Bartle's Player Types and Keirsey's Temperaments






I've made noises about discussing how the four types of virtual world game players described by Richard Bartle relate to other, more general theories of temperament. Somehow I don't think I'll have a better opportunity than this thread to present the key points of that thesis. ;-) So here it is.


I need to start by agreeing that this kind of thing would probably work better written up as an academic paper, with footnotes and properly cited references and so on. But a reply in a discussion thread is not the right place for a lengthy essay. (Plus I'm not an academic!) Instead, I'll try to summarize the essential ideas as a series of bullet points. That form means I won't be able to back up each statement with the supporting facts and logic I normally try to provide when making strong assertions, which is going to make the whole argument seem weak in places and expose it to objections that a less brief treatment could preemptively address.


But the fact that I don't spend any time backing up the following assertions doesn't mean I'm making them up on the spot -- it just means I'm trying to be succinct to avoid abusing the privilege I've been given to post on this forum. Feel free to question anything that doesn't make sense to you... but try to go after my conclusions first, if you don't mind; those are the bits that matter.


One other note: Any and all references to the work of both Richard Bartle and David Keirsey that I make here are purely my own interpretations, and are not to be considered "official" explications of these authors' ideas. If I fail to correctly or completely capture some aspect of meaning intended by either author, the error is mine and should not be attributed to either Bartle or Keirsey. Basically, if you think any of my ideas are nuts, don't blame Keirsey or Bartle -- blame me. (And this includes the point that Richard makes above, which is that the four-type model I use here isn't his most current and preferred model, which he describes in his book Designing Virtual Worlds. I hope I can be forgiven for using the Web-available four-type version, which I believe still has some useful explanatory power.)




I start with a number of supporting observations:



After I encountered Richard Bartle's original system of four types of players of virtual-world games (Killers, Achievers, Explorers, and Socializers), it immediately appeared to me that these four player types are strongly analogous to the four general temperaments that Keirsey describes (Artisans, Guardians, Rationals, and Idealists).


To see how I got there, let's look at the foundations of Keirsey's temperament theory.


The Myers-Briggs model posits 16 types, based on four dimensions of personality. The four dimensions (and the two poles of each dimension, along with the letter abbreviation) are:



Combining all possibilities yields sixteen "types":



















These are the sixteen personality types as recognized by Myers-Briggs type theory.


Through years of observation and years of psychological practice, David Keirsey concluded that there were certain strong relationships among some of these sixteen types, and that these relationships clustered into four groups. Eventually he developed a theoretical model that groups the sixteen types into four groups of four temperaments, and for convenience he gave each temperament a descriptive name:



























These four temperaments – Artisan, Guardian, Rational, and Idealist – are the four temperaments I believe correspond to the original four player types – Killer, Achiever, Explorer, and Socializer – as described by Bartle.




Excessively brief portraits of Keirsey's temperaments are:



In the second edition of his primary work, Please Understand Me II, Keirsey groups his four temperaments according to their use of tools ("cooperative" or "utilitarian") and words ("abstract" or "concrete"):























There's nothing wrong with that system, but by the time Keirsey proposed it I had already worked out an arrangement I thought (and still think) better reflects how people interact with the world. Rather than two dimensions of tool-use and word-use, I think of the two most important dimensions of behavior as being "internals vs. externals" and "change vs. structure":

































This structure has an additional feature: Each temperament is most unlike (and usually misunderstands or even opposes) the temperament diagonal to it in ways that are instinctively familiar to most people.


Thus, Artisans (who seek External Change) tend to perceive Rationals (who seek Internal Structure) as ineffective creators of imaginary and useless ideas, while Rationals see Artisans as ignorant, energy-wasting jocks.


Similarly, Guardians (who seek External Structure) often regard Idealists as crusading liberal artistes, while Idealists (who seek Internal Change) see Guardians as boring, bourgois reactionaries.


(Note that none of these perceptions is really accurate – they're all the most negative, stereotyped view of those whose ways of looking at the world are different from our own. But they're also very common, given that most of us are strongly inclined to believe that our particular way of looking at the world is the "right" way, and therefore all others are, to various degrees, wrong.)




Next, here is the same kind of diagram, except that this one shows the four Bartle types (rotated 90 degrees clockwise from the way they’re presented in Players Who Suit MUDs):

































I see these two graphs as isomorphic – I believe they both describe the same thing, just in different contexts.


Thus, the correspondences that I believe exist are:




Artisan (tactical intelligence)

Killer (manipulation)

Guardian (logistical intelligence)

Achiever (accumulation)

Rational (strategic intelligence)

Explorer (discovery)

Idealist (diplomatic intelligence)

Socializer (emotional meaning)


Considering Bartle's descriptions of Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and Killers, and comparing these descriptions against Keirsey's descriptions of the four temperaments in his model, and further noting the congruence between the 2x2 structure I saw in Keirsey's model versus Bartle's diagram, the four Bartle types give every appearance of being context-specific analogues to Keirsey's four temperaments.


First, let's consider the dimensions of behavior that determine the 2x2 organizations of player types and temperaments.


In "Players Who Suit MUDs", I interpret Bartle's use of the terms ACTING and INTERACTING as "doing" and "learning about," respectively. (Bartle uses the terms "doing-to" and "doing-with" to describe ACTING and INTERACTING, but he also seems to suggest that INTERACTING is more about understanding the properties of things than actually using those things.) INTERACTING corresponds to my notion of INTERNAL in that interacting with a thing is something you do to discover the internal nature of that thing. This contrasts with the concept of ACTING with or on a thing, which is an EXTERNAL usage of a thing.


The case for PLAYERS and WORLD as analogous to CHANGE and STRUCTURE is less clear, but the key can be found in remembering that PLAYERS/WORLD are concepts appropriate for a game context, while a CHANGE/STRUCTURE model is intended to apply to a larger set of human behaviors. In this case, the concept of PLAYERS is a special case of CHANGE, while WORLD is a special case of STRUCTURE. CHANGE happens to be the word I used for the pole of the axis that describes how much or how little order/control a person needs or wants, but "freedom" and "opportunity" are also words that could convey this meaning... and these are all attributes that are unique to human players in a virtual world. Conversely, STRUCTURE/ORDER/BOUNDARIES are attributes of WORLD objects, which must all predefined by the game's creators.


As Artisans (External Change) demand to be free to manipulate the people in their environment as they will, Killers (ACTING on PLAYERS) won't play if they are denied power over other players. Socializers as game-specific cases of Idealists and Achievers as game-specific cases of Guardians follow the same interpretations.




Let's look at each of the types and temperaments, starting with the Rationals/Explorers.


Rationals play the same way they do everything else – they look for patterns behind the raw data. These can be patterns in space (as in geography) or patterns in time (as in morphology). Or they can be cause-and-effect patterns (entailment) or relationship patterns (connections). Ultimately, it's all about achieving a strategic understanding of the system as a whole thing.


Compare that to Bartle's description of Explorers: "The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence."


Socializers, meanwhile, are described as "… interested in people, and what they have to say. ... Inter-player relationships are important … seeing [people] grow as individuals, maturing over time. ... The only ultimately fulfilling thing is … getting to know people, to understand them, and to form beautiful, lasting relationships."


This sounds very similar to the Keirseian description of Idealists, who interact with other people as part of their lifelong journey of self-discovery. In a way, the highly imaginative Idealists are always roleplaying; they are constantly creating images of themselves (or others) that they feel they should model through their own actions.


Although Guardians can be very interested in forming relationships, they do so for very different reasons than the Idealist. For the Guardian, the world is an insecure place, so it’s necessary to protect oneself by accumulating material possessions… just in case. Thus the Guardian focuses on earning money, on buying nice things and maintaining them, on forming stable and formal group relationships, and generally on working hard to acquire possessions.


I see strong echoes of this motivation in Achievers. As Bartle puts it: "Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal" and "Achievers are proud of their formal status in the game's built-in level hierarchy, and of how short a time they took to reach it."


Finally, there are the Killers. These can be difficult to understand because most virtual worlds have encoded rules that marginalize their playstyle. However, they can be understood as distinct from the other player types through Bartle's description of them as ACTING on PLAYERS – in short, they enjoy manipulating the participants in the game. "Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others." He also points out that Killers "wish only to demonstrate their superiority over fellow humans, preferably in a world which serves to legitimise actions that could mean imprisonment in real life."


This aligns nicely with the Keirseian description of Artisans, who (as their temperament name suggests) delight in skillful manipulation of their environment. These are the tool-users, the combat vehicle pilots, and the negotiators par excellence. They instinctively find and exploit advantages in any tactical situation, and they express this need for dominance of their world in order to retain the greatest amount of personal freedom possible.


(But I have to say here that I wish we could use the term "Manipulators" rather than "Killers." Although player-killing as a griefing tactic is undesirable, there are aspects of the Killer personality that could add to a game world rather than detract from it if properly recognized and enabled through appropriate gameplay features. But we're not going to get there if the pejorative term Killer is used to describe those who excel at the tactical manipulation of their environment. So I'd prefer to use the term Manipulators, but I realize I'm fighting established convention here.)




One of the steps I had to take in evaluating this theory of a correspondence between player types and temperaments was whether I was merely seeing what I wanted to see. Was temperament theory my hammer, and Bartle's four player types a handy nail?


The obvious test is to think about a particular Bartle type and consider whether it might be equally or better applied to any other temperament. Take Explorers, for example. Although they can be people-oriented, they're not as interested in social interaction for its own sake as the Idealists. Nor are they so concerned with operations and maintenance or with position in a formal hierarchy as the Guardians are. And even though they will occasionally demonstrate great skill in manipulating people or things, unlike the Artisan they’d much rather discover knowledge than apply it.


A similar analysis can be conducted for the Socializers, Killers and Achievers. Although there are aspects of behavior and motivation common to many kinds of people, each of these three types has many more things in common with one of Idealist, Artisan, and Guardian temperaments respectively. Everyone socializes, but Idealists cannot not socialize; likewise, Artisans are the most natural Killers and Guardians can’t help but Achieve.


Finally, a word must be said about the idea of "temperament" and "personality type" overall. Nick Yee has consistently expressed strong doubt about the value of personality models that identify clusters of behavior patterns. Instead, he defends models that offer numerous behavioral preferences, any of which can be expressed simultaneously by anyone. While I believe there may be expressive value in the multiple-mode models Nick supports, he has so far not been willing to similarly endorse models that identify two axes of behavior and derive four "types" from the four quadrants… such as Bartle's player types or Keirsey's temperaments.


His technical doubts notwithstanding, I've personally found both the player types and temperament models to have expressive value. Each in its context has successfully helped me understand why people behave the way they do. Neither model perfectly represents the totality of human behavior, but what model ever can? I don’t need perfection, I just need good enough – and both Bartle's player types and Keirsey's temperaments have demonstrated repeatedly that they are good enough in explaining behavior to be useful, both analytically and predictively. If statistical rigor doesn’t back up this empirical finding, then there's something wrong with the design of the statistical test.


But that's my reaction. You should decide for yourself whether you think there's anything to either Bartle's types or Keirsey's temperaments, and if so whether I'm seeing something real when I perceive a congruence between the two models of personality.






Update: 2006/01/27


Thanks to Michael Chui at Terra Nova, I'm now aware of a possible correlation between these two four-fold models and Joseph Campbell's view of four Heroic types.


In this quote, Campbell describes four heroic archetypes from the Four Great Domains of mythology:


The four representatives, respectively, of human reason and the responsible individual, supernatural revelation and the one true community under God, yogic arrest in the immanent great void, and spontaneous accord with the way of earth and heaven -- Prometheus, Job, the seated Buddha, eyes closed, and the wandering Sage, eyes open -- from the four directions, have been brought together.

-- Joseph Campbell, Oriental Mythology, p. 33


With this, I think I can see a correspondence between these four heroic archetypes, David Keirsey's four temperaments, and Richard Bartle's four player types, as well as the descriptions of play given by Roger Callois and Nicole Lazzaro. The four objects of work observed by researcher John Holland fit into this model as well... and I even have some definitions of my own to describe the goals of actors in systems.


Here’s the overall set of correspondences I believe can be defended (updated 2007/05/23):










virtuoso action

Artisan (tactical)



serious fun



(manipulative sensation)

revelatory security

Guardian (logistical)



hard fun



(competitive accumulation)

reasoning individual

Rational (strategic)



easy fun



(logical rule-discovery)

self-actualized sufficiency

Idealist (diplomatic)



people fun



(emotional meaning)


I think a reasonable case can be made for these relationships. They share so many of the same fundamental concepts that it’s difficult not to believe there’s something of the "blind men identifying an elephant" happening here. Each person sees different aspects of the whole – in particular, gameplay scholars see gameplay-specific aspects of the more general personality type.


For example, Socializer behavior is a gameplay-specific subset of the kinds of behavior expressed by people with a predominantly Idealist temperament. The "Idealist" name got applied to that temperament because these are the folks whose internal motivation is always toward trying to approach some idealized perfect self. (Hence the "self-actualization" description.) In most cases this requires deep interaction with other people, either as a mirror of oneself or to feel better about oneself by helping others toward perfection.


So I see Socializers as special cases of Idealists in that socialization -- the forming and nurturing of emotion-based relationships as the path to self-fulfillment -- is the behavior most common to Idealists. And I see both of these as most closely related to the Buddha-hero through that determination they all share that peace through becoming better people is what matters most.


The other three hero-associations follow similar lines, so if you're not buying this, you won't like those other three, either. :-)


(Note 2007/05/23: I've added the Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist [GNS] model originally popularized by Ron Edwards to show how that model is yet another incarnation of the four-temperament personality model. The one change (which is why I refer to this model as "GNSE") is my addition of a fourth form, the Experientialist. This would be the type of gamer who plays to experience strong sensations. [This isn't entirely a stretch on my part; it actually corresponds to the "Butt-Kicker" player type suggested by Robin Laws as an alternative to the GNS model.] What's important to note here is that this isn't part of Edwards's original model -- it's something I’ve added to show how GNS, like the Bartle Types, fits into the larger view of gamer styles as context-specific expressions of general temperaments.)



A final note: I think one of the reasons we perceive Explorers as having Achiever characteristics is because there just aren't many examples of mass-market MMOGs that aren't strongly Achiever-oriented. To have fun in these games, you pretty much have to do Achiever things. I suspect that skews our self-representations. Because we see ourselves engaged in Achiever activities (since those are the only things that can be done), we conclude -- whether we're Explorers, Killers, or Socializers -- that we must be part Achiever.


If most games were Explorer-oriented, wouldn't Achievers, Killers, and Socializers conclude that they must be part Explorer? Is there a way this theory could be tested experientally (rather than through questionnaires)?


To conclude (and about time!), here's a last question: If most designers/developers are Explorers, why do they make games that are so tilted toward Achievers instead of making games that they themselves would enjoy playing? Or are most game designers/developers actually Achievers?





Richard Bartle: "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs",

Roger Callois: Man, Play, and Games (1961), discussed at

Ron Edwards: "Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist" Wikipedia entry (2003),

John L. Holland: Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments (1997),,

David Keirsey: Please Understand Me II (1998),

Robin D. Laws: Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering (2001),

Nicole Lazzaro at GDC 2006:

Nick Yee:,