Massively Overthinking: Let’s take the classic Bartle test


Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Online worlds researcher Dr. Richard Bartle didn’t actually write the Bartle test.

His original research explored, analyzed, and defined the four player archetypes — killer, socializer, achiever, and explorer — but the test based on that paper was created a few years later by Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey and named in his honor.

We’ve been talking a lot about Bartle’s ideas’ relevance to modern MMOs in the last month or two, so I thought it would be fun to ask the Massively OP staff and readers to take the test, share their results, and talk about what it all means in this week’s Massively Overthinking.

There are, of course, some caveats.

First, the Bartle test as once hosted on GamerDNA has been toast for many months now. The world will have lost an amazing resource there if it never comes back up because it included analysis and a record of scores for everyone who ever took it. Fortunately, we found one hosted on a different gaming education site, 4you2learn, and that’s the one we’ve all taken for this discussion. If you’d like to take it and bin your results with ours, you can use group name MOP with PIN 2161.

Second, while the original test used the term “killers” to refer to PvP players, this particular version of the test uses the word “griefers” instead. As you’ll see below, that is something that annoyed nearly every person on staff because it’s absurd to think that all PvPers are griefers (you don’t even need PvP to grief; as I’ve said before, the worst griefers I ever met in an MMO happened to be pure PvE RPers). We’re operating under the assumption that because it’s an education site, this test’s hosts are trying to be sensitive to very young participants and so changed the terminology, not understanding the nuance of the argument they just stepped into!

Third, the Bartle test, like many personality tests, has been roundly criticized throughout the years for providing a shallow and outdated perspective of MMO gamers and gameplay. Take the test yourself and see whether you agree.

That out of the way, here are our scores and comments! (Matt’s listed twice, sorry!)


Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I think this test is kind of biased from the outset as it conflates PvP and competitiveness with griefing and suggests that it’s the opposite of socialisation, but it’s no surprise that the EVE Online fans on staff scored higher on the griefer scale. The rest is pretty accurate and reflective of how I tackle MMOs, though. For example, I expected the high socialiser score because I really don’t find much point in games if you aren’t sharing them with others; even with singleplayer games I have to be part of an online community or talk about the games with friends. The low achiever score is accurate too as I don’t see the accumulation of items and wealth as the endgame but rather as a means to an end. Better gear just enables you to do new things, and if it doesn’t then it’s not worth having.

The high explorer score makes sense too, as in every MMO I always make it my mission to learn secrets about the world and the game mechanics. I recall weeks spent in EverQuest II dodging spiders in the depths of Blackburrow because I found out collections spawned there frequently and the spiders had a low aggro radius. In EVE Online, I remember accidentally finding Taisu Magdesh’s hidden complex in Thelan and farming it for a rare 200 million ISK commander tag that respawned every 20 minutes or so (though it wasn’t supposed to!). I also spent months picking apart the COSMOS constellations and finding out how to profit from the rare items there, and years untangling the mysteries of wormhole space.

In any online game or MMO, I think that knowledge is the real power and exploration of not only zones but also game mechanics is incredibly enticing, almost like trying to figure out the laws of physics in a parallel virtual universe. Investigating game mechanics in EVE is actually what landed me my first writing gig as a guide writer for EON Magazine, and for years I was referred to by the playerbase as “the tanking guy” for my work dissecting the maths of tanking. In fact, two of the most popular articles I wrote on Massively-of-old were investigations into the mechanics of Wizards in Diablo III and recommended build specs for Inferno mode. I just can’t turn that investigative mode off, and the only MMO I’ve found that can routinely scratch that itch so far is EVE Online.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I tend to side with Larry below: I think the archetypes (especially combined) are fairly accurate, but the test is inadequate for assigning them, so I’d love to see an expanded, more detailed, and updated test more in line with the detail you can expect from a professional personality test. So I’m not taking my results too seriously; I’m mostly intrigued to hear what people think about the whole ordeal. I do tend to be an explorer — not the “unlock every map” type but the “hey I wonder what happens if you do this” type (modder at heart!). Believe it or not, I am not at all keen on socializing much outside of my guild, so that being high feels a little off. I’m not a griefer, but I love PvP, especially economic PvP, and auction hall warrioring isn’t reflected at all in the test, probably because it didn’t exist in the ’90s when it was written! I’m not really much of an achiever in the “I have to be the best at everything and have all the achievement points” sense, either, but when I do decide I really want something (elite armor! that stupid talbuk mount! yeah, it’s usually cosmetic), then I will do whatever insane achievey thing it takes to get it.

That said, I am fascinated to see our team’s spread. It doesn’t really surprise me that our sales manager is an achiever and griefer and our writers tend to be explorers and socializers! (Are we just playing into the Forer effect, here?)

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Human beings don’t fit into four categories. Nor do they fit into nine categories, or 16 categories, or any number of categories you can consider. I am large; I contain multitudes, and those are not easily assessed on a percentage scale based on a multiple-choice test where several of the questions would be answered with “neither of these things are very important to me” if it was the option.

Some of it’s inherent in the test in question. Some of it’s inherent in some of Bartle’s schematics (which is not to disparage the man’s work, just that the categorization works for a very specific set of gamers within a very specific framework of games). By and large, if you asked me to describe myself as a player, I wouldn’t really categorize myself as an achiever or a socializer; I’d say that I’m a roleplayer, someone who likes to experience the game, and also someone who has long since learned the distinction between what he likes in a game and what he doesn’t. I take joy in mechanical elegance and interesting content to clear; I also take joy in simply chatting, roleplaying, and dipping about with friends. It’s multifaceted and not easily summarized by four percentages.

I also really, really like dual wielding. No scientists have been able to determine why.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): While it’s fun to look at the numbers, I can’t answer many of the questions accurately because they’re too binary. One asks if I’d rather hunt monsters by myself or talk to my friends at a meeting place. The real answer is that I do both regularly and in largely equal measure, but I could only pick one response or another.

That said, my percentages are at least in the ballpark. Achiever is about right: I couldn’t care less about gear, character stats, or otherwise being the best at pixels. Explorer is mostly what I do, and socializer is close because I group with others between 50 and 60 percent of my MMO playtime. The griefing one is completely wrong, because aside from the occasional SWTOR warzone queue, I only ever PvP when I’m defending myself from someone who has attacked me first. But one of the questions asked if I would like to have an item that gave me complete control of other players against their will, and of course I had to answer yes to that so that I could use it to grief griefers.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’m really not a fan of any personality tests, mostly because about two questions in my mind is already trying to game the system (which is somewhat ironic with this). Because of this I’m not prone to answer as truthfully as I might otherwise, but am instead thinking, “If I select this answer, it’s going to make me more of a PvP/killer/griefer — and I can’t have that!”

Besides, I already know fairly well what type of gamer I am and don’t need a test to try to categorize me. I enjoy a wide variety of activities and types although most all of them in moderation. At times I enjoy socializing, exploring, achieving, decorating, and winning, but not always. Is there a test that adjusts to a players’ daily interests and moods as pertains to their playstyles?


Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I realize that these kinds of tests can never be 100 percent accurate, but I love the Bartle Taxonomy. Although the test is clearly designed for players to compare results, the taxonomy itself can help developers make a better game. I have always believed that MMORPGs work best when balanced. I know some people — even Massively OP writers — say that there are flaws in the test. And it’s true that this particular test can be gamed. I don’t think it completely invalidates its purpose. You can still use it to base which activities would be most fun for your particular group, and as a group or guild leader, you can see what kind of player is most attracted to your guild. Like for instance, I think the test is valid enough to show that most of Massively OP are heavy on the social side, and if I were to create a game or an activity that will satisfy the majority of MOP writers, I’d make it a social event of some kind and not a PvP event.

Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): I’m gonna hafta echo Jef’s sentiments that, while I respect Bartle himself for his work as a whole, I feel like the Bartle test is kind of dodgy as far as its reliability is concerned. For one thing, you’re only presented with two (often contrary) choices for each question, both of which are almost invariably completely transparent insofar as determining which of the four archetypes each answer is aligned with; and for two, at least in my particular case, a given answer may be your preferred choice, but not for the reason(s) given. For instance, the question, “In a multiplayer world, which would you rather have?” and the possible choices are “A private channel, over which you and your friends can communicate” and “Your own house worth millions of gold coins.” Disregarding the fact that private chat channels are pretty ubiquitously available in most modern MMOs, my choice would still be the house. Not, however, because of its exorbitant gold value, but because I’m a sucker for personal housing and having a customizable space to call my own.

All of that being said, though, I think my results are largely accurate — 67% on both Explorer and Socializer and 33% on both Achiever and Griefer. Knowing myself as I do, though, I would say that maybe Achiever’s score should be a bit higher and Explorer’s a bit lower, but hey. I’m also going to have to echo Gray’s sentiments in regard to the test’s stance on PvP. I, like Gray, describe my playstyle as a mix primarily of roleplaying and PvP, but my outlook on PvP is one that the Bartle test doesn’t exactly allow for: I only occasionaly enjoy PvP for the sheer sake of PvP, and I don’t go out of my way to pick fights over the general course of my gameplay, but I do appreciate the (admittedly uncommon) intersections of RP and PvP where the PvP comes as the natural escalation of an RP conflict.

Some of my most memorable experiences in MMOGs have been when, after a long RP arc of rising tensions and mounting conflicts, it all came to a head on the battlefield in a fierce, all-out battle between the players involved. Of course, these sorts of intersections of the RP and PvP spheres don’t tend to be especially spontaneous — in most of the aforementioned situations, the terms of the PvP battles and the RP consequences of their possible outcomes were established well beforehand through OOC coordination — but I still don’t think it’s quite fair to say that I don’t enjoy PvP simply because I don’t really care to become embroiled in the inevitable back-and-forth gank battles that tend to comprise a significant portion of it.

Really, I think what it comes down to is that — again, at least in the case of me personally — my enjoyment of any of the activities assigned to Bartle’s four archetypes tends to be inextricably tied to my enjoyment of the others. I enjoy exploring, but I tend to be more motivated to do so when I know that there are actually things to be found and, ideally, rewards to be gained, and while I’m an unabashed roleplayer who loves socializing, that doesn’t mean I want to spend all my time sitting in a virtual tavern and just casually shooting the shit; I like to intertwine my roleplaying with other activities like PvP, dungeons, and so on. Anyway, crap, this has gotten rambly. I think this fits the bill of “Massively Overthinking” pretty well as it is, so I’ll just go ahead and quit while I’m still making a modicum of sense.

Michael Gray (@writegray): Wow, this test has a chip on its shoulder against PvP, doesn’t it? I’m predominantly a RPer and PvPer; I tend to be uninterested in hunting NPCs and such and tend to view it as a means to obtain RP&PvP tools. I tend to like low-stakes sandboxes; I enjoy testing my mettle against other players, but I’m no more interested in robbing another player of hard work than I am of being robbed. But ultimately, to me, I like to build our own communal RP world and then PvP in it, so items are a pretty important part of that.

But this test feels like it makes it out to be “oh my god, you evil griefer.” It conflates the desire-for-items with the need-for-items; that twice-as-powerful sword, for example, will probably be critical in the game for fighting raid bosses and/or other players.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I found the test to be terribly flawed, as many of the questions needed a neither option for me. Brag about my equipment or how many I have beaten in challenges? Um, neither. That’s not me. Now if you had a brag about housing option, I would have totally gone for that! Be feared or have the most powerful item? Neither. On the opposite end, at least one question needed a both answer: private channel to talk to friends or my own house worth millions of gold coins? DUH — BOTH! Friends and housing, that’s pretty much all there is to MMOs for me (with the exception of exploring, of course!). Another question is half right, only working if you combine both options since I’d rather hunt monsters with my friends.

As for my results, I find the fact it can give me any percentage for being a griefer pretty much a complete joke since I go out of my way to help others. But some questions were worded to give you no option except that. The high marks for explorer is pretty spot on. Social, however, is much lower than I’d expect given my playstyle; I can’t stand playing alone and always want to play with friends! Achiever? Meh. I don’t care about having uber things… unless it is housing-related, and then I am all over that.

In all, I don’t find the test accurate at all but an exercise in trying to answer leading questions that come up with a forgone conclusion that someone wants to see rather than any results that actually reflect the gamer.

Tina Lauro (@purpletinabeans): I found that my results were pretty accurate, though I’d have perhaps said my exploration score would be higher. I adore being social in my MMOs and would far rather have other people along on the adventure with me. Isn’t that half the point of the genre?

Exploring comes high on my priority list too: I am the sort of person who enjoys finding little secrets in places and I like the challenge of getting there. I think this is why vistas appeal to me so much in Guild Wars 2.

I am not surprised that my PvP score was so low: I think the test is maybe a little unfair to PvP and some of the questions made PvPers sound like horribly manipulative players who only enjoy the game of they’re annoying someone else.

I knew that I wouldn’t score very highly on the achiever front. I enjoy grabbing achievements or new loot while I’m journeying, but those things are kind of an added bonus to me. They happen because of the things I’m doing; I don’t do the thing I do to get them.

Your turn! How do you relate to your score? What would you do to make the test better?

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