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Other Play Styles

Cblalock_play_time_ii_tn We have already seen how applying Temperament Theory to the field of play reveals three distinct play styles – Strategic play, Logistical play and Tactical play. In this final piece, we will look at the fourth hypothetical play style relating to this theory, and also other kinds of play style, such as those that relate to specific emotions. 

Diplomatic Play

The landscape of personality that is mapped in Temperament Theory has a fourth region corresponding to the Idealist temperament, and we would thus expect to find a fourth play style: Diplomatic play. However, currently our research is not sufficiently developed to have any confidence as to what constitutes this play style, and more research is needed. It may be that Diplomatic play can be identified, but that it does not relate well to videogames, or it may be that there is no form of play which relates to the Diplomatic skill set (but this seems highly unlikely). 

We can hypothesise as to what Diplomatic play might involve by looking at the skills that have been related to the Idealist temperament. Thus, we expect Diplomatic play to be involved in a process of unifying or harmonising through an abstractive process, and also to be rooted in communication and empathy. This relationship with communication (either the private communication of writing and art, or the public communication that takes place directly between people) suggests that Diplomatic play might be found more easily by examining multiplayer games, but it may also be difficult to separate from Extroverted play (see below).

It is also possible, given the Idealist temperament’s relationship to narrative and metaphor, that certain forms of story play might be opportunities for Diplomatic play to be expressed. But since our current videogames are not especially good at supporting story play, this may be difficult to ascertain. An examination of tabletop role-play might be the best place to search for such a play style. We would expect a player expressing this play style in such a game to be enjoying resolving disputes and conflicts; given the general bias in most tabletop RPG play towards combat, an empirical study should easily show if there was a contrary form of play taking place in such games. 

Extroverted Play

When we extend Temperament Theory to cover the full landscape of personality covered by Myers-Briggs typology, we must consider another side to play: Extroverted play. This was identified in the DGD1 study and related to the Type 4: Participant play style, and has also been examined (independently) by Katherine Isbister, whose 2005 GDC presentation on the subject is included on her website, here. (Note, however, that without Katherine’s additional commentary, this material is sadly incomplete – fortunately, a paper on the subject is forthcoming). 

According to Linda Berens extension to Temperament Theory, there are four distinct Interaction Styles that when combined with the four Temperaments yield the same inventory of sixteen general “types” as the Myers-Briggs typological system (although since individuals express many different ‘types’ it is perhaps better to think of these as roles they are capable of adopting). Two of these Interaction Styles, which Berens calls Get Things Going and In Charge, relate to extroversion (the remaining two – Chart the Course and Behind the Scenes – relate to introversion).

There are, therefore, two hypothetical Extroverted play styles that accompany the four Temperament-derived play styles we have already seen: 

  • Participant play (which I have named after the fourth type in DGD1) relates to the Get Things Going Interaction Style. Its concern is involvement – making something happen, or keeping things moving. To some extent, when this kind of play is in effect, it doesn’t matter what is happening as long as something is happening. It is much easier for this side of play to express itself in a group playing in the same room (where emotional contagion can take effect) than online, although it is all but certain that this style of play can be found in either situation.
  • Leadership play relates to the In Charge Interaction Style. Its concern is, unsurprisingly, executing the role of a leader – that is, directing a group of players. The satisfaction relating to this play is in having a group execute skilfully under the leader-player’s command (which may be equally satisfying to the rest of the group – especially if they strongly express Logistical or Participant play). It probably does not greatly relate to team-oriented single player games (which tend towards Strategic play) so much as it does to the multiplayer space, and we would anticipate online games with voice communication to attract players who enjoy this kind of play. Nick Yee’s research shows that Leadership is indeed one of five key motivating factors for players to join virtual worlds. 

It is possible that the two introverted Interaction Styles also have a corresponding play style. More research would be needed to investigate this.

Emotional Play Styles 

Finally, we come to those play styles which relate to the key emotions of play, as researched by Nicole Lazzaro in her Four Keys model. It is possible that the play styles already identified have specific relationships to the key emotions of play – for instance, the DGD1 suggests that the emotion fiero is more intimately connected to Strategic and Logistical play than to other forms, and that the emotion of curiosity might be more intimately connected to Diplomatic or Tactical play. However, the DGD1 research is by no means robust enough to postulate anything more than hypothetical connections. As ever, further research is required. 

One of Lazzaro’s Four Keys – People Fun – relates to Extroverted play, described above. The emotions associated with this key, namely amusement, schadenfreude (delight in other’s misfortune) and naches (the mentor’s delight in their student’s successes) should all be considered to contribute to Extroverted play in general. We will see below how the other emotions of play can be considered possible play styles in their own right:

  • Conqueror play: (which I have named after the first Type in DGD1) relates to Lazzaro’s Hard Fun, that is, to the emotion of fiero – triumph over adversity. I have related this feeling specifically to Caillois’ pattern of agon, that is, to games of competition. Conqueror play values fiero above all else, and is almost inevitably angry (one could justifiably call it angry play). The games which provide the greatest payoffs in fiero (which include most first person shooters) almost invariably frustrate the player i.e. anger the player, thus pushing their buttons and making them play on until they can achieve victory, and hence the eventual payoff in fiero, which is heightened by prior hardships. 
  • Wanderer play: (which I have named after the third Type in DGD1) relates to Lazzaro’s Easy Fun, that is, to the emotions of curiosity and wonder. The experience of players preferring this approach to play is one of exploration, although not necessarily spatial exploration (the Wanderer play style does not appear to correlate with navigation skills!) Enjoyment is gained from purely experiential elements, and therefore this play style appears to relate to Caillois’ pattern of mimicry. Game worlds must contain rich detail or strange oddities to excite the interest of a player favouring this play style.
  • Serious play: the last of Lazzaro’s Four Keys – Serious Fun – relates to the emotions of excitement and relief. It may be that there is another play style focussed upon these emotions, and hence I include it here. However, I suspect that while these feelings contribute to the enjoyment of many different players, they do not represent an identifiable play style in and of themselves. For instance, Conqueror play almost always features elements of excitement and relief, but is notably focussed on the fiero. These      emotions do relate noticeably to Caillois’ alea and ilinx patterns, however. The unanswered question is whether there are players who seek out games which focus on these emotions, in the same way that players preferring other play styles seek out games that will fulfil their play needs. And as ever, further research would be needed to resolve this question.

Future Research

The nine play styles we have looked at represent an early attempt at an inventory of the different ways people approach the play of games, with a particular focus on videogames. There are many unanswered questions at this point, and of particular interest is whether or not the emotional play styles correlate in any measurable way with the Temperament-based play styles – and indeed, whether the combination of factors associated with the Temperament-based styles really constitute measurable patterns. In order to investigate this, it would be necessary to devise instrumentation that could identify elements of the play style definitions without building the assumptions of the underlying model into this instrument. 

There can be little doubt, however, that the play of games is a diverse activity, and that attempts to understand it in terms of a sole underlying factor (a purely reductionist approach) will deliver an incomplete picture. Different people approach play with radically different play needs, and the way they meet those needs can be highly varied, but beyond this it is hard to reach any firm conclusions. More research is needed, but we would need research partners to realistically pursue this approach to its logical conclusion. In the meantime, the models we have – one derived from the DGD1 study, and the other derived from Nicole Lazzaro’s Four Keys study – give us a flawed but intriguing picture of the diverse ways people play games.

Copyright notes: It appears that Linda Berens has trademarked the names of the four Interaction Styles. I consider this to be disastrously unhelpful, but I include this comment to acknowledge that these terms (Chart the Course, Behind the Scenes, Get Things Going and In Charge) are protected under copyright law. No infringement is intended, and if asked I will rework this piece such that Berens work is no longer being properly referenced, but such that it is at least legal. I urge scientists not to trademark terms relating to their research – it is contrary to the spirit of the scientific endeavour to place limits on how one’s work can be referenced.

The opening image is Play Time II by Clara Blalock, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended, and I will take the image down if asked. 


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Thanks for the round-up. Just to be clear, we're talking about four types of play: diplomatic, tactical, strategic and logistical, which is another layer of correspondence to these other quadrilogogies of playology.

I've found that you can support tactical or logistical play better with some first-gen engines, though some, like storytron and Facade's architechture, can support outright dramamtic play. I don't think we'll see that form mature until the second generation of engines, the advent of which probably won't come until the end of the decade or slightly later.

If you apply basic Temperament Theory, you get four hypothetical flavours of play, as you say. What I'm saying here is that we have clearly observed three of the four, but that the fourth remains hypothetical at this time.

Although I'm suggesting Diplomatic play might correlate with story play, this is at best a supposition. I would need to see evidence of story play preferences correlating to some degree with Idealist preferences - and this will be largely impossible given the lack of games currently supporting story play, not to mention the general problems with personality instrumentation, which disincline me to explore this aspect farther at this time.

Furthermore, there is another pair of axis of distinction which adds another four hypothetical styles of play based upon styles of preferred interaction. Two of these have been observed (those relating to Extroversion) but two have not been examined in this context at all.

Finally, we do not know if there are patterns between the six/eight styles of play derived from Temperament Theory and the key emotions of play identified by Nicole Lazzaro.

For the time being, therefore, I am saying that we have an inventory of nine different play styles. This is the most complete model I can offer at this time, although it is utterly heterogenous, with no unifying theoretical structure.

What I hope is to be able to use this model to define a hypothesis to guide another round of research - but I am, honestly, uncertain about how to proceed with this at this time, and given our lack of resources for research. If I get time, I'll post about the questionable future of DGD2 later this week, otherwise after GDC.

The main purpose of all these play style posts is to both summarise and conclude the DGD1 research. After the initial research, the possiblity of exploring the data through the specific lens of Temperament Theory arose, and what I've written here is the culmination of this. But it's observational science, and I would like to follow this up with something more rigorous.

Best wishes!

I am a Rational (Strategic gamer). When I was younger, I had an Idealist friend who played a lot of video games with me. We both favored console RPGs but for different reasons. I tended to play them from the strategic angle. She was primarily interested in the stories and characters. The other Idealist gamers that I have met seem to have a similar focus.

Based on my experience with her and on my rather extensive knowledge of personality theory, I suspect that many Idealist gamers don't so much have an "approach" to playing games as much as what they hope to get out of them. Idealists, who often have imaginary friends as children, seem to want to have an interactive experience with the characters. They place a great deal of emphasis on character development: not development of a skills but development of personality. Idealists complain if they don't feel "attached" to the characters.

They are interested in the moral and personal ramifications of their actions. Where Rationals are frustrated by limitation of strategic options, Idealists are frustrated by limitations of personal options. "Isn't there a way other than fighting?" could be a common Idealist complaint.


Many thanks for your comment! Your thinking corresponds with mine, but in this piece I took a much weaker stance that I did in, say, 21st Century Game Design.

It does seem to me that interelations with characters, and hence with stories, is a key element of what we might call Diplomatic play. I'm not certain why I shied so heavily away from this idea in this piece, beyond a sudden outbreak of conservative scientific conscience, or a fervant desire to complete the play style work before my pending international move. I didn't want to rush to conclusions in a rather vague area.

But this theme - relation to characters - was related to the Wanderer and Participant types in DGD1, and hence hypothetically to Diplomatic play. I guess sometime between doing the DGD1 study and now I began to doubt this connection - I am pleased to hear an outside observer back up my intuitions in this regard!

When I come to expand this piece for future publication, I will be suitably emboldened to expand on my original thoughts.

Your idea that limitation of personal options might be a source of friction in Diplomatic play has a definite appeal, and again accords with my thinking - but since I choose 'limitation' as a keyword for Strategic play, I feel inclined to seek a unique term for Diplomatic play. "Dispassion" or "Detatchment" suggest themselves to me - I'm open to alternatives!

And as a minor aside, one of my goals in the design of Reluctant Hero is to produce a cRPG which straddles combat and non-combat with equal weight - the player may choose a non-combatant character and still engage in dramatic play by virtue of the game's negotiation system which (I hope) will meet the play needs of people leaning towards Idealist. (Fingers crossed!)

Once again, many thanks for your comment! Much appreciated.

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