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Bartle Archetypes as Developing Identities

April 24, 2013

Dear Reader,

By now, we’re all pretty familiar with Bartle’s player types: killer, explorer, achiever, and socializer.  I’ve been giving a lot of thought about how those terms – whether a player is consciously aware of them or not – create a kind of player identity, and whether that identity goes through stages of development, as all other identities do.

I’ve spoken before about my identity crisis when I was no longer a desirable teaching candidate.  When it became clear that no public school was going to have me, I faced a very dark time in my life.  I was able to find a similar job, close enough, perhaps, to partially fill that void, but frankly I know deep down it’s not the same, and there are times I’m acutely aware of that and sit, going through old pictures, missing “my kids.”  My identity has been forced back into a moratorium, where I’m re-examining formerly held beliefs about myself.

While there are, of course, different approaches to identity development, the most commonly referenced are Erikson’s 4 stages: diffusion, moratorium, foreclosure, and achievement.  Diffusion means that a person has never really explored developing an identity.  This can refer to children or adults who’ve never had to commit to anything, people in my generation I’d refer to as “30 year old teenagers.”  Moratorium is a time during which a lot of self-examination takes place, and hopefully from which one exits, moving on to identity achievement, having a stable identity.  Foreclosure is when a person takes on an identity from someone around them, often under duress.

At any time, a moratorium could again occur due to a change in circumstance.  Plenty of stories are about this, a moment in a (usually) stagnant character’s life in which the character has to change.  This Must be the Place is a recent movie about such an event, but there are many, many more; The Truman Show, Stranger than Fiction, and SLC Punk! are among my favorite.

I suspect that gaming identities develop over time, too, in much the same way.  I suspect, too, that Bartle’s archetypes aren’t particularly stable “achieved” identities, either, as a player’s life changing even a little can shift their goals for game time.  I’m a prime example.  I used to be a hard-mode raider, an achiever, but once I moved, I didn’t have as many friends or as much satisfaction from my job, so I unknowingly shifted to much more of a socializer.  However, I hit a hard resistance to it internally; at some level, I was foreclosing on myself, on my identity as a raider.  I knew I should be playing the game a certain way, but I no longer really wanted to.  Letting go of that took time, a time of “player moratorium,” so to speak.

I’ve found myself logging on to WoW specifically to talk to people more and more: Beshara, Navi, and some of my other non-blog friends.  I always had times I just sat around on vent and talked while running or flying in circles around the world, using the movement and background as something for my eyes and hands to do while I was talking.  I don’t do that nearly as much now, but mostly because my vent talks don’t happen as often.  While I have recently started my new “Ray Smith” project, I think it’s mostly to have a reason to keep logging on to keep in touch with my friends in Germany and my various blog RealID’ers.  My life and tastes have relegated WoW to the state of a former Zynga game.  Still, my somewhat foreclosed WoW personality doesn’t want to just let it go.

At any rate, it brings up an interesting topic for further consideration: what are identity crisis triggers that occur specifically within game?  I can easily look at my external change – moving – and see that it triggered both my in and out of game crises, but what about in-game only.  I can throw one out there: guild break ups.  What others are there, dear reader?  What have you seen trigger a player identity crisis?


Stubborn (somewhere on the borders of moratorium and achievement)

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2013 7:26 am

    Was a nice read once again! =) Going to through out some possibly triggers here:

    – The opposite of Guild break-up; when new people come in and this shifts the goals of the guild.

    – Similar to the first one when you meet new people in-game. I never Rp’ed before (other than in my head) before I met my girlfriend and now I am really into doing it in small groups, that I refer to as stable environments.

    – Content gets easier. We see this when casual guilds suddenly become more hardcore as they get that “taste of achievement” (I think you wrote about this at one point).

    – A new “part-time feature” (like pet battles in WoW or Artifacts in Rift) is added, which can lead to someone who is more of an completionist and achiever to get there character out in the world and turn into an Explorer.

    – Similarily to a Guild break-up the priorities of once friends change, either they don’t play anymore or they start liking different things in the game that you do not like (coonverson of casual players to more hardcore or of PVE players to exclusively PVP players)

    Those where the five I could think of at the top of my head there are probably more than thhose out there and some of them are most likely hybrids in the sense that something in RL happens that has something to do with the game itself (layoffs in dev studio, a new game comes out, the new expansion just does not cut it etc.)

    • April 24, 2013 4:01 pm

      Yes to all of those. A new influx of people can really change a guild’s dynamic, both in terms of goal and behavior. I remember getting a group of rowdy college friends who I felt basically ruined the “businesslike” nature of the guild I was in at the time. They were good, though, so they got to stay. I eventually left.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Cain permalink
    April 24, 2013 7:45 am

    It doesn’t have to be a guild break up, but just any conflict in the guild. Even if it’s just two people fighting, if you are one of the two (or friends with one) it could force you to really reevaluate your role in game.

    Not so much now, but in Vanilla PVP it was just “I’m done” (having achieved the rank you wanted). Feral’s didn’t care much about getting Field Marshal or Grand Marshal because the gear wasn’t really designed well for us, so when I got Commander I just stopped. Related to that can be when others got Grand Marshal, them stopping could have a major impact on others. We had a group of players that were working together to get people ranks, and when the person really driving the organizing got Grand Marshal no one else really stepped up to keep forming the group every night. On Horde side they had a group that would get a new person High Warlord every couple weeks, well when one person got it and then went through that phase of well now what, they essentially screwed up the whole group when a few weeks later they decided to just get High Warlord again and not let it go. I’ve seen some people do this with pve at certain points, but they usually revert back when something new comes out.

    • April 24, 2013 4:03 pm

      That’s quite true; I left my “best” guild because of that, as I’ve written about plenty before. That really did me in, too; it was the beginning of the end of my raiding. I gave it a few more tries, but each ended badly, and after those three “strikes” I’ve been done since.

      You’re quite right about the cycles, too, how new content can shift people again back; I wonder if that’s a form of “game foreclosure,” then?

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. April 24, 2013 8:57 am

    Slightly orthogonal to your point but I wonder how many people have different personalities on different characters? I know that I’m more of a killer-achiever on my Warlock (sticking with WoW characters), an explorer-completionist on the DK. They also wax and wane in interest over time. This really isn’t something we can do with our actual personalities, barring a serious disorder or criminal intent.

    • April 24, 2013 4:04 pm

      I know what you mean; I was a jerk on my Spriest but always a good guy on my paladin. And I’d argue that we do shift our real personalities over time, but the timeline is much longer, the shifts smaller, and thus harder to notice. None of us are who we were in college, after all, but few of us went through a major, life-changing event to become who we are now. So I think it does happen, just on a slower time-scale.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Polynices permalink
    April 24, 2013 3:35 pm

    Major patches can be a trigger when they alter an aspect of your character requiring you to do some adjusting to your play style. Pandaria splitting druid cat DPS away from druid bear tanking did this for me. I suddenly couldn’t be a DPS or a healer or a tank as needed. I had to pick a role to drop. I got casual and then quit instead.

    • April 24, 2013 4:05 pm

      Yeah, wrath to cata did that to me; I loved druid healing pre 4.0 and hated it post. Still do.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. April 24, 2013 10:22 pm

    Winning, or achieving a top position, or something seen by outsiders to be highly prestigious. Except it gets lonely at the top, the sensation of being a hamster running ever so harder on a stationary wheel becomes more obvious as one starts seeing past the meta, and challengers are always ready to criticize or tear you down in order to be the one at the top. Makes you really re-examine your game and life priorities – at least it did for me.

    • April 25, 2013 12:49 pm

      Excellent point; both long-term success and long-term failure can cause people to re-evaluate who they are. Empires, even, if you think about how long-term success usually precedes their fall. Very interesting point!

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. April 25, 2013 12:30 pm

    I’m the same as Jeromai here. After tasting the top and being a raidhealer with a rep for several years on my server, I tired and burned out. success is not nearly as satisfying as the race for success. to sit on your laurels is to stagnate and become passive – and this is not what most of us thrive on. I’m the type of person who loves challenge but hardly ever acknowledge or dwell on my achievements….I constantly need something new. and once I’ve been at the top, I tend to see it for what it is. in wow’s case, I saw myself as this donkey running after blizzards carrot. that’s when I stopped.

    I find it interesting that you feel you became more social in games when your life/job satisfied you less. I would’ve thought the achiever in you might have become stronger in this case.

    • April 25, 2013 12:48 pm

      I think it had to do with overall happiness. As I was being made less happy by my job, I had to find something that made me more happy, my friends. The constant struggle you talk about can be satisfying, but doesn’t necessarily give long-term happiness, just moments of success that feel great but don’t resonate long term. I needed my friends to help me experience the feeling of happiness and community my kids had before, which explains both my in-game transition and many of my blog posts, as well.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. TheeNickster permalink
    April 30, 2013 9:17 pm

    Here’s something that will make you re-assess you’re WoW lifestyle: Your class gets nerfed to the ground!

    I was a BM hunter during BC, when BM hunters were at the top of the DPS food chain. Then the great hunter nerf of ’09 came along. Suddenly I was getting DPS numbers that were sub-par no matter what spec I ran. Without the ability to be the star of the show, I lost interest in raiding.

    I rolled a DK because they were the hot new class, but within 3 months I was unsubbed. Developers, think twice before you grab that nerfbat!

    • May 1, 2013 4:16 pm

      Yeah, that’s how I felt about druid healing at patch 4.0. I loved it before and hated it after. “It wasn’t a nerf,” they said, but it absolutely was. If they want to make healing more challenging, they can do so in ways that don’t completely rewrite the way the classes work and force everyone to build from scratch. I haven’t really healed at all since then.

      Thanks for the comment!

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