by Scott Roberts
May 22, 2001
"There are two types of people in the world:
those who divide people into types,
and those who don't."
Barth's Distinction to Murphy's Law
In 1989 or thereabouts Hero Games released the fourth edition of one of the best roleplaying games of all time, "Champions: The Super Role-Playing Game", a tabletop RPG dedicated to playing superheroes in their Hero System. Included in the fourth edition rulebook was a section called "Types of Champions Players". This listing of types of players is one of the best pieces of writing I've ever seen about kinds of roleplayers, and it goes far beyond the Champions genre. I recommend it highly to anyone who's interested in that sort of thing.
That listing is the inspiration for this column, which is about twice the size of my usual columns. Below, you will find my take on the different types of players you will find in the multiplayer online prose game world. Some of the types you'll see below are similar to the ones that appear in the Champions rulebook, while there are more than a few original ones. Most folks, including your columnist, fall into more than one of the categories below.
The actor is the base type of player of online prose games, and most people start here and accessorize with various degrees of the types below. This player is interested in improvisationally acting out the role of a character in an immersive online prose game, writing "their part" in the collaborative work of the game world they choose to play in. They work out their character's role ICly, spending equal amounts of time starring and in the background, chatting when it's called for, fighting when it's called for, and doing whatever seems appropriate for their character. But every Actor's personality is also made up of varying degrees of one or more of the following player types, as you will see...
This player is into creating, building, describing, and otherwise adding long-lasting things to the game universe. Not necessarily "tangible assets" -- Crafters mostly just want to leave a legacy of some sort behind, be it an organization or an object.
The Thrillseeker is the player that must have SOMETHING TO DO no matter where they are or what they are playing. This player craves ACTION more than anything else, even in games where GM-moderated combat means that ACTION takes longer than roleplaying. In Champions terms, this is the Combat Monster, except that the urge to fight is directed towards NPCs, goons, or other computer- or GM-generated creatures rather than other PCs.
This player lives for player-vs.-player conflict, preferably of the lethal kind. Also known as a "PKer" -- for player-killer -- I'm expanding the definition here to include those players who like to ruin the lives of other players, not necessarily killing them. This is the sort of person who would just as soon bring down your house as kill you if they get the chance, because they live under the assumption -- true or not, depending on the game -- that other players are the most interesting targets because they're capable of more independent thought or action than GM or computer-controlled targets.
"Twink" is a word all too often abused and ill defined in gaming -- both tabletop and online. A twink (a short form of "Twinkie") is someone who is obsessed with success in the game world to the exclusion of anything else -- ignoring roleplaying, story development, character development, or anything at all that will distract the Twink from his or her goals. This player type goes for the best equipment, best spells, and the best everything that it's possible to get in the game. Driven towards these goals, a twink often sacrifices things that other people hold dear -- like online friendships and relationships -- if it can benefit their personal goals to do so. Sometimes, in the worst cases, the twink bends and twists game rules to get what they want, squeezing the most efficient character design or goodie into their character regardless of whether or not it makes sense in the game for their character to do so.
This player wants to run game-world versions of characters that someone else created. In most cases they are trying to duplicate characters taken from the universe that the game is based on, although you do get your share of historical figures in some games. This can be a very interesting experiment and provide for wonderful roleplaying, unless, of course, the player becomes a Duplicator, which is the much more common version of this type of player.
The Duplicator is a player who must be something specific, and it doesn't make a difference to them what the genre or game world is they're doing it in. This player wants to do Gandalf on the bridge of the Enterprise, or see how well Han Solo would do swinging a long sword against an orcish horde. Sometimes they actually do play an original character -- except that they play that character in every POSSIBLE genre, with the same personality and magic items, no matter how inappropriate a four-color superhero ninja would be in a Lovecraftian setting.
The Genre Fiend
The Genre Fiend is the same in the online prose world as it is in a tabletop game. A bit of genre fiend is present in most players, but taken to extremes, it can be horrid. This is the player who loves the game world so much that they learn absolutely every trivial thing possible about it, and considers himself or herself an expert on everything involved with the game. They're not shy about it, either. If you're wearing pink on a Thursday when everyone KNOWS that's a sin in the Cult of Mahriltajar, because it was right there in black and white in the third-party supplement to the game published in 1976 by GenericGamers and released in a print run of 500 copies on newsprint, this player will be more than happy to point it out to you and mock you repeatedly. Combine the Genre Fiend with the Duplicator and you have a truly obnoxious player, one who has to ABSOLUTELY do everything the way that the character they're copying would do it, regardless of the genre or suitability of the action for the character.
This player is one of those who get very into their character's moods and emotions. They'll sit there and watch what's going on, then show you their reactions to it. Some introspection is good -- you want three-dimensional characters, and someone who can tell you WHY their character likes to kill human beings with a sniper rifle for money but shies away from whacking a squirrel with a BB gun is usually a good player. But when they're bad, they're REALLY bad. You might be talking about the pros and cons of the new BlasTek Model 151 Laser Pistol, and they'll take 10 minutes to describe their reaction, down to the last twitch of the eyebrows, the sheen of light reflected by the window on their moist eyes as a tear wells as your story reminds them of their lost puppy, Peppy, who was killed when they were five by the BlasTek's distant ancestor, the .357 Magnum. These players go deep into their characters -- so deep they often get lost, and make enigmatic comments which no one but a mind reader could understand.
The Projective Telepath
This player is probably your columnist's biggest pet peeve. This is a character, much like the Introspector, who gets into their character's reactions and describes them in great detail. Unfortunately, they tend to do so via projective telepathy. That is to say, they're really big on posing or otherwise indicating in a non-verbal manner things which are impossible for your character to divine, unless of course you're playing in a game with telepathy, in which case all bets are off. The things they pose thinking about are often offensive, a passive-aggressive way of making comments on your roleplay without exposing themselves to consequences. For example, your character might be espousing an opinion on the price of swords in the marketplace being too high, and the Projective Telepath will pose something like, "PeeTee thinks that Scott is being a tightwad jerk because he has enough money to buy TEN swords but just wants the price to be lower, but doesn't say anything, instead keeping his eyes downcast and grumbling under his breath." Don't you just want to kill someone like that?
The Pro From Dover
The Pro from Dover shares some of the basics of the tabletop version (including the catchy name of the category), but can be a bigger problem in online prose games than they can be in tabletop games. The short description is a player whose character needs to be the absolute best in the game world at something -- running, shooting, being a good scientist, being the best magician, whatever. In a tabletop game with an average of 6-8 players, it's relatively easy to accomplish the goals of a Pro from Dover, since there aren't that many players, and each character can be specifically good at something. In the massively multiplayer online prose world, however, there are often several players all vying to be the best at one thing or another. This can lead to competition, which is good; but it can also lead disgruntled and frustrated players to take that competition too far, which is bad. Next week's column will deal with the problems and perils of not being able to be the "best" in an online prose game.
The Lounge Lizard
This is the sort of player who for one reason or another has turned to the online prose world for sexual gratification to the exclusion of just about everything else. Whether it's because they feel unattractive in "real life" or they're just shy, the Lounge Lizard will go to just about any extreme to have sex in a text-based medium, regardless of how appropriate it is to the game world or their character. Cybersex is found commonly enough in other venues, but Lounge Lizards treat online prose games as sort of a fantasy world writ large, a place for them to have sex in exotic places with exotic beings. Unfortunately, they're often too distracted by their goal to be at all effective at keeping true to the setting. When this sort of player blurs in character and out-of-character lines, severe problems happen.
The Online Transvestite
Probably the oddest type of player one will encounter, the Online Transvestite is actually a bizarre subset of the Lounge Lizard. In this category I am not referring simply to people who play characters of a different sex than their own for the experience -- this is relatively common, is done for a variety of reasons, and can be interesting to do. Online Transvestites are Lounge Lizards who use the venue of online prose games to explore alternate sexual lifestyles and strange fantasies they may have. A male Online Transvestite will make a female character that is an IC lesbian in order to seek out other female characters that are lesbians and have cybersex with them. The funniest part of this is that, in this columnist's experience, most female lesbian characters in the online prose world are actually played by men. Which isn't to say that there aren't lesbians in the online prose world, but rather that they don't tend to spend their time looking for lesbian characters to have sex with. If you really think you need to know the real-life sex of someone online, ask them a few simple gender-specific questions, like how much a feminine hygiene product costs in the supermarket or some completely useless bit of knowledge about a sports figure or esoteric and extremely rare gaming calculation. Odds are, men don't do their research well enough to pretend to be effective women, and women could care less about the stupid things men (including your columnist) devote large parts of their brains to remembering.
The Star needs to be the center of attention. It doesn't make a difference what the setting is, whether or not their character SHOULD be the center of attention within the context of the game at that point in time, or whether there are one or a hundred other players in the room with them, you can count on the Star to do something to get themselves noticed. This player can be an excellent source of roleplaying for others (who can mock, admire, or interact with the Star however they wish), but can also be extremely annoying when taken to the extreme.
The Drama Queen/The King of Pain
This player is a variation on The Star, if by "Star" you're thinking "William Shatner" rather than, say, "Morgan Freeman". They don't necessarily need to be the center of attention, but everything they do needs to be overdramatized and all-too-often dripping with sturm und drung. Prevalent in White Wolf-style vampire games and other Goth venues, they can be found almost anywhere, and can be relied upon to be undergoing some deep and horrid tragedy which not only personally affects them but, if left unchecked, will probably result in the imminent destruction of the universe or at least a trip to the bathroom for a band-aid to cover their bleeding hangnail. An upcoming column will deal with the uses of angst and tragedy in roleplaying, along with ways to avoid getting crowned with this title.
The Haxx0r is a player who likes to play with the game's systems rather than playing the game. In mild forms, the Haxx0r can be an excellent friend to have, someone who helps new and old players to use the game's systems and interface to its full potential, someone who is always coming up with suggestions as to how to improve the game's code base and systems, and someone who can be an invaluable addition to staff if they truly understand the underlying code behind the game. However, all too often the Haxx0r takes their obsession with code to the extreme, finding and using exploits in the design of the game to their character's benefit. Haxx0r/Twink crossbreeds can be particularly obnoxious.
Taken from Niccolo Machiavelli's book by the same name, The Prince is a player who is into power and control. Quickly politicking ICly to the top of the food chain they're interested in, The Prince is often a mover and a shaker in the online world. These are the players who rise to the top of factions and stay there, by hook or by crook, until pried away with a crowbar. These characters can be fun to play with, but sometimes their desire to manipulate and control can render them tiresome to interact with and not fun at all to be around. They're often too busy trying to deal with the "burdens of power" to take time out to roleplay interesting scenes with other player types.
The Schemer is much like the Prince, except that most of their scheming is done out of character. These folks befriend staff members and plotters, working their influence to benefit their characters by mastering the politics of the people behind other characters and staffers rather than in the game. It's very rare to find someone who is JUST a schemer. Many players have a bit of this, but taken to extremes it can be one of the worst types of players to run into -- the sort who can ruin entire online prose worlds.
The Jester is the type of player who finds the entire concept of online prose games amusing and can't quite understand what all the fuss is about when they do something completely out of character for the game universe that they think is funny. In small amounts the Jester can be one of the biggest saviors of a game -- lest we become too obsessed and immersive that we forget that the game is also about fun. But as with all the other types, taken to extremes, the Jester can ruin the fun of other players with excessively silly or stupid behavior that ruins the setting or scene for other players.
This player comes to the game to chat with other folks rather than play the game. Just about everyone has a bit of the chatter in them; few people come to online prose games just to stay in character all the time, and in order to build a community of gamers you need to chat out of character sometimes. The Chatter, taken to extremes, is the sort of person who spends all their time talking about something out-of-character, often continuously disrupting roleplay in an area to outline various OOC repercussions of what's going on or just to chat about how the IC situation reminded them of the latest episode of Friends.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possibilities, but most of the players I've run into in the last 9 years fall into one or more of these categories. Next week, The Mummer's Dance presents "Everybody Wants To Rule The World", a treatment of wanting to be the "best" in online games, and how to deal with that if it's impossible.
As for your columnist, I'm about 40 percent Star, 20 percent Prince, 10 percent Thrillseeker and 20 percent Pro from Dover. How about you?