles were getting too difficult to surpass with my skill-level, I often set aside a game right before the Final Quest simply because I'm right before the Final Quest. I think this is because I derive a lot of fun from just mucking about, whether it be in regions I already know or unexplored regions I've yet to see. Even though this often allows me to find things to satisfy my inner completionist, I mostly just enjoy walking around and killing some random enemies as I traverse the land and talk with NPC's I already know.

Finishing the final quest means finishing the game, and even if I've dawdled around pretty much everywhere five times already, I am very hesitant to take away the option of doing so ever again. I never finished Chrono Trigger despite loving the story structure, I had to be kickstarted to finish Psychonauts, and I had to be tempted with actual physical cake to avoid simply quitting Portal with the companion cube in the little shrine my predecessors had built for him.

In short, I play a game to play a game, not to finish it. Reaching the end has very little to do with my overall enjoyment, as it gives me both pride and disappointment. But then I guess I'm just a very strange sort of gamer. After all, why else would a "short" game like Portal take me close to 18 hours to traverse?

Anonymous said...

While I've been practically bitching at you for failing to write a great piece on gaming psychology or whatever, I still have to give you props for doing it. Not for courage, or your interest, but just for putting it on the web. There's probably a million other's who'd write about this, and obviously one's who would have done it better and probably concluded differently too.

A few things to whoever reads this in the future:

1. You cannot define a game using these personality classifications. Games are games, people are people. Keep them separate when talking specifically about a game. Not all RPGs are for X type enthusiast or gamer.

2. You cannot categorize games with personality categories. This is something you figure out through experience or through psychology. Any type of game can appeal to any type of person. At first this statement seems to beg for a swift boot stomp, but you then realize that people are vastly different, and that a few simple traits and 11 pages of analysis isn't going to somehow create world peace among gamers.

3. Hardcore gamers skip stuff too. So do skilled gamers. In the end people are...human. They will play and do stuff according to the time they have. If they do not have the time, they won't do it. Some people play games and finish them out of principal. I think you are missing a lot of the human aspects of playing games.

4. It sounds like you were born before 1985. Before those kids grew up in a world filled with nintendo and the internet when they were barely old enough to understand it all. Am I right? You don't need to answer.

The comments here are proof that people really just don't think about these things. So again, thank's for the read. You're about 1/4 the way there on the road to understanding what gaming is all about.

Avs

meerkat said...

It was interesting, and I'm surprised that you sound a lot like me in terms of play style, considering how much I hated the word you picked to describe "Tourists." But then I may be even more of a tourist, because there are two reasons I play in a Completist way: a paranoid suspicion that this particular item I will never use with be the *one thing* that saves me in an important battle (which is a little bit of both Tourist, because I want to see whatever comes after the battle, and Perfectionist, because I don't want to suck so bad that I fail the battle), and a desire to see all the attacks, see all the items, and read almost all the dialogue, because those are the tourist attractions I am here to look at.

Also I think completionism is really just a different kind of perfectionism, particularly in Metroid where you get scored on it. But it may be useful to distinguish them, because I care a lot more about getting that item I can see but can't quite reach than I do about getting a high numerical score (although it does anger me when I finally get past a difficult level just to have the game tell me I suck by giving me a low rating and an insulting sound effect). I quit playing Golden Sun on the DS when I found I would have to go back to an older save point to get several Djinn. Bad game design FTW.