Insignificant

“At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that “news” is not something that happens to other people.” – Robert Heinlein, The Number of the Beast.

Overstated a bit? Maybe so. I certainly have no wish for past five years’ systematic attack on civil liberties to continue just so I can feel more alive in dodging the inevitable police state. Also, my grandfather was a dairy farmer until his father died. I’ve seen where milk comes from, and I prefer it from the supermarket. There’s less shit at the Safeway.

But it seems like we need a certain amount of shit to live.

I was doing an analysis of “player types” for my new employer. Not the types we’re used to, such as the Bartle breakdown (I’m ESAK, if you’re curious, though I think a case could be made for my being SEAK) . I’m also writing a fun little quiz to score people where they fall along the hardcore/relaxed spectrum. These are labels that are familiar, and we snuggle into them the way we snuggled into flannel jammies.

But they aren’t who we are. They don’t speak to what makes us tick – what we DO is less important to a game designer (or anyone developing products to support gamers, really) than WHY we do it. If you… we… can identify the motivators, we’re no longer operating blindly. We’re not opening our gaping maws at conferences, saying idiotic things like “I know fun/grind/porn when I see it.” We’re developing with a purpose, a purpose that goes directly to the lizard brain and grabs people by the guts.

In terms of my project, I came up with a system that sorts people by motivating verbs. (If I sound like I’m being deliberately obfuscatory, I am, because what I develop for clients and overlords tends to be proprietary for minimum the first few years.)

It’s been on my mind for a couple weeks now, trying to get the focus for my system off behavior and on to motivation (but in an observable way, no leaps of intuition without supporting data). And I keep coming back to the fact that there is almost nothing on the internet that can’t be boiled down to how much we want to rise beyond our own insignificance, and how we need conflict/interaction/acknowledgment with and from other human beings. We need challenges to feel alive, and we need to meet and defeat those challenges to feel like we matter. Some writers have claimed that players have changed, or somehow evolved. This is nonsense. Human motivations don’t change.

Mine is not an original observation. It’s just interesting how much of that kind of primal need can be met with even a mediocre MMO.

***

To ward off the people who will post “Need more funny,” allow me to share this family story:

My dad was not raised on the family farm, as his father was the second brother, not the inheritor. But farm labor builds character, or something equally dreadful, especially in the frozen wastelands of the northeastern United States. So Pop headed off to the farm every summer to toil, starting at around age five.

During his first season, his oldest cousin, aged fifteen or so, took him into the barn to show him the milking machinery. The two boys would spend the season responsible for sanitizing the equipment. Older taught younger the names for the parts and the importance of procedure for public health and safety. Responsibility came young on a family farm, with all hands needed. Ah, the golden days of America, right?

At lunch, my great uncle called down the long, long farm table, lined with seasonal field hands and the enormous multigenerational family, “Little G! What did you learn today?” My father called back, in his squeaking child’s voice, “I learned about the cocksucker, Big G! You gotta keep it clean or else you’ll get diseases!”

My great uncle reached out and slapped the fifteen year old cousin without so much as putting down his sandwich.

So much for humans changing.

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22 Comments

  1. Savagex said,

    July 31, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I cant wait to see what you come up with.. I think Bartle’s test was a good place to start, but it doesn’t have much granularity.

    I’m nutters for exploring, even so much as to take foolish risks (in LARP, gaming and sometimes real life) to check the places out. (Or to experience new things… I attended my first Vodun Fete this summer, with interesting results.)

    Some of that is driven by the Achiever aspect and some by the Socializer aspect. It would be nice to have more granularity t o see where my aptitudes lie.

  2. Retina said,

    July 31, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Huh, ESAK as well. I would have thought EASK after reading him, but it’s been a few years and I value friends more.

    Good luck with your project, I’m sure it will be a great addition to the toolbox if it’s let out into the wild.

  3. merlyn said,

    July 31, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Sounds fascinating, actually. I’ve always felt the Bartle scale was too limiting, because it did only deal with the end results, and not the reasons why. K’s can be PvP’ers or Griefers, for example (I always fall into the PvP end, which is why I hate PvP servers). Socializers can be social because they like people, or they like getting their ego stroked, etc.

    There’s definitely room for improvement there, and I’m curious to see how it translates into a new game.

  4. VPellen said,

    August 1, 2007 at 12:05 am

    I’m ESKA myself. I can’t stand the grind or the carrot, I just want to enjoy myself. The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but wonder if developers tend to design towards their own types. I know my personal designs are geared well towards ESKA types.

    But it all sounds very interesting. I look forward to reading about it sometime in the distant future.

  5. Lottomannen said,

    August 1, 2007 at 2:45 am

    You’re quoting Robert Heinlein! I adore you!

  6. Michael Chui said,

    August 1, 2007 at 3:01 am

    Too few people reference or use Nick Yee’s Facets model, which is at least an alternative, even if Bartle has critiqued it a bit.

    However, I think your idea that human motivations never change is bosh. They might not change very much most of the time, but changing those motivations is exactly what “growing up” entails.

  7. Alexis said,

    August 1, 2007 at 6:10 am

    Chui: Our motivations seem to change because our situation does. See Mazlow’s – a starving man doesn’t give two farts about beautiful art, but supply his physiological needs, emotional support etc and suddenly he ‘discovers’ that need in himself.

    People grow up as they experience traumatic life events. The older someone is, the more trauma they’re likely to have encountered. Some people don’t grow up, either because they lead a charmed life or they don’t learn from their experiences. Intoxication strips our learned self-protective behaviour and turns us into children again. Long periods of safety and stability can do the same.

    merlyn: absolutely. Bartle’s model would benefit from detailed subtype classification, as Myer’s-Briggs has. Ultimately the categories are too high-level though, imho.

    Sanya, what do you think about polarising factors?

    We all seem to be ES**. Selection bias I guess. (I’m ESAK)

  8. Taemojitsu said,

    August 1, 2007 at 7:12 am

    “if you think human nature has changed, then you probably have an imperfect understanding of the past, as that is what you have less experience with”

    keep in mind who is claiming that human motivations have changed. writers need to make money like everyone else.

  9. Sanya Weathers said,

    August 1, 2007 at 10:46 am

    I just finished two (nonfiction) books about marriage and family. One focused on the Middle Ages (defined as ending when the Italian Renaissance began, more or less), the other Elizabethan England.

    I didn’t see a rat’s ass worth of difference between the motivating factors then and now. Not in these books, not in ANY such book I’ve ever read. Maslow’s Hierarchy lays out the basics, and what we’re after once those basics are met is the same the world over. The point I’m making that could be debated is that I suspect our needs are evolutionary in nature, and that our modern environment doesn’t meet them… except in virtual environments with things to conquer, overcome, and demonstrate.

  10. Dartwick said,

    August 2, 2007 at 6:58 am

    After thinking about Lums recent colums I suspect MMO motivation breaks down to 2 basic elements(which are pretty obvious I guess).

    1 Desire the fight, conquer or just establish yourself and survive in a challenging world.
    2 To express yourself to others either by communicating or building together.

    Most MMOs have both these elements but lean heavily to one side. Some people like to do this alone but in a world some people like to do it fo it as a group and some like to lead.
    Much like real life.

    Sidenote
    Also some people like to have sex and much like real life that will pop up anywhere in an MMO you allow it.

  11. Dartwick said,

    August 2, 2007 at 7:01 am

    curse the lack of edit

    2 To express yourself to others either by communicating, building, or working together.

  12. Khan said,

    August 2, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I hope your findings are publishable, S. I’d be very interested to see the results.

    I suspect much of the allure of MMOs has to do with the monotony / mediocrity / complexity of our daily lives. Battling impossible odds to rescue the hostage and become the hero is a lot more interesting than fixing an application so this month’s numbers jive (knowing full well they’re going to find new ways to break it next month). That and there’s the whole click-button-get-reward aspect too. And being able to explore dangerous places without actually leaving your living room.

  13. August 2, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    […] at Eating Bees, Sanya discusses human behavior and sums it up rather nicely: “We need challenges to feel alive, and we need to meet and […]

  14. Richard Campbell said,

    August 2, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    @Alexis: EKAS, which I think goes a long way towards explaining why I quit playing MMOGs.

  15. August 2, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    If you want to intelligently discuss Bartle’s classifications, you should read his book Designing Virtual Worlds. He expands the basic four types we all know and love into 8 types.

    One thing I don’t like about Nick Yee’s research is the lack of Explorer. I think the limited response pool from a well-established game, pulling mostly from EQ1 at the time, skewed the results. However, I think it’s a lot like Bartle’s work in that it’s a good first step.

    The biggest problem with both these classification systems is that they’re based on observation. The job of a really good designer, especially a designer in a high-growth area like online games, is to give the players what they didn’t even know they wanted. So, relying too heavily on observed data tends to get us stuck in mostly looking backwards instead of forwards.

  16. mythago said,

    August 3, 2007 at 9:26 am

    People grow up as they experience traumatic life events.

    That suggests that the more you traumatize somebody, the more mature and healthy they will be as an adult.

  17. Grimjakk said,

    August 6, 2007 at 12:27 am

    “That suggests that the more you traumatize somebody, the more mature and healthy they will be as an adult.”

    No… stress an organic system and it strengthens in responce… but stress it too often or too far and it can’t repair itself completely.

  18. Kaa said,

    August 6, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    With regard to the evolution of human motivations, it all depends on your X axis 🙂

    Modern humans generally have the same motivations as humans did 1000 years ago. No change over the axis of history.

    Adult humans generally have different motivations than children (or adolescents). There is definite change over the axis of personal age.

    As per Maslow, motivations also change as previous needs get satisfied. There is change over the axis of umm… Maslowian growth? 🙂

    Kaa

  19. Taemojitsu said,

    August 6, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Sanya, how’s this for a novel perspective on the motivations and attitudes of gamers? Surface truth vs deep truth. Those who are able to operate using only the most immediately relevant and accessible layers of reality, and those who have a compulsive need to search further for the underlying explanation or basis for that outward reality. Neither being better or worse… but still very different. The trends of attitude of these two types of people are startling, if you think about it.

  20. Taemojitsu said,

    August 12, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    To elaborate.. classifying based on what memes people have. The argument goes like this: people don’t like uncertainty. (Tho that in itself is a meme with different possible values.) They form assumptions in order to reduce uncertainty in decision-making and perception. Because unanswered questions cause uncertainty, then, these memes tend towards binary values of 0 or 1 instead of the gray area in between.

    Certain memes also tend to group, but it’s only a statistical clumping, not anything near a certainty.

    So that meme I mentioned, “I must fully understand anything I intend to operate with” (a “1” on the scale of surface vs deep), is just one example of a meme that has a defining effect on behavior. Other examples might be,

    everything must be done right, to the best of my abilities. (often leads to the above meme because in order to do something right you must understand it.)
    afraid of social criticism from respected sources. (often leads to the above meme based on assumptions of their assumptions.)
    what other people think about me matters. (may possibly lead to the above meme if the person is hurt emotionally by criticism while they are young??)

    There are lots of other ones to think of too of course… any kind of assumptions that people make, and then don’t think about later on, can qualify. Organizational and bureaucratic memes are interesting to think about, why things happen the way they do, and how it affects how people act in other situations in life.

  21. Taemojitsu said,

    August 12, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    To elaborate.. classifying based on what memes people have. The argument goes like this: people don’t like uncertainty. (Tho that in itself is a meme with different possible values.) They form assumptions in order to reduce uncertainty in decision-making and perception. Because unanswered questions cause uncertainty, then, these memes tend towards binary values of 0 or 1 instead of the gray area in between.

    Certain memes also tend to group, but it’s only a statistical clumping, not anything near a certainty.

    So that meme I mentioned, “I must fully understand anything I intend to operate with” (a “1” on the scale of surface vs deep), is just one example of a meme that has a defining effect on behavior. Other examples might be,

    everything must be done right, to the best of my abilities. (often leads to the above meme because in order to do something right you must understand it.)
    afraid of social criticism from respected sources. (often leads to the above meme based on assumptions of their assumptions.)
    what other people think about me matters. (may possibly lead to the above meme if the person is hurt emotionally by criticism while they are young??)

    There are lots of other ones to think of too of course… any kind of assumptions that people make, and then don’t think about later on, can qualify. Organizational and bureaucratic memes are interesting to think about, why things happen the way they do, and how it affects how people act in other situations in life.

    @#$%, I hope my ghetto HTML tags work and that I didn’t double-post.

  22. Phaltran said,

    August 14, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    AESK here (more like AES). I don’t have any suggestions as to what labels or classifications you might create for your motivations, but I can recommend a structure and see what your imagination and experience creates from it.

    Do you know how the virtues were structured in Ultima 4? Effectively it was based on a combination of 3. Three principles (Truth, Love, Courage) provide eight combinations: Honesty (T), Compassion (L), Valor (C), Justice (TL), Honor (TC), Sacrifice (LC), Spirituality (TLC) and Humility (none).

    Personally, those are motivations, even in gaming, as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps you might find similar traits and motivations in MMO gaming that could fit this structure.


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