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When they encounter a sleeping dragon:
Real Men wake it up and THEN attack it.
Real Roleplayers sneak away quietly.
Loonies tie its shoelaces together.
Munchkins kill it instantly and then carry off all its treasure in one backpack.
— The Munchkin Files

Different people want different things out of games.

The most basic division is the Casual-Competitive Conflict, but sometimes things get a little more nuanced (especially in roleplaying and adventure games where competition is not supposed to be the point). For instance, one kind of player (the most Competitive kind) may have absolutely no use for Awesome, but Impractical abilities; they avoid even getting them, they write to publishers asking them not to put them in future games, and they deride players who do use them as ignorant newbies. On the other hand, other, more Casual players go straight for them, and use them as often as possible, just because they like the impressive visual effects and the feel of doing the maximum possible amount of damage. And yet another player will acquire them, but not use them except as a Finishing Move, because it's more dramatic that way.

A number of ad hoc terms have developed in various sorts of game for different types of player, such as the Rules Lawyer, who is compulsively attached to the rules as written, the impetuous and annoying Leeroy Jenkins, and the Griefer, a common type of Troll in multiplayer computer games, who plays to piss people off and have fun at other players' expense. But some people have gone further, creating systems of terminology. This may be intended as an aide for Game Masters; if the GM has a clear idea what the players want and how they’re likely to behave, it makes running a satisfactory game much easier. Alternatively, the system may be intended for the use of game designers and publishers; if you're making a game, it can be very important that you know who, exactly, you're trying to sell it to. Thus, a fair amount of work has been done on codifying the relevant psychographic profiles. All of them, to a greater or lesser degree, are about what the player thinks is fun.

Several different categorizations have been proposed or created. Most of them were made for the purposes of one specific game or genre, but can be applied more widely with a bit of tweaking.

  • Probably the oldest attempt at a categorisation system was created by the late Glen Blacow in an article entitled “Aspects of Adventure Gaming.” in Different Worlds magazine in 1980. Although Blacow was identifying four different aspects of games, each rather obviously mapped to a type of player, if only because players accustomed to a specific style of game will play to that style, and his article was soon followed up by other writers in the same magazine, picking up on this aspect of the topic. Blacow’s four aspects were:
    • Power Gaming — adventure games as wish-fulfilment power fantasies.
    • Role-Playing — games focusing on character-driven dramas, with the PCs as the central characters.
    • Wargaming — games as somewhat competitive exercises in tactical skill.
    • Story Telling — adventure games as generators of complex narratives.
  • Another early system appears in the “Munchkin File” (AKA "Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies and Munchkins"), a list that has been passed around the Internet in various forms for decades, apparently originating in 1983. It describes four types of Tabletop RPG players, each of whom focuses whatever skills they have with the system onto making their character capable of accomplishing their goals. It is primarily a joke, but one that hits the target; its influence or its accuracy may be indicated by the fact that each of the four types has an entry here on TV Tropes.
    • Real Men: "The tough macho type who walks up to the dragon and orders it to leave before someone gets hurt", who's into RPGs for the two-fisted action. A sub-type enjoys the combat aspect of RPGs, but prefers tactical roles such as healer or status-effect-causer to being out in the front line whaling on or blasting away at the enemy. There's no consensus on what this subtype should be named, although "The Real Woman" is moderately popular due to the number of guys who make their token female characters a healing class.note 
    • Real Roleplayers: "The intelligent cunning guy who tricks the constable into letting you out of prison", who's into RPGs for roleplaying and problem-solving. A variant treatment, The Five Gamers, divides this archetype into "Brains" ("the mad genius who actually disarms the Six Skull Trap") and "Thespians" ("the melodramatic type who writes novel-length character histories and talks to every monster in the dungeon").
    • Loonies: "The guy who will do anything for a laugh, including casting a fireball at point-blank range", who's into RPGs for their idea of fun — which may be hilarious to other people, but there's some implication that these players will all too often get everyone killed through Chaotic Stupid behavior.
    • Munchkins: "Need we say more?", who are into RPGs to "win", even if the game isn't supposed to work that way. See the trope page for more detail.
    • Some versions of the Munchkin File also include the Psychopath, who plays RPGs to do things that are frowned upon in normal society; their character may appear to be a Blood Knight or Psycho for Hire. They're into RPGs for violent Escapism, and tend to suffer from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. However, that behavior is more often covered by the Munchkin archetype.
  • A third early attempt at archetype classification was made in 1988 by author and game-designer Aaron Allston, who included a list of the Types of Champions Players in Strike Force, his award-winning campaign supplement for that game. The list applies to players of nearly any Tabletop RPG, and has inspired terminology used in many later discussions, though it is phrased in terms that make it most applicable to superhero games. In the form found in the most recent edition of Strike Force, the types are:
    • The Builder, who wants to have an impact on the world.
    • The Buddy, who comes to the game to be with their friend(s), and while they're having fun, they're not as deep into the game as everyone else.
    • The Combat Monster, who wants combat, pure and simple; their fun is wrapped up in beating the bad guys.
    • The Copier, who is interested in recreating a character based on something they've seen in other media, and thus can be counted on to make a character who is (for example) a Batman clone or a Spider-Man homage.
    • The Genre Fiend, who wants to model everything after established genre tropes, and is disappointed when the GM veers from the genre norms.
    • The Mad Slasher, who kills everything that moves, no reason needed.
    • The Mad Thinker, who seeks clever solutions to in-game problems.
    • The Plumber, who wants intricate characters with deep, complicated backgrounds and motivations, and expects exploration thereof.
    • The Pro from Dover, who desires a character who is the best in their field, whatever that field happens to be.
    • The Romantic, who player focuses on relationships and character interaction.
    • The Rules Exploiter, who is primarily interested in bending the rules in order to min/max their character as much as possible.
    • The Showoff, who seeks the most spotlight time for their own character, usually at the expense of the other characters.
    • The Tragedian, who wants their character to suffer, and to play that suffering out.
  • The minds behind Magic: The Gathering have created two different categorisation systems:
    • Timmy/Johnny/Spike: At one point, the creators decided to personify three major motivations that (so far as they could tell) drove their players. Nowhere in their original article or its followup does Wizards of the Coast suggest that you can be only one of them, but they feel that most people empathize with one of them more than others.
      • Timmy, Power Gamer plays to have fun. He doesn't care if it's Cool, but Inefficient as long as it's interesting, because for Timmy, "fun" is more about the journey than the destination. Timmy puts the most emphasis on the game as a social experience. Timmy lives for awesomeness, and enjoys deploying the Infinity-Plus-One Whatever that makes your eyes bug out. Wizards deliberately prints cards that are Awesome, but Impractical to keep him happy.
      • Johnny, Combo Player plays as a form of self-expression. The more customization there is in the game, the more Johnny's interested, because he thrives on taking the pieces the game gives them and making something uniquely his own. He lives for the strategy that makes your eyes bug out. Cards made with Johnny in mind tend to be open-ended; like LEGOs, they can be combined in new and different ways. Johnny also loves Junk Rares with hideous Necessary Drawbacks, because if he can just find a way to get around that drawback, he's got a Game-Breaker on his hands—not to mention the fifteen minutes of fame associated with turning a Joke Character into a Lethal Joke Character forever.
      • Spike, Tournament Grinder sees the game primarily as a competition, and likes to win. They're most likely to be a Tournament Player, spend time analyzing and scrutinizing any available strategies, looking for the one which gives them the best odds, and is most likely to copy other people's designs and strategies (as opposed to inventing his own) if he thinks that holds the key to victory — the Collectible Card Game version of Min-Maxing. Spike is also the most likely type to be a "Mr. Suitcase," a player who spends unusually large amounts of money on the hobby; as such, Spikes determine the market value for almost all components, since they're the ones first in line to grab them. His favorite cards are Boring, but Practical or Simple, yet Awesome ones; efficiency is king for him. This culminated in Modern Masters, a set composed solely of cards with a proven impact on tournament play.
    • The other set of archetypes is Vorthos/Melvin. This is a separate axis; one's Vorthosity is unrelated to one's Timminess. Essentially, it's a matter of appreciation for form vs. appreciation for function: Timmy/Johnny/Spike is about why a person plays (and what he plays), whereas Vorthos/Melvin is about what he appreciates. When evaluating cards, Vorthos likes them based upon how they make him feel, and Melvin likes them based on how they make him think. Original article: here before we elaborate.
      • Vorthos is primarily interested in fluff, setting, background, story, etc. A Vorthos-Johnny might build a deck with contraints of "Soldiers only. It doesn't matter the color, because soldiers are professionals, and know how to work together." Or, "I am going to build a zombie deck, with a handful of necromancers and maybe a powerful demon. It fits storywise." Or (and this one's straight from the Magic website), "How about about a deck focused solely around clams, with a single Mox Pearl in the middle?" Vorthos is on the Casual side of the Casual-Competitive Conflict.
      • Melvins, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are more Competitive, and would see such constraints as pointless. They still care about what's written on the cards, but focus on mechanics rather than flavor. A Melvin might build a deck around a mechanic such as vampirism (dealing damage while gaining life) and completely ignore any flavor. A Melvin-Johnny might say "I am going to figure out how to use these oddly-worded cards that seem kinda counter-productive, figure out how they actually work, and then build a Goldbergian deck that I understand, but will leave my opponent hopelessly confused". Melvins LOVE the Yu-Gi-Oh! CCG, and were deeply offended when a card for a demon had the number "7" in every possible spot except one (the casting cost).
  • Richard Bartle wrote an article in 1996, "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs", describing four different player archetypes in MUDs (though as ever, the types are quite recognizable to players of other types of game). It's had quite a bit of influence on subsequent development on massively multiplayer games; Kingdom of Loathing references it directly, and the Path system in Wildstar is clearly influenced by the four archetypes.
    • Diamonds, AKA Achievers: These players go for the goals of the game themselves. Gaining Character Levels, getting a High Score, slaying the superbosses, and so on. Also called power gamers or raiders. A subset of these are the kind who like collecting rare items.
    • Spades, AKA Explorers: These players like to explore the game world itself. They're the ones hunting for the Easter Egg, Sequence Breaking just because they can, and being the first one to write a complete Walkthrough.
    • Hearts, AKA Socializers: These players play to hang out with other players. They play because their friends play, and if their friends all packed up and moved to another game, they would too. To the extent they play single-player games, Socializers prefer ones with a heavy focus on character relationships.
    • Clubs, AKA Killers: These people play to have an effect on other players. Sometimes, this can mean healing, buffing, and generally being helpful, but most often, it means kicking their asses. These are the ones most likely to engage in Player Versus Player content.
In short, Diamonds sparkle, spades dig, hearts care, and clubs hit things. Modern versions of the Bartle Test generally subscribe to the opinion that nearly everyone has parts of all four inside them and give their ratings accordingly. For example, E/S/A/K gives the proportions of each from highest (explorer, or spade, in this case) to the lowest (killer, or club). The newer "Kol Bartle" version of the test will give the top two percentages if they both are close enough together; for example, a "Roving Hugglebunny" is mostly heart and spade, in that order.

Bartle's original conception also catalogued the impact various player types had on one anothers' populations in a multiplayer environment. For instance, Clubs/Killers tend to drive down the population of Hearts/Socializers as they propagate, because the Socializers don't appreciate getting picked on, but find Spades/Explorers unsatisfying to kill at best, since it barely inconveniences their actual goals, and hate being, at worst, completely schooled by some weird combination the Spade had in their back pocket from their experiments.
  • Robin Laws has identified a few flavors of tabletop role-players in various works, mostly as a tool for GMs. For example, in his Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, while acknowledging the influence of Glen Blacow (see above), he described the following:
    • Power Gamers, who want to make their characters “bigger, tougher, buffer, and richer”.
    • Butt-Kickers, who want to let off steam with a little old-fashioned vicarious mayhem.
    • Tacticians, who want to demonstrate wargamer-style tactical mastery.
    • Specialists, who play one type of character, and only one type of character. The most common type of Specialist loves ninjas, but there's a flavor of Specialist for every race, class, and personality type. The Specialist gets terribly, terribly upset if you tell them they can't play a ninja in your caveman campaign, regardless of how silly it would be.
    • Method Actors, essentially Real Roleplayers (see above) who believe that roleplaying is a medium for personal expression, strongly identifying with the characters they play. They may believe that it's creatively important to establish a radically different character each time out.
    • Storytellers, who again resemble Real Roleplayers, but are interested in the quality of the story as a whole, not just their own acting within it.
    • Casual Gamers, who are playing because that's what their friends are doing. They aren't there for the grand plot, the fantastic magic, or even for sticking things with sharp objects. They're just there to socialize, and gaming is the social activity their friends are doing. While Laws provides detailed advice on how to satisfy the needs of each of the other types of player, he specifically offers no special advice for Casual Gamers, since they'll either remain a CG, drop out, or become more involved in the game - at which point, they'll differentiate into one of the other types.
  • In an attempt at deep analysis of tabletop RPGs, gamers on Usenet, and specifically on the newsgroup, came up with a classification called the Threefold which makes the division Gamist/Dramatist/Simulationist. This was eventually refined into GNS Theory by The Forge community, which divides players and games by their objectives:
    • Gamist: Focuses on playing the game as a game, often with a specific focus on overcoming challenges or accumulating rewards.
    • Narrativist: Focuses on telling a compelling story with interesting characters.
    • Simulationist: Focuses on representing a real and believable world modeled by credible rules.
  • Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks have tackled this topic more than once, primarily to help GMs understand what their players want:
    • The Dungeon Master's Guide II supplement for edition 3.5, another work by Robin Laws (see above), identifies such player types as Dramatist, Supercool, Master Planner and Oddball.
    • Likewise, the Dungeon Master's Guide for Fourth Edition identifies eight player types:
      • The Actor, who has fun by developing and acting out a fictional character.
      • The Explorer, who has fun by immersing in a large and detailed fictional world.
      • The Instigator, who has fun by making something happen, regardless of whether it would be logical or in-character.
      • The Power Gamer, who has fun by Min-Maxing a powerful character.
      • The Slayer, who has fun by killing things in combat encounters.
      • The Storyteller, who has fun when the game sessions tell a continuous and engaging story.
      • The Thinker, who has fun by solving challenges through strategy and planning.
      • The Watcher, who doesn't care so much about the game itself but about having fun hanging out with his/her friends.
    • And for comedy — an April Fool article in Dragon Magazine, "The Ecology of the Adventurer", parodies this trope, by imagining how Player Archetypes appear to the denizens of the D&D gameworld. Kobolds have apparently classified three types of adventurer: Gamists, whose every thought is about killing, and who never speak; Narrativists, who agonise over the right thing to do, and can be distracted by asking them about their life story; and Simulationists, who are Crazy-Prepared, and talk in funny voices. According to the kobolds, "Every adventurer fits cleanly into one of these categories, without any overlap."
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! gives us Tourney Players and Casuals. Again, this relates to the Casual-Competitive Conflict, but some people mix these approaches. The fun here comes that the term Scrub is eagerly applied to both sides of the debate... and then you have the Timmy-esque "Billy" players, who can consistently trash meta-tier tournament decks with the card game equivalent of Cherry Tapping (and, in fact, have their own deck type trope, as a result), and are called Scrubs for not using top-tier decks. Even though they just won against such a deck.
  • A pair of articles by The Angry GM divide players up into eight groupings based on what they enjoy about the gamenote , previously identified by Marc LeBlanc and incorporated into the Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics model:
    • Sensory seekers derive pleasure from the visual, audible, and tactile aspects of the game. They enjoy art, miniatures, battlemaps, and all the things that you can see or feel or hear. They tend to find games done purely in the mind, without props of any kind, unsatisfying.
    • Fantasy seekers derive pleasure from immersing themselves in a realistic world and pretending to be in another time and place. They enjoy well-crafted and consistent worlds, and dislike anything that breaks their immersion, whether it be nonsensical or self-contradictory world-building or excessively "gamey" mechanics.
    • Narrative seekers derive pleasure from experiencing a well-told story as it unfolds. They crave completed and properly-shaped plots and characters that act in a logical and understandable fashion, and hate it when characters take actions that make no sense just because the plot requires it, or a campaign breaks off in the middle and the story is left unfinished.
    • Challenge seekers derive pleasure from overcoming a series of obstacles or tasks (these may include puzzles that must be solved or social challenges that must be defeated by IC dialogue). They want to be given fair challenges, the tools to solve them, and a real (or at least believable) risk of failure. They find games where the GM fudges the dice (either for or against them) or applies the rules unfairly, frustrating, and are bored by sessions where there are no obstacles to overcome.
    • Fellowship seekers enjoy the camaraderie among both the characters and the players themselves. They enjoy working together as a team, getting together with friends, and the feeling of being part of something larger than oneself. Their fun can be ruined by secrets, backstabbing, or anything that turns party members against each other.
    • Discovery seekers derive pleasure from learning and finding out new things. They enjoy intricate worlds with lots of hidden things to uncover, including not only hidden treasure but also information and exposition that can be unearthed. They likewise tend to enjoy self-discovery, putting their characters through ethical dilemmas and sadistic choices in order to find out who it is they are truly playing. They suffocate in campaigns where there are no unknown regions, secrets, and lore to uncover, and no opportunities to learn who their characters truly are.
    • Expression seekers derive pleasure from creating something that is uniquely their own. They desire characterization and customization options and the chance to leave their mark on the world their characters find themselves in. They are frustrated by games that deny them the ability to create unique characters and by campaigns that don't permit them to leave lasting legacies.
    • Abnegation seekers derive pleasure from simply disengaging their brain and losing themselves in something that doesn't require too much thought. They enjoy simple, straightforward, campaigns with a clear objective and not too much necessity for intricate tactics or strategies, and dislike anything that requires them to expend too much effort to solve the problem or keep track of what's going on.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse has Jeremies and Johns, named after a pair of Handelabra employees known for the appropriate playstyle: calculating optimisation for John, raw destructive power for Jeremy. This is the Casual-Competitive Conflict showing up yet again, in that John is being calculatingly Competitive, whereas Jeremy's love of raw power for its own sake may reflect a more Casual attitude — but the match isn't perfect.
  • For Video Games specifically, the research group Quantic Foundry has surveyed hundreds of thousands of players worldwide and identified twelve primary motivations for playing games. They have then applied statistical analysis to their data and discovered that certain motivations often go hand in hand, ultimately arriving at three "motivational clusters" that appear to hold up regardless of player nationality, age, and gender:
    • The Action-Social cluster contains the motivations of Destruction, Excitement, Competition, Community, and Power. This cluster puts sensory enjoyment and interaction with other people above other concerns, and its members are often derisively dubbed "casuals" by detractors.
    • The Mastery-Achievement cluster contains Challenge, Strategy, Completion, Power, and Discovery (the latter two serve as "bridges" between this cluster and Action-Social and Immersion-Creativity, respectively). This cluster contains the classic powergamers, min-maxing "hardcore" grognards,note  and completionists.
    • The Immersion-Creativity cluster contains Fantasy, Story, Design, and Discovery. This cluster contains players primarily interested in the narrative, self-expression, and emotional payoff.

Note that, with most of these categorizations, blends are entirely possible, and indeed likely; for example, you can have someone who's part Timmy and part Spike, or someone who integrates beating up bad guys with socializing with their team. Indeed, most people will have at least a little of each category. When used to flesh-out characters, these archetypes are reflected in Character-Driven Strategy.