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June 1, 2015

Player Types and Motivations


For over thirty years, people have been publishing taxomomies of tabletop roleplaying gamers.  Today, I'm going to conduct an informal meta-analysis of these taxonomies and try to reach a few conclusions about them and what they mean for players and GMs.

My main purpose in compiling this information is to help GMs understand their players and the motivations of players in general.  I also want to support other bloggers and RPG theory folks who want to build new taxonomies or axes of player motivations to advance our collective understanding of our hobby.

Motivations and personalities are inherently subjective, but taxonomies like the ones described below aim to sort and categorize them.  It's an inherently illogical goal, but it isn't futile.  It is helpful to have a shared vocabulary of subjective states.  Like a diner ordering wine, players and GMs can use this shared vocabulary to describe their subjective preferences to facilitate clearer and more open communication about what they enjoy in their RPGs.

The Literature

The oldest taxonomy is Gary Allen Fine's four justifications fantasy role-playing game players have for why they enjoy their hobby from Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds (1983).  Fine subscribed to an ethnographic technique that trusted his subject of study and while he dug deep, he accepted the answers his interview subjects gave.  He classified their answers as follows:

  • Education (to learn new things)
  • Escape (to be free from real life constraints and engage in fantasy)
  • Efficacy (to exert control and mastery)
  • Sociability (companionship)

Source:  Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games As Social Worlds, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1983.

Fine also used Goffman's frame analysis to create three frames in which these motivations could be seen:  The social frame, where you interact as a person, the game frame where you interact as a player, and the gaming world frame where you interact as your character.  I'll refer to these as the person frame, player frame, and game world frame.

You may have read about the John Wick "Chess is Not an RPG" controversy or the Stormwind Fallacy - the idea that "role playing" (i.e. interacting in the game world frame) and "roll playing" (i.e. interacting with the game system) are incompatible.  Fine shows us that the three frames are nested.  That is, the game world frame is nested within the player frame.  You cannot engage in the game world frame without also being in the player frame.  (If you only had the person frame and game world frame, you would be doing improvisational theater, not playing an RPG - and even improv has games with rules!).  Wick and people who commit the Stormwind Fallacy are trying to make a point about the intrusion of the player frame on the game world frame and how system can support or detract from immersion.  As you can see below, immersion is not the only reason people play RPGs.  It may be a common reason, but it's only one of many.

Fine's themes of education, escape, efficacy, and sociability are common social psychological concepts, and strongly match Steven Reiss' 2004 revision of the sixteen human motivations.  Jon Radoff believes Reiss' sixteen motivations are key for examining why people play games.

  • Acceptance (appreciation) fits Fine's Sociability
  • Curiosity (gain knowledge) fits Fine's Education
  • Eating (eat food) is irrelevant
  • Family (raise children) fits Fine's Sociability with respect to people who game with their families
  • Honor (upholding customary values) is likely related to Fine's Efficacy
  • Idealism (need for social justice) is related to Fine's Escape (in most RPGs, there is a myth that the world is just except for the bad guys - notice how medieval feudalism isn't heavily explored in D&D, for instance)
  • Independence (distinct and self-reliant) is related to Escape (from daily constraints) and Efficacy (self-sufficient and cool)
  • Order (need for predictable and organized environment) relates to Escape (the rules-governed world)
  • Physical activity (exercise) is relevant to some kinds of LARP and to the tactical sensation of rolling the dice, moving the miniatures, etc.
  • Power (control, influence) is the same as Fine's Efficacy
  • Romance (mating) is often explored in Fine's Escape dimension, especially in Fine's 1983 ethnography
  • Saving (accumulating) is part of Fine's Efficacy (collecting treasure!)
  • Social contact (companionship) is the same as Fine's Sociability
  • Social status (the need for social significance) is part of Fine's Escape and Efficacy (for the GM as well)
  • Tranquility (the need for calm and security) is part of Fine's Escape dimension, but not fully explored
  • Vengeance (not letting an insult go unanswered) is part of Fine's Efficacy

Source: see also White's 1959 list of motivations that Reiss adapted:

You can see that the sixteen human motivations help us expand Fine's four dimensions.  Radoff's ideas about how to apply them to games appear to have been adapted by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek in a 2005 MIT paper called MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research.

MDA develops three relevant factors that impact the human experience of a game:  Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics (hence MDA).  Mechanics relate to the rules; Dymanics relates to the system of rules and its outputs; and Aesthetics is key here.  The eight aesthetics Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek list are:

  • Sensation (sense pleasure, similar to Reiss' physical activity)
  • Fantasy (make-believe, similar to Fine's Escape)
  • Narrative (drama, a concept not well explored by Fine but connected to Reiss' Curiosity)
  • Challenge (overcoming obstacles) is directly related to Fine's Efficacy
  • Fellowship (Reiss' Social contact and Fine's Sociability)
  • Discovery (Fine's Education to some degree, and Reiss' Curiosity)
  • Expression (self-discovery - not well explored by Fine, but connected to Reiss' Independence).  Expression
  • Submission (similar to Reiss' Tranquility and included in Fine's concept of Escape)

In MDA, the authors explain that some games strongly support some motivations more than others.  Jenga might support Sensation more than D&D, while D&D might support Discovery and Fantasy better than Jenga.

Let's take it back to roleplaying games.  The idea that game systems can support different aesthetics was not new in 2005.  In 2001, Ron Edwards codified a lot of theory developed on the Forge forums into what he calls the Big Model, or GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory.  In this model, discussed on this blog before, there are three creative agendas (strongly similar to MDA's aesthetics) that players have in varying degrees.

  • Gamism (similar to Fine's Efficacy, Reiss' Power and MDA's Challenge), defined by players who enjoy solving or overcoming a challenge
  • Narrativism (similar to Fine's Escape, Reiss' Curiosity, and MDA's expression, and narrative), defined by players who want to tell a story
  • Simulationism (related to Fine's Education, especially in his interview quotes; similar to Reiss' Order; and connected to MDA's Fantasy and Expression)
These three agendas are applied to Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color (details and atmosphere) so Sim/Color would be a person who wants accurate sound effects, while a Narr/Color player might want to hear the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.  Sim/Character gets really into playing their character, while Gam/Character players are focused on optimizing their stats and Narr/Character players want lots of loose ends and plot hooks to connect to the story.  Again, people are complex and might be both Narr and Sim when it comes to their Character, and not care about character Gamism (optimizing stats) -- or they could have all three agendas equally.

GNS theory is useful because different combinations of the three creative agendas can describe most players.  But it isn't very granular, and there are some idiosyncrasies in our hobby that it smooths over.  I find GNS theory to be excellent at examining the aesthetics game systems support, more than categorizing players.  Still, I find people describe themselves with their GNS letters ("I'm mostly a gamist/narrativist").

Edwards also takes frame into account, with Stance.  The stances are Actor which is similar to Fine's Game World frame; Author which is similar to Fine's Player frame, focused on the player's desires for their character; and Director, which is part of Fine's Player frame, but focused on the player's desires for the direction that the game should go for all players at the table.


Bear with me as I take you back to other types of games.  Richard Bartle developed a heuristic for categorizing MUD players in 1996, which has been extended to MMORPGs.  In this taxonomy, players are categorized by where they are along two axes:

  • The relationship of the subject to the object:  Acting On vs. Interacting With (Fine's Efficacy motivation)
  • The object of the player's interaction:  Players vs. the World

From this, he generates four categories of players:

  • Hearts (Socializers) Interact with Players (hearts empathize)
  • Clubs (Killers) Act on Players (clubs hit) - clubs also support and even mentor other players, as long as they get to act directly on them
  • Diamonds (Achievers) Act on the World (diamonds shine)
  • Spades (Explorers) Interact with the World (spades dig)

Source: and

Bartle's categories are not just motivations to play, then, they are profiles of MUD (and MMORPG) players.  These are now called "psychographic profiles" thanks to work done by the Wizards of the Coast Magic: the Gathering R&D team.  Magic is a huge business, and there's enough money on the line that WotC has a whole team dedicated to keeping the game fun and appealing.  To do this, the R&D team set a goal to design cards that appealed to the different types of people who played M:tG, and to provide a good selection of cards tailored to those different players in each expansion.  They observed players and came up with four psychographic profiles, based on how different types of M:tG players built and played their decks, and what they seemed to get out of the cards.  These are very useful profiles, developed by Mark Rosewater:

  • Johnny/Jenny enjoys the puzzle of the game and focuses on card system interactions, aiming to build decks that have complex system interactions.  Johnny/Jenny wants self-expression through the cards and seeks to be respected for cunning, well-built deck combinations.
  • Timmy/Tammy enjoys the flashy nature of the game and wants to have big, impressive cards.  Timmy/Tammy wants to experience an emotional excitement.
  • Spike is competitive and wants to win.

Spike is distinct from Timmy/Tammy because Timmy/Tammy is content to lose big and flashy, and occasionally win, as long as it's exciting.  In fact, Timmy/Tammy wouldn't be happy mechanically winning over and over, especially with a not-so-flashy deck.  Spike is distinct from Johnny because Spike might copy decks off the internet, while Johnny cares more about the craft and challenge of designing those winning combinations.  Johnny would not enjoy winning with a simple and flashy deck or a deck someone else designed.

Rosewater added two additional profiles:  Melvin/Mel and Vorthos.  These profiles are based on what the player likes about the cards, not how they play, so they are a separate category for the R&D team.

  • Melvin/Mel is interested in complex and intriguing rules systems
  • Vorthos is interested in the art of the cards -- the images, relationships, fiction, and story on them

A player who is a Vorthos may also be a Spike, for instance.  Spike would simply temper his/her desire to win have a preference for cards with better art, more interesting story, etc.

Sources: and

These profiles have been expanded by Chip Beauvais for broader application to board games.  Beuavais is still working on these profiles as of this writing.  If further work from Chip clarifies these for me, I'll come back and edit this summary.

  • Erin is competitive, but enjoys the competition more than winning
  • Ingrid is like Rosewater's Johnny/Jenny, except that she strongly favors winning combinations (like Rosewater's Spike)
  • Jenny is similar to Johnny/Jenny in Rosewater's profiles, except that she strongly favors new and unusual combinations (like Rosewater's Melvin)
  • Kim is motivated by novelty and exploration (She's a Spade).
  • Anastasia focuses on immersion (Simulationism, Escape, Fantasy)
  • Leah plays to have fun with her friends, and prefers games where the rules and tactics can take a back seat to socializing (like Fine's Sociability dimension, but focused on non-game social interaction)

This list of profiles got me thinking about this blog post, so special thanks to Chip.


If these psychographic profiles seem familiar, they should!  RPG fans have been passing around a joke email for what seems like decades.  It contains similar profiles.  This is just a simple "dumb internet joke," but it's accurate enough that it merits inclusion!

  • "Real Men" are a category of RPGer (men or women) that favors two fisted action, staying cool under pressure, and dominating situations.  They relate to Fine's Efficacy, Reiss' Power, MDA's Challenge, and the profile of Erin or Timmy/Tammy
  • "Real Roleplayers" are divided into brains and thespians.  Brains like puzzle solving, and are highly Simulationist to use Edwards' concept.  They connect to Johnny/Jenny or even Melvin.  They like solving puzzles.  Thespians like the MDA aesthetics of Expression and Narrative, or Ron Edwards' Simulationism and Narrativism
  • "Munchkins" are in it to win, and focus on mastery.  They also connect to Efficacy, Power, and Challenge; but they link to the profile of Spike or Ingrid more than Timmy/Tammy.
  • "Loonies" enjoy the freedom that the imaginary game provides to try crazy things that they would never do in real life.  They take huge risks, do self-destructive, dangerous things, and hurt others because there are no real world consequences.  They are heavy on Fine's Escapism and Reiss' Independence.  They're the worst of Bartle's Clubs.  They could be "griefers" or just extreme Timmy/Tammy types.  They have low need for Tranquility; or perhaps they have a high need of Tranquility - a safe space to engage in irresponsible fantasy.

Source:  Just google "Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Munchkins, and Loonies"!

Robin D. Laws wrote Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering in 2001, and it has a similar player taxonomy, albeit a lot more thought out.  This is the basis for just about every player taxonomy that's come out since:

  • The Power Gamer is looking to win, so it's a strongly Gamist category
  • The Butt-Kicker wants to break things, but unlike the Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker cares more about the catharsis or escapism of pretend violence
  • The Tactician is like the Brain half of the Real Roleplayer stereotype, and might fit the Beauvais' Jenny or Bartle's Spade; there's still Challenge and Gamism here, though.
  • The Specialist plays the same type of character in every campaign and wants campaigns and game systems that support that character type.  This is an unusual type, and it shows some of the idiosyncracies of our hobby that such a specific player type bears mention.  I have a friend who always plays Captain America, more or less, in every campaign.
  • The Method Actor is the Thespian side of the Real Roleplayer stereotype, with strong hints of Vorthos and MDA's Expression.
  • The Storyteller wants to explore the plot.  The Storyteller has a strong Narrativism creative agenda or MDA's Narrative
  • The Casual Gamer is another idiosyncracy of our hobby that bears mention.  It's the sort of player who is either new or not very into the game.  In frame analysis, the Casual Gamer prefers to interact as a person, and is uncomfortable interacting as their character.  Leah, in Beauvais' profiles, is closest to the Casual Gamer.


Robin D. Laws was also an author on the 3rd edition Dungeon Masters' Guide II (2005), which includes a player taxonomy.  The 3e DMGII taxonomy is the first of the D&D player taxonomies that I can recall (please tweet @RunAGame if you remember an earlier one in a published rulebook!).  This taxonomy is very similar to the one in Robin's Laws, but more expanded.  Sime of the additions in DMG2 are very important.  It describes player motivations:

  • Accumulating Cool Powers:  This is similar to Laws' Power Gamer.
  • Kicking Butt:  This is similar to Laws' Butt-Kicker.  The name is even the same.
  • Brilliant Planning:  This is similar to Laws' Tatician.
  • Puzzle Solving:  Puzzle solving is a fairly common component of fantasy RPGs (more common than most other genres of RPGs).
  • Playing a Favorite Role:  This is similar to Laws' Specialist.
  • Supercoolness:  This motivation bears special mention.  It strikes directly at many of the running themes in player taxonomies we've reviewed:  Efficacy, Independence, Tranquility, Acting On rather than Interacting With (e.g. Clubs and Diamonds), and the stereotype of "Real Men."  The fantasy of the unfazed bad-ass who doesn't take crap from anybody is very compelling.  It takes a lot to get roleplaying gamers to accept defeat, loss or humiliation; and I think that's because this motivation runs deep in every RPG player.  Clearly there are some who need it more than others.  Perhaps they're powerful people in real life and not used to being told "no."  Perhaps they're not powerful people in real life and want a power fantasy in their game.
  • Story:  This is similar to Laws' Storyteller.
  • Psychodrama:  This motivation is similar to Anastasia or to Edwards' Sim/Character creative agenda.  This player is most interested in experiencing what their character experiences and motivations.  DMGII describes this player making characters who exhibit "dark moods and extreme behavior" hoping to be placed into hard situations that push their character into emotional reactions or acting out.  DMGII even suggests some players make characters to work through their own emotional issues or past traumas.  This isn't a new idea:  Back in 1983, Fine brings this up as well, linking the escapism of fantasy role-play with psychodrama therapy, a kind of psychotherapy where people use role-play with a therapist to attain therapeutic insights.
  • Irresponsibility:  This is one aspect of the "Looney" stereotype.  These players want to play anti-heroes.  People who act in irresponsible or unethical ways, yet maintain status as protagonists of the story.  This kind of escapism allows the player to explore dark impulses in a safe space, focusing on the Tranquility (safety, safe space) motivation.
  • Setting Exploration:  This player wants to explore the setting.  This category fits Ron Edwards' Narrativist or Simulationist Setting exploration perfectly.  In the 5th edition of D&D, this player motivation was converted into one of the core "three pillars of play" (combat, roleplaying, and exploration).  It's very important to D&D, which is based on site-based dungeon exploration.  But it's also relevant to other games, especially modern fantasy and space exploration.
  • The Outlier:  The other half of the Looney is the outlier, also called the oddball in DMG2.  This character likes to do weird things for the same reason the Irresponsibility-motiveated player likes to do irresponsible things.  The oddball does stuff to see how it turns out, a lot like Beauvais' Jenny.  MDA's Discovery and Reiss' Curiosity pair with Timmy/Tammy's flashiness.  A strong escapist motivation is behind the oddball's behavior.
  • Lurker:  This is similar to Laws' Casual Gamer.


The 4th (2008) and 5th edition (2014) Dungeon Master's Guides each have player taxonomies for D&D.  These are different from the 3rd edition DMG2's.  They're similar enough to one another to list them together.  The 5e list leaves off the Thinker and Watcher and changes the types into player motivations, which makes sense - a player may be motivated by two or more of the items in the list.

  • Actor (Acting): Focus on simulating a character.  This is like Laws' Method Actor.
  • Explorer (Exploring):  This is basically Bartle's "Spade" archetype
  • Instigator:  This is the DMGII's Outlier, but with a much more positive spin.  The instigator "takes action when things grind to a halt" and is willing to make intentional mistakes, in ways that drive the action forward.
  • Power Gamer (Optimizing):  D&D has evolved since 2000.  Before 3rd edition, players didn't have much optimization opportunity.  2nd edition had a good deal of optimization, but it was too easy.  All you had to do was combine as many classes and high stats as possible.  3rd edition (and 4th and 5th; plus Pathfinder) have so many character customization options that players post manuscript-length "guides" on optimization forums, and Pathfinder even published an entire hardback book (the Strategy Guide) on character building.  Most players want to optimize their characters to the greatest degree their patience and ability allows.  Some players have more motivation and patience for it, though.  In my opinion, those players can be divided into Rosewater's three core psychographic profiles.  Timmy/Tammy optimizes to do cool things and wants spotlight time.  Johnny/Jenny optimizes to make creative combos and wants to see them pay off.  Spike optimizes to be the best in the party and wants to be invincible.  Optimizing is really a second axis or trait:  An explorer motivated by optimizing in the Johnny/Jenny style is different from a slayer motivated by optimizing in the Spike style.
  • Slayer (Fighting):  Like the power gamer, the slayer wants a power fantasy.  Unlike the power gamer, the slayer wants to spend most of the table time in combat.   D&D is also distinct and honest in its admission that fighting is a core part of its main activity (for instance, 5th edition creates three pillars:  Combat, Exploration, and Role Playing).
  • Storyteller (Storytelling):  This motivation is about the same as Laws' Storyteller.  In the 4e list the Storyteller "works hard to make sure his character fits the story," which is an important distinction.  The player who creates a 20 page backstory unrelated to the campaign premise is the 3e DMGII Psychodrama player or the 4e/5e Actor.
  • Thinker:  This motivation is The Tactician from Laws' taxonomy
  • Watcher:  I like the positive spin that the 4e DMG put on this role.  The watcher isn't just the "lurker" or "casual gamer" -- this person's lower level of attachment to the game helps keep the players cool (using Fine's frame analysis, this player is able to remain focused on the Person frame, to keep tempers from getting hot while the other players get stuck arguing in the Player frame).  This player also "fills a hole in the PC group, facilitating the fun" which is a nice perspective.  Sometimes nobody wants to play the cleric, so the Watcher does!  (I've had this exact situation come up more than once.)

The 5th edition Player's Handbook (and even Basic Rules) defines the main action of fantasy RPGs (specifically D&D) as "exploration, social interaction, and combat."  To some degree, these are the most common main action types in all RPGs (I listed them as my top 3 in this article on main action).


While 4th and 5th edition branched off in their own respective directions from 3rd edition, Pathfinder doubled down on 3rd edition's mechanics.  Pathfinder's 2010 Gamermastery Guide (its own DMGII) published its own taxonomy of players, but it was not designed to help GMs understand why players play Pathfinder -- it was designed to give GMs advice on troubleshooting their games.  So its focus is on what it sees as problem player types.  Therefore, the Gamemastery Guide covers all three of Fine's frames (person, player, character).  The player problems are Antagonist, Continuity Expert, Diva, Entrepreneur, Flake, Glass Jaw, Loner, Lump, Multitask Master, Power Gamer, Rules Lawyer, Tagalong, and Thespian.  I'm not going to break them down here, since they're specifically negative and not specific to player motivations, but they're worth looking into if you want to write a taxonomy of problems you can have with players.

Another player taxonomy comes from Champions.  Aaron Allston's Eleven Types of Champions Players was featured in Stike Force (1988).  I learned about this list online and have not seen the original source, so bear with me here if you spot a mistake.  As presented, these eleven roles are useful for games outside the superheroes genre.  More, there are a few player motivations unique to this list that are noteworthy, so I'm including it despite the fact that I couldn't even find a pirate copy of the primary source!

  • The Builder:  This is a player who wants to see an impact on the campaign world.  Like the Entrepreneur in Pathfinder, the Builder wants to invest in something.  This is a unique perspective not covered in other roles, and it resonates with my 25 years of GM experience.  Some players want to build an organization or movement and change the world.  They don't just want to kill the bad guys who threaten the world, they want to work proactively and leave their mark.  This is a strong version of Fine's Efficacy motivation and Reiss' Saving motivation, but also MDA's Expression aesthetic.  In typical RPGs, the GM controls all of the NPCs.  The Builder wants to project their ideas into the GM's imagined world, influencing the GM.
  • The Buddy:  The Buddy is Leah, who plays for the fellowship, all the way down to Pathfinder's Tagalong, who is not even there for the game.
  • The Combat Monster:  This is the same as D&D's Slayer
  • The Copier:  In Champions, this character tries to copy a superhero from a published comic.  In other tabletop RPGs, you see this too.  "I want to be an awesome elf with a bow like Legolas" or "I want to be a data courier with a secure memory chip implanted in his head like Johnny Mneumonic."  I once played a LARP where my character was a steampunk version of Jason Bourne.  I think that it's one thing to try to copy the form or plot from a published character, and another to try to emulate their personality (trying to be glib like Spiderman, for instance).  Copying a favorite or inspiring character is a very common motivation for playing a role-playing game that hasn't been well explored elsewhere.
  • The Genre Fiend:  This player wants to play an emulation of the genre.  Champions is like a lot of tabletop RPGs that are very genre-focused. Some people get into those games in order to play that genre.  This is similar to Ron Edwards' Simulationism, focused on genre (Sim/Color).  D&D, by contrast, is not - D&D has become its own genre in a way.  That's a discussion for another time.
  • The Mad Slasher:  Without access to Strike Force, I can't really say how the Mad Slasher is different from the Combat Monster, except that it appears that the Combat Monster is more focused on combat against villains while the Mad Slasher is like the Outlier or Looney.
  • The Mad Thinker: This appears to be the same as D&D's Thinker.
  • The Plumber:  This appears to be the same as D&D's Actor, except with a focus on building plot hooks into the character.
  • The Romantic:  Similar to the DMGII Psychodrama motivation, this player wants to focus on character interaction and relationships.  The only other place we see romance qua romantic love is Reiss' Romance motivation (which is somewhat uncomfortably focused on sex).  MDA's Fantasy and Fine's Sociability motivation within the Character frame both connect to this motivation as well.
  • The Rules Sea Lawyer:  This is NOT the same as Pathfinder's Rules Lawyer.  (In the Gamemastery Guide, the Rules Lawyer is a problem because it stalls the game and undermines the GM's authority.)  Again, lacking the primary source, I am at a disadvantage.  It seems to me that this player type is more of a Power Gamer but with a Rules Lawyer tendency.
  • The Showoff:  This is the same as Pathfinder's Diva, who hogs the spotlight.  This is another axis of player motivation not really explored elsewhere.  The Showoff wants spotlight time - time when his or her character is the one acting on and reacting to the game world.
  • The Pro from Dover:  This is the same as D&D's Power Gamer.
  • The Tragederian:  This is another interesting and unique profile.  This player wants bad things to happen to their character, and then to play out the suffering that follows.  Common in superhero stories and in the Hero Cycle, protagonists usually go through a "darkest hour" before the climax of the story. This player not only welcomes the darkest hour, they work in Fine's player and person frames to bring about tragedy.  It could be for Showoff reasons or Plumber reasons or Copier reasons.

Source:  I'm not willing to pay eighty bucks for it, and you probably aren't either, but here you go:

Update - December, 2015!  This year, Quantic Foundry (Nick Yee) surveyed gamers and collected data on their motivations for playing.  They surveyed 143,757 video gamers!  This is a video game player survey, like the Bartle types and MDA motivations.  Keep that in mind.  Still, it's data-driven as opposed to "my years of experience" driven or theoretical.  I like data.

Quantic Foundry's motivations fall into six categories, each with two subcategories.  QF doesn't explicitly say this anywhere I could see, but it seems like each category has an "active" and "reactive" subcategory - one category is a behavior and the other category is a preference.  You choose games because they support your preference.  You use games in the manner of your behavior profile.

  • Action:  Action in video games matches action in RPGs to some degree.  Even the most streamlined tabletop RPG isn't as fast-paced as Call of Duty or Halo, but "killing bad guys" is a common main action type in each.  It seems like Destruction is a behavior and Excitement is a preference.
    • Destruction: These "agents of chaos and destruction" sound like Bartle's clubs.  They might also match the "Irresponsibility" and "Kicking Butt" motivations from the D&D 3rd edition DMGII.  Tabletop RPGs can't do "blowing stuff up" like video games can.  There's just a visceral feeling to setting up a major explosion in Grand Theft Auto, in high-def, surround-sound that you just don't get by having your friend Chris narrate it at the head of the dinner table.
    • Excitement:  Players who want games to be "fast-paced, intense, and provide a constant adrenaline rush" sound like Rosewater's Timmy/Tammy.  That rush comes from the tension of unexpected outcomes, which implies it matches gamism (GNS) and Butt Kickers (Laws) and Allston's Showoff.
  • Social:  Remember, Quantic Foundry found this motivation in video game player profiles, so contrast it with profiles built around board game players and tabletop RPG players.  It seems like Competition is a behavior and Community is a preference.
    • Competition:  These players like PvP multiplayer games.  They're like Spike, from Rosewater's profiles.
    • Community:  These players like cooperative games or competitive games played in an environment focused on other social activity.  "For them, games are an integral part of maintaining their social network."  These players match with the Casual Gamer (Laws) or Leah (Beauvais).
  • Mastery:  This profile cluster tracks closely to board games and tabletop RPGs.  Strategy is a behavior, and Challenge is a preference.
    • Challenge:  These players love games that challenge their real-life skills and smarts in a tactical way.  In tabletop RPGs, they might enjoy the tactical complexity of GURPS.  They probably love puzzle scenes in all kinds of RPGs, since they use player skills instead of character skills.  This is Laws' Tactician.
    • Strategy:  These players love games that require long-term planning and strategy, such as Pathfinder's character building, or choosing which Front to pursue in a game of Dungeon World.
  • Achievement:  Tabletop RPGs don't keep score, have leaderboards, or track achievements.  But there is some use to this cluster.  Completion is the behavior, and Power is the preference.
    • Completion:  "Completion" is not a major factor in tabletop RPGs.  If there is time pressure, you can't explore every corridor.  If there is no time pressure, there is no reason not to explore every corridor.  There might be treasure!
    • Power:  This sub-category is a major class RPG player.  Unlike Mastery-Strategy players who want to win with a cunning strategy, this player wants game-world power for its own sake.  These are the Munchkins and Power Gamers.
  • Immersion:  I've written a blog post about this player motivation.  Go read it here.  Both types of immersion match Beauvais' "Anastasia" profile (remember, board games usually don't have characters the way video games and tabletop RPGs do).  Fantasy is the behavior, and Story is the preference.
    • Fantasy:  Players interested in fantasy want to "become someone else, somewhere else" which tracks with the sort of immersion in my article on the subject, linked above.  These are the method actors (Laws), game world frame focused players (Fine), sim-character (GNS) players, Tragederians, and "Real Roleplayers."
    • Story:  I think it goes without saying that tabletop RPGs have a better story dimension than video games.  Even the most rudimentary RPG plot is as deep and interesting for the players involved as the most elaborate video game plot.  Still, some players care more about story than others.  These are the narrativists (GNS) and Storytellers (Laws).
  • Creativity:  Here's another profile that tabletop RPGs excel at.  Discovery seems to be the preference here, with Design the behavior, but to some degree, exploration is a behavior as well.
    • Discovery:  These players like games that can be explored.  The D&D pillar of Exploration is key for these players.  
    • Design:  These players like "to actively express their individuality."  They fit the Genre Fiend, the Copier, the Expression motivation, Vorthos, etc.


Meta-Source:  Thanks to TV Tropes for compiling a partial list for me to start from!


It's not easy to create a meta-taxonomy here.  Here's what I think.

First, some taxonomies focus on motivations for playing RPGs alone, such as Ron Edwards' GNS theory.  Others involve other player motivations that are relevant to GMs, such as the idea of spotlight, or the "acting on / interacting with" dynamic in Bartle's concept.  So I think the best way to describe player types literature is to look at the axes that these taxonomies seem to be using to form their categories.

Artistic Focus:  To what degree does the player seek to tell an artistically satisfying story (see: Narrativism, Genre Fiend, Plumber, Storyteller, Copier, Expression)?  Or does the player seek to discover a satisfying story?  See: Exploration, Puzzle Solving, Brains, Thinker, Discovery, Setting Exploration, Creativity, Immersion, etc.  Part of this dynamic depends on the GM.  Some GMs are charismatic folks who can captivate an audience with a description of a moldy dungeon corridor, while others focus their skills on solid story hooks or exciting challenges.  But player preferences are involved here, too.  Some players have very little artistic preference (low preference for Narrativism in GNS theory, for instance).

Frame Focus:  In which frame or stance does the player feel most comfortable?  Which frame/stance does the game support or encourage?  If the person is at the game for Sociability in the Person frame, like the Social profile, Leah or the Casual Gamer, what can we do with that?  I like the 4e DMG positive spin on the Watcher archetype.  It gives us good ideas for how those players can support the others.  Players who are focused on the Player frame are likely to take an Author stance.  Are they interested in the rules and system that generates a challenge that they can overcome with stats and tactics?  Or are they interested in writing a narrative for their character?  See Gamism and Narrativism.  See also Johnny/Jenny for players who value the details and intricacies of the system.  In the Game World or Actor stance, how comfortable is the player with actual acting?  Does the system reward and encourage it?  See Tragedreian, Thespian, Psychodrama, Actor, Real Roleplayer, etc.  At the extreme end of Game World focus, you have players who are very deep into the immersive simulation and ones who are not.  How important is a realistic, detailed world to the player?  How important are diagetic systems rather than systems that abstract outcomes based on non-game-world (player frame) variables like "challenge level" or "story purposes"?  See: Fantasy, Simulationism, Genre Fiend, Anastasia.

Spotlight:  Does the player naturally seek attention and dominate a conversation (charismatic or alpha type players, divas, Lurker/Watcher/wallflower players, etc.)?  To what degree is the player invested in the game world and the group?  This connects to the other aspect of the Lurker/Watcher dynamic - how often do they miss the game?  Are they on their cell phone a lot?  Do they drop out of character?  Why?  What's going on?  Can they be made to prioritize the game more?  Do they need to be made to prioritize the game more because their behavior is disruptive, or are they supporting the rest of the group as a casual player in the ways that the 4e Watcher does?

Mastery:  To what degree does the player want to engage in a power fantasy where they can pretend to be in control, capable, and powerful?  See: Supercoolness, Efficacy, Power Gamer, Pro from Dover, Mad Thinker, Tactician, Builder, Spike, Munchkins, Power motivation, Mastery, Achievement, Action, etc.  To what degree do you and your system allow/encourage this?  These player types and motivations have given me a good perspective on how theorists see power fantasy.  It seems mastery-oriented players are and have always been common, and supporting and catering to them is a large part of tabletop RPG design.  GMs should think about how to support and satisfy players' motivation for mastery because even if it's not the player's primary motivation, some degree of mastery motivation is usually present.  I also have a sneaky suspicion that the mastery motivation is somewhat gendered, but I'm not going to explore how so here.

Escapism:  To what degree does the player want to do things in the game world that he or she would never try in real life?  See Loonies, Outliers, Irresponsibility, Timmy, Tragederian, Mad Slasher, Psychodrama, Fantasy, Curiosity, Clubs, Immersion, etc.  To what degree does the player cooperate with the other players and the GM here?  This is the prosocial/antisocial axis or the conflict between independence and acceptance motivations.  The extreme antisocial escapist is disruptive, likely to hog the spotlight, and tries all kinds of silly things just because he can.  The prosocial escapist plays a character very different from her real personality and explores irrational and immoral acts in the safe fantasy space, with awareness of others' sensitivities and without stepping on anyone else's fun.  The Slayer archetype is halfway between Mastery and Escapism, and is a common, somewhat prosocial, and more socially acceptable way to play most tabletop RPGs than "full on Loony."  Instead of using escapism to explore and try unusual and shocking things, the player uses it for catharsis.  To what degree does the player want to blow off steam?  See Slayer, Butt-Kicker, Escapism, etc.  To what degree are you and the game able to satisfy this desire?

My meta-categories are rough.  I encourage you to write your own.  Post them on your own blog, or in comments here.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks for including my profiles in this list. You've covered a lot of ground here.