ST 351: Storylines and Playstyles

This document expands on ideas already presented in ST 235: Introduction to Playstyles. It is highly recommended to complete that document before proceeding. For further reading on the subject of Bartle types, it may also be useful to read the original Bartle paper from which that test was derived.

The concepts on which Bartle founded the ideas of a “Bartle type” originally were focused on MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, which are text-based multiplayer games) and are easily adaptable to MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) which are popular games today. It’s important to note the differences between those largely computer-driven gaming environments and the live-action roleplaying games that this document focuses on. Instead of looking at the outward effects of a player’s inclinations towards game, it’s better to instead try to draw inferences regarding their inward motivations

Bartle Types In Live-Action

Bartle divides players into four different types, which are equated to the different suits in a deck of playing cards. No player is entirely a single type; rather, they tend to be a mixture with some degree of all four. This is often more tied to a player’s personality than any conscious decision they make to be of one type or another. So, attempting to create plot which appeals to these types involves a more detailed analysis of how each type is motivated.

Achievers, who are also called “diamonds” for their interest in the accumulation of accolades and trophies, enjoy acting on the world. They are primarily interested in how a plot would serve to benefit them or their friends. Their interest can be piqued through plots which have clear goals, and depending on how competitive they are with their fellow achievers, they can sometimes attempt to keep one of these goals to themselves in order to hoard the rewards. If there is no benefit to them, they tend to lose interest quickly. Groups of Achievers can be even more interested in plots that involve intermediate steps which give them an idea of how close they are to achieving their goal.

Achievers are sometimes drawn towards “snowflake” characters — characters which are distinguished from most others by their type rather than their personality or background — and more often, their characters tend to be highly specialized. Thus, groups of achievers can combine their specialities and reap more rewards.

Explorers, who are also called “Spades” for their tendency to dig around, enjoy interacting with the world. Their motivation to immerse themselves in the overall story leads them to be interested in plots which are general and open ended, focusing on a theme rather than a static goal. An explorer is chiefly interested in why a plot is happening and how it is constructed. Storytellers should account for the Explorer’s tendency to find and exploit elements that the storyteller hadn’t anticipated and allow for the Explorer’s out-of-the-box approaches.

Explorer types are frequently drawn towards characters which are deeply involved in a story, whether that story is of the player’s creation or the storyteller’s. Those characters will tend to have extensive and often intricate backgrounds. But they can become annoyed with plots that are inflexible or disconnected, or when they aren’t given the opportunity to explore the plot for alternative solutions.

Socializers, who are also called “Hearts” for their tendency to empathize with others, enjoy interacting with other players. For a socializer, the game is a means of having a good time with their friends. Their characters are also they key to their involvement with that game, and thus the character personalities will also tend to be very social and outgoing.

This would seem to be an easy job for storytellers, but a group of bored Socializers will tend to drop out of character during the middle of a game, becoming a distraction to other players. Since they have a tendency towards creating characters that echo their own extroverted nature, this can be avoided by creating plots which have plenty of time and reason for them to socialize in character. Social portions of these plots tend to drive themselves, as they will influence the later decisions made by other characters as the story continues.

Killers, also called “Clubs” for their tendency to use whatever weapons they have at hand at any opportunity, enjoy acting on other players. While at first glance, this tendency seems to present a danger to a well-run game, the killer’s preference for imposing on others can be conducive to a game riddled with interest and conflict. Their characters can vary widely in order to serve their antagonistic purposes. Killers are a good reason to establish and understand the distinction between “PVP” (player-versus-player) and “PVE” (player-versus-everything), as they are the only type which will establish a strong preference for PVP.

Problems can invariably crop up with killers as they must understand in the context of a larp that they should not engage in PVP frivolously lest they earn the ire of the rest of the game. In order to avoid confusing player motivations for character motivations, storytellers might attempt to provide constructive avenues for their aggressive nature. A storyteller who is willing to take advantage of this preference can utilize killers to drive plot forward, either through their own characters standing in conflict or conscripted to portray antagonist NPC’s.

Identifying and Accommodating Playstyles

It can’t be expected for any storyteller to force their entire player base to take the Bartle survey, and it’s not reasonable to expect any storyteller to memorize how each one of their players scores. However, a storyteller can draw from various resources to evaluate their players in a general sense, and use an understanding of Bartle types to anticipate what changes can be made to better accommodate the playstyles active in their venue. Evaluating the subject and tone of feedback which is being received can give a wary storyteller clues as to what changes need to be made to their game. Even indirect feedback, such as observing what’s going on when players become uninvolved, can provide vital clues as to what needs to be adjusted.

In the context of Bartle types, the two major adjustments that can be made to a game are along the lines of acting versus interacting and players versus world. By encouraging one over the other, the storyteller can adjust the overall balance of the game to favor the average playstyle of the venue, or even attract other like-minded players for creating a game environment they enjoy. Making general adjustments along these lines can help to push storylines in the right direction in order to find the elements it needs to entertain any given player base.

Acting versus Interacting: Socializers and Explorers enjoy interacting with other players.  An acting plotline features elements that require immediacy, which reduces the amount of useless downtime that passes between necessary steps in the plotline. The plots are directed towards specific goals, so that Achievers can gauge where they should be headed and Killers know the most effective places to meddle. NPC’s which have a designated purpose are preferred, especially if they can help the players reach their goals more efficiently. In contrast, an interacting plotline features dynamic NPC’s that they can talk to and relate to which creates greater immersion. Story goals are not as important as the themes and problems that they explore, and since goals aren’t as major a requirement, plots can frequently be left open-ended.

Plot Elements

Acting

Interacting

Scope

Immediate

Open-ended

Involvement

Utility NPC’s

Dynamic NPC’s

Theme

Goals

Problems

Players versus World: Explorers and Achievers come to the game because that’s where the story is. A plot which provides greater emphasis on the players can do so by encouraging the players themselves to be the subject of the game as a whole. Having fewer NPC’s and allowing the players to drive plot forces the players to rely more heavily on one another. Thus having more players to either socialize with or terrorize creates even more opportunities (even though, it should be noted, Socializers and Killers are dramatically opposed to one another). For Achievers and Explorers, emphasizing the world, though, will require having a better glimpse into the game that they’re a part of. Having more story-oriented plot elements gives them the opportunity to choose what they’re going to investigate further, but they may need more NPC’s in order to garner the information that they’re after. They aren’t too concerned about having other players around as much as having many varied characters that exist as further parts of that world.

Plot Elements

Players

World

Scope

Player Versus Player

Player Versus Everything

Involvement

Few NPC’s

Many NPC’s

Theme

Player-Oriented

Story-Oriented

By shifting any one of these elements in their storylines, a storyteller can favor the overall general playstyle of the characters they wish to have involved.

Accommodating Multiple Playstyles

It might seem challenging at first to create plots that appeal to every playstyle. After all, you can’t make everybody happy. In the paper that these playstyles are derived from, Bartle mentions “players will often drift between all four, depending on their mood or current playing style. However, my experience having observed players in the light of this research suggests that many (if not most) players do have a primary style, and will only switch to other styles as a (deliberate or subconscious) means to advance their main interest.” In an online gaming environment, it’s simple enough to dismiss losing one type of player in exchange for another by managing the available resources in the game. A LARP, however, presents a different challenge, as it’s more or less a storyteller’s responsibility to fairly represent the present members of their venue.

In other words, you might not make everybody happy, but you really ought to try.

The simplest solution is to have multiple active plot lines. The storyteller and their assistants can maintain these plotlines which are each engineered to favor a particular playstyle, being careful to give each other enough margin that none of their plots ever intersect. So, the socializers go to their tea party, the achievers hunt for hidden treasure, the explorers ponder the meaning of bananas, and the killers disperse to hunt their prey solo — as predators do. But the drawback to this solution can be absolutely crippling to a game. There’s no cohesion, no consistency, that brings these four disparate plots together as a recognizable whole. It’s as if a bunch of friends went to an arcade, each found the one game that they were dying to feed quarters to, and then met back at the car after the place closed. They’ve had fun, perhaps, but they haven’t had fun together.

The intermediate approach to combining these plots is to make them interconnect. Each plot still has its own identity and motivations, but the various twists and turns can be affected by the actions happening in one of the sister plots being run by another storyteller. The socializers manage to convince the police to hold a benefit, meaning reduced forces on the streets, which allows the achievers to come closer to their goals, but winds up making the explorers discover what happens to their precious game world with a reduced police presence, which mostly involves the killers running amok without fear of consequences. This is a fine solution, as each now affects the other and despite being cordoned off into their own plot to do as they will, their actions still contribute to the cohesive whole. This is moderately more difficult for the storytellers since they now need to periodically confer so that each is aware of what’s happening elsewhere. In this way, each plot line can wind up either collaborating or conflicting with one another. This approach can be extremely challenging for even the most seasoned storytelling staff, but it creates a sort of team sports atmosphere that can be engaging for special events.

An even more cohesive and perhaps more elegant solution, though, is to generate plots that require action from all of the playstyles present. The shorter the intended plotline is meant to be run, the more difficult it is to squeeze all of these elements into it. So, these plots tend to be longer-running and more intricate, requiring multiple storytellers to work closely together to keep these multiple elements in motion and in check, or a single storyteller to be able to swap back and forth between multiple groups as they approach the plot from different angles. As the plot progresses, different playstyles will be given their opportunity to shine when it is undeniably their moment to act. And what’s beautiful about this situation is that it’s not necessary for the storyteller to give cues to the players when each playstyle should step in. Social situations will attract the socializers, puzzles will attract the achievers, moral issues or oddities will bring out the explorers, and rows upon rows of enemy troops will get the killers swinging.