Monday, December 05, 2005

Personality types and RPGs

Over in Yudhishtira's Dice, Bradley Robins has written an interesting post on the Myers Briggs personality types and playing RPGs.

I don't put great faith in these classificatory schemes, as it seems to me that people are generally multi-faceted and the dominance of one facet over the others is really dependent on social context and therefore open to change. But perhaps these schemes can give us some broad outlines of a person's personality, and thereby help us to shed some light on a subject which is still covered in darkness: player preferences and how different preferences interact.

What I like most about Bradley's story is that he makes a difference between a person's overall personality type and their type as a roleplayer, taking into account that people may well sit to the table to play in a different frame of mind than they are usually in. Someone who is very Thinking in real life might want to Feel lots of emotions during play; someone who is very Introvert might want to take some rest from his introspection and be carried away by the wondrous world he enters.

At the end of his post, Bradly writes:

We need to get lots of other people to do this and talk about it and see what we can see.

So, let me try and give an MB-analysis of myself, my gaming personality and my characters.


I did a (probably very unreliable) MB-test on the internet, and was classified as INfj: Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judging. The respective strengths of the preferences are: 56%, 75%, 25%, 22%. (The lowercase latters were adopted by me to show the strenght of the preference.) A description of the INFJ type can be found here and here.

Do I recognise myself in this description? Yes - although we may wonder whether I would not have recognised myself in many of the other descriptions either. Impressively correct, though, is that the test reached the correct conclusion that I am an introvert who easily takes the lead in social situations. Anyway, we're not here to discuss the flaws and meritt of the MB-typology (yet), but to apply it and see whether we can learn something.*


But how do I sit down to the gaming table? What are my preferences, as a gamer? I'll use Bradley's typology here.

I/E: Introverts are those that approach a game primarily through their character. Extroverts are those who approach the game primarily through the world, setting, or situation. If you want to play in the world of Wheel of Time, you're going the E road. If you want to play a farmer who grows into a great leader, in whatever setting, you're going the I road.
I tend to be very uninterested in source material, except in so far as it gives me need ideas for thematically interesting characters or somehow reinforces the aspects of the character that I find interesting. So I'll call myself a clear Introvert here.

N/S: Intuitives are basically No-Mythers, and Sensers are big Mythers. If you want the game to focus on tangible, repeatable, discrete elements you're walking the road of S. If you're more interested in the concepts, themes, and abstracts of the game then you are embarking on the path of N.
This one is a bit harder. I like colour, really, even though I am rather bad at putting it in my game as a GM. (I'm a 75% Intuitive in real life, remember?) On the other hand, I tend to think of the colour as symbolically related to the theme of the story and I often think about scenes mostly in terms of their narrative function. I'll put it down as a mild N, but this is certainly open to revision.

T/F: This one changes very little between standard and game. If you think your way through game, want to focus on the logic, an intellectual appreciation, then you are on the Tower of T. If, otoh, you want game to be about feeling you way through, focusing on the emotionality, and having a gut level appreciation of game then you're on the ship of F.
When I sit at the gaming table, F is majorly dominant, much more so than in my general behaviour. I can enjoy games that I have to think through, but I'd rather have that game be chess or Go - or a CRPG - than a (pen and paper) roleplaying game.

J/P: Mo and I called this one Pressure (J) and Flow (P). Judging gamers want to hit it and quit it, they want discrete goals, short run games, quick closure, and games full of pressure that they can make statements about and through. Perceiving gamers want more flowing games, stories that flow into each other, long running campaigns, either no closure or closure that flows into a new story, and games that are about enjoying the flow rather than increasing the pressure.
Judge. No doubt about it. Keep the pressure on, give me short story arcs, closure, goals - absolutely!

Ok, so where does that leave us? Sitting down to the table, I've classified myself as InFJ when I start playing an RPG, whereas I am INfj in general. So there are differences: I'm more open to experiencing the sensory world, am less prone to abstract thinking instead of feeling, and like to make statements all the time. But none of the differences is a major difference.


Now, on to the characters I play! But - there is a problem here. I don't play all that many characters, since I am generally GameMastering. Hm... so I'll have to draw on very scant observations to see if I can actually make something of it. What makes them even scanter is that most of the character's I've player where before I started playing narrativistic RPGs, so they may not reflect my actual preferences.

These characters used to be very Introverted, keeping their own council. But the very few characters I've played recently were very Extroverted, spreading out all their thoughts and emotions as it were their laundry. And I think that if I were to make up a character now, he or she would always be extraverted. Why? Because that way you can make your thematic statements much more easily! Here's a theory that I'd like to discuss:

Narrativists with a Judging preference towards gaming will play Extroverted characters when they play in a game where narrativism is supported and encouraged, because it allows for easier expression. But they will play Introverted characters when they play in a game where narrativism is not supported, or even actively discouraged, because that way they can still make the statements - in their own heads.
Ok, what about the other three axes? I honestly don't know about Intuitive and Sensing - I'll go and ask advice about this distinction to Bradley or Mo. I think my characters used to be T because in-character reasoning with NPCs was one of the main ways to influence the game in our rules-lite days. But nowadays? I'm not all that sure, but I guess they'd be F at their core, since characters with an emotional core are more likely to lead to poignent scenes of drama. (My recent Breaking the Ice character was very much F. I also loved to play Masters in My Life with Master that were utterly F hidden behind a veil of rationalisations.) My characters are as Judging as I am, always ready to take a stance - because that way, something is going to happen! Heighten the stakes, make your choice and suffer the consequences...

Which would make my characters in general E?FJ.


Breakdown:

Life: INfj
Gaming: InFJ
Characters: E?FJ


Analysis:

The most interesting thing is the switch between strong I and strong E: I roleplay to express my inner thoughts and feelings, and to do that I need characters who express their inner thoughts and feelings and immediately act on them in a way that I would never do myself. I also highlight any predisposition I might have towards Feeling - I generally roleplay for the drama that is so sadly and also so happily lacking from real life - and towards Judging - because I want to drop subtlety and do things and experience consequences. The Intuition/Sensing scale is still obscure.


Now I'll have to make the people I play with do the same!


* Perhaps the fact that INFJ is the rarest of types makes me more inclined to believe that it describes me. We all like to be special, don't we? :-)

5 comments:

  1. Heya Victor!

    Thanks for doing this! The more people give me data the more clearly I can see the places where I screwed up.

    Let's start with the N/S divide:

    I think you're right on that you're an N. The S/N divide isn't really about color, most RPGers like color. It's more about the kind of color you like, I think. If you like your color to be full of small details that can be encountered and interpreted in a naturalistic way you're looking at S. But when, as you put it "I often think about scenes mostly in terms of their narrative function" I think you're looking very N.

    I, btw, am almost exactly the same as you on that point. I also had a lot of consternation about my characters being N or S. In the end I went with S because, I think, of my early training in gaming that was very sim focused. At some level my characters are all about experiencing the world they live in through their senses and about discovering and exploring details of their landscape. However, I'm a BIG N person and BIG N player – I think in terms of concepts, dramatic functions, and themes. So my result in game is that I think function, want function, and generate detail mostly at the character level. Even as a GM I mostly handle the "fine detail" of a setting as introduced through the drama of the situation. The intricacy of the tea-ceremony, for example, isn't going to be important unless it means something to the story.

    Second, your IIE sounds very much to the type of other IIE's I've been talking to. My wife and Claire (from Yud's dice) both said things very similar to you about that focus. So I think we may be onto something there. (I also think it will be a pretty common and solid type, mostly easy to play with.)

    Now as to your statement about Nar and I/E… that may be true of J types. It's hard for me to judge that yet. It seems to be true of me, however, so I'll certainly pay attention to it as I get more data. My wife, however, is a big P type, and she says that she does almost the opposite (go figure, a P being opposite a J…) In games where Nar play is encouraged and supported she sometimes plays I characters because she knows that their internal problems will be supported and enabled by the game in a way that doesn't make her force them out. In non-Nar games, however, she feels forced to play an E character because in those games she has to have loud characters in order to have a voice in the game.

    So, I think that there may be two responses available on that axis, both of which have to do with what you do/change in your play when you play in a game that lets you make big choices and when you play a game that doesn't. Certainly something to think about!

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  2. Hi Bradley,

    Thanks for clearing up the N/S divide - I think I'll write down both myself as a gamer and my characters as N, though the latter is less clear to me. I simply may not have played enough characters to decide.

    Yes, the IIE stuff seems very common sense. I expect future data to show this pattern very often.

    I'm very curious to hear more about the I/E + Nar issue as more reports will be coming in. Could be really interesting.

    Another point that comes to mind, but which might be pretty important: it may well be possible to play characters that are undefined on one of the axes. A player may not know about certain aspects of his character's personality, and if the issue never comes up during play the character has no position on the scale. I remember, for instance, a character one of my players once played in a Sorcerer campaign. She had gone quite mad with rage, didn't really want to talk to anyone, but wanted to exact her revenge upon the world indiscriminately. Was she an introvert or an extrovert? I honestly don't know, and I'm not sure the question even makes sense. (This player tends to play characters that are somehow alienated from and opposed to society, and as far as I understand the distinction the I/E divide doesn't really come up here.)

    Any thoughts about that?

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  3. Victor,

    I think you're right. I've played a lot of characters whose NS I don't have a clear idea about. Also, in many "mission oriented games" (like Spycraft 2.0) I think all characters will be Js just to be functional in the environment. What they are outside of the "mission" environment you might not have any idea.

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  4. OT, re: Jungian personality typing

    Nobody talks about this, but it's useful--

    The last scale (Judging or Perceiving) specifically tells you which of the two middle scales is more relevant.

    For example, as an INFJ: You value making decisions (J) more highly than collecting information for its own purpose (which would be P); and you prefer to make those decisions by a subjective process (F) rather than an objective one (which would be T).

    Jung actually only distinguished among 8 personality types, rather than the modern 16; for him the question of whether you collect information primarily objectively (S) or subjectively (N) is simply not relevant.

    He'd expect there to be as little difference between you and someone who tested ISFJ as between you and another INFJ, in other words.

    Conrad.

    ps - Of course, and as you point out, to the extent one thinks there are more than 16 types of person in the world, one ought to consider this theory, at best, incomplete.

    Hmm... I've really been commenting on your archives this morning...

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