Understanding what drives different players can be difficult, and trying to establish what goes through their heads is a whole other challenge – but what if someone already did it for you? What if someone had already gotten into the majority of player’s heads and figured out what was there? Well, quite fortunately, someone already has, so there’s no reason to worry about doing the groundwork yourself.
Magic the Gathering is a trading card game that’s been around awhile. Most nerds and geeks who are worth their salt have probably dabbled at one point, and while you may not be interested, it’s important to consider Magic the Gathering in a lot of different contexts. For example, if you were working on something driven by RNG, you really ought to think about the nature of trading card games – and that inherent element that’s always intrinsic to them.
But Magic has a much greater application than just thinking about the factor of randomization. Indeed, the best thing about Magic the Gathering is that the creators have already gone and established their general conception of what your usual player’s draw to their game is – what their thought process is, and furthermore, what they seek out of the game in terms of satisfaction. Essentially, psyche profiles, by which are excellent lenses to view into the thought process of certain players.
Now it goes without saying that for the most part these are generalizations, but I think that they’re both accurate, and more importantly, a spectrum, and for those who are unacquainted, I’ve gathered some reading:
Now, these ideas don’t really need redefining, but I do both have my own views on them, as well as see the need to turn these examples into things which can more readily be applied to how any gamer might think about any game, be it a trading card game, a real-time spectacle fighter, a first person shooter, or whatever else might suit your needs.
The reason why Timmy, Melvin, and Vorthos are up front is because these three seem to me to be more highly related to each other than is usually implied. Very often, when someone from Wizards of the Coast writes about Timmy, they write about what are, very often, emotional associations.
Then, of course, when talking about Vorthos, they say he’s got a thing for certain associations, be it with the art of a card or more. Since these two are pretty easily muddled I feel like it’s better to let Timmy, a main sort of profile, be viewed as something which is more general, and Vorthos along with Melvin will be defined more strictly.
But Timmy, he’s there primarily to make emotional associations or relive them. It’s unfair to boil it down to Timmy maybe liking big numbers, maybe Timmy likes the theme of a certain faction when they win. The Wizards like to say he’s there for the journey, but I think that trait fits in better with another profile we’ll discuss later. Rather, I’d say Timmy is much more in tune with the moments along the journey. The high points.
In that aspect, a game like Overwatch or any other champion-based game plays heavily to Timmy-appeal. Different characters with wide backgrounds begs for a player to attach an emotional association with the characters it portrays, and they make Timmy feel good when Timmy wins.
A good example of Timmy is the non-hobbyist gamer trying a game such as a fighting game with a multitude of characters. Timmy might pick a character not because they’re useful, good, or anything like that, instead, Timmy simply picks because the character’s aesthetic stuck with them.
Perhaps, though, Timmy isn’t an entry-level opponent: perhaps they’re someone who’s actually quite decent, but they do have a certain soft spot for that one special character they’ve always liked. Maybe it’s their aesthetic, maybe it’s that one cool move they do, maybe it’s that after all this time they spent with them, they’re actually quite decent enough to pull things off with a sleeper hit.
In any case, it’s important not to look down on Timmy, but simply to respect and recognize Timmy for what they are: a part of most any gamer, at any level, who has formed an emotional association with something, and a gamer who wants to form those emotional associations.
In coming to a stricter definition of Vorthos, I think Timmy nails the majority of what Vorthos was, so instead I want to posit an alternative. Vorthos is the player who speaks the most to lore primarily, as the primary trait there speaks to an interest in story.
Which isn’t to say that Vorthos might not have an interest in aesthetics, it’s just the spectrum which Vorthos represents is more the appreciation of story telling, where it’s important to keep in mind especially with games that story telling comes across in a wide variety of ways, visual and auditory matters being a part of it.
To compare Vorthos and Melvin, we’re going to use an example from God Hand, where there is a fight with two male bosses. In the fight, one of the moves the player should have available to them (as there’s not much to replace it with early on) is Nut Buster, an attack that kicks the enemy in their groin.
Shifting back to the earlier mention of the boss fight, as you can imagine, these male characters ought to be vulnerable to the Nut Buster, and one of them is. The other isn’t, because he was hurt during ‘the war,’ and he’s simply not sporting a full package. Vorthos appreciates the story telling aspect of this and its consistency to the narrative in the agency the Vorthos has as a player of the game. Melvin, alternatively, appreciates the mechanical aspects of the sandbox in that he can target male characters in the family jewels, but his appreciation for the consistency of the narrative lends largely the mechanics of the interactions.
So if Vorthos plays to his preferences and associations, he’s really more of a Timmy, but in terms of what creates appeal for Vorthos, it’s largely story telling and his opportunity to experience it. Some might call them foolish in certain circumstances, but there is definitely a crowd who likes games for their stories, and their our Vorthoses.
As mentioned prior, Melvin appreciates more the mechanical aspects of certain things about games. In that way, while Vorthos might be more the story or character of an entity in a game, Melvin is more interested in the nature of how that entity interacts with the rest of the game world and its rules.
As these psyche profiles, to me, are largely a part of a spectrum, and a spectrum that I think a lot of, or at least a majority of players experience in their own at way, at their own time with their own experiences. Hence why, in a lot of ways, Timmy isn’t so much wholly inexperienced, as Timmy represents the hooked and what did it.
So for Melvin, I think it’s important to name a Melvin-moment, that moment when a player has a huge appreciation for either a single interaction a game might have, or a multitude, and what that interactions means or represents being a large part of that appreciation. For most people, I think the most common Melvin moment is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where the huge variety of the mechanical interactions, the majority of which were already things the Legend of Zelda games sported, and the freedom to utilize them where the player wished, is a Melvin moment.
Now, what might get done with it, that’s more Johnny’s spectrum, but for Melvin it’s a simple fact that it’s there at all, and he appreciates it. In that way, Melvin appreciates mechanics and their basis when he has an understanding in what caused them. For example, a game based on an authentic or realistic experience might still have certain abstractions, and when Melvin understands the nature of these abstractions and their purpose, he often appreciates them.
To say that when Melvin plays something, he might play channeling Timmy again, I think is only half-right. Melvin’s appreciating the context of the game’s systems and the experience it’s providing, and to say that Melvin might only play for in-depth experiences doesn’t feel like a wholly true statement either.
What Melvin definitely does play for, is that moment when he realizes he can do something, and what that something is, as well as how and why he can do it. He also plays because he likes certain games and their rulesets, how those rules interact and what situations arise as well as what those might represent, and Melvin appreciates an experience for what it might be attempting to be authentic too.
The explanation Wizards of the Coast provides for Johnny is fairly accurate in most scenarios and it’s easy to see Johnny anywhere. If playing any game at all is any form of self-expression, then how Johnny plays is an excellent place to display creativity and understanding of a complex system.
Since games have rules which are more akin to laws, Johnny’s form of self-expression can often easily be seen as an extreme, where there’s two primary questions: what if and why not. Because of Johnny’s understandings of the mechanical nature of games, there’s a good reason to stick any Johnny next to Melvin.
But while Melvin might respect a scripted event better and Vorthos might appreciate what it means, Johnnies everywhere probably feel a certain tinge of disappoint any time anything is one-off. When a multitude of different things can interact with one another in a variety of contexts is when Johnny’s interest is captured.
But Johnny appeal is interesting, because typically speaking when Johnny plays and does his thing, it’s usually such an interesting course of events that a wide variety of different profiles understand and appreciate the appeal. If we boil Timmy back down to the examples of big numbers, Johnny is probably teaching Timmy how to get there. If we look at Spike, the next example, Johnny might teach Spike the important lessons and interactions he needs to know to win.
This is probably because Johnny’s interest in self-expression and doing so in a complex way in order to demonstrate his creativity, a small fraction of Johnny’s flourish often results in a large swathe of interesting interactions to spring forth.
But it’s important to realize that while Johnny may not appear to be competing, they might be. Creative self-expression is a dubious matter because creativity itself is a competition: doing something new before someone else does is a race, and putting together new things which will prove both entertaining Johnny and an audience (because Johnny’s got showmanship, whether they admit it or not) requires intelligence.
In a way, Johnny’s channeling a lot of Spike, and usually Spike needs to likewise embrace Johnny to succeed, creating an interesting dynamic between the two concepts, similar to why it’s good to put Johnny ‘next’ to Melvin and Spike. That isn’t to say, however, that Johnny might not be above taking something of his and deciding to figure out how to make it work.
Spike is so simple, but so easily confused. That’s because Wizards of the Coast likes to paint Spike as someone who likes winning, and in the context of Magic the Gathering, that makes a bit better sense, but trying to put Spike into a different context and it becomes obvious that winning most definitely isn’t all of it.
What Spike is really about, is getting better. Not every game triggers a need in players to get better, and when they do it’s often not for the same reasons. Sure, competitive elements might improve an experience for Spike, but really, if they’re after it, a Spike can make anything into a competition, namely one of the purest ones, the matter of speed.
So in that essence, speedrunners are a good way to look at Spike, because it provides a multitude of different views. Maybe Spike might only play by certain rule sets of compete in certain types of runs, choosing to compete in some but not others because certain things appeal more to their sense of value.
So what Spike is really there for, is intrinsic value. When playing a game that’s an RPG, Spike doesn’t necessarily just want to get more powerful, Spike wants to get better at using that power, efficiently and effectively. What Spike doesn’t like is things that get in the way of getting better.
If you have a competitive online multiplayer game and any sort of connection issues impact the experience, that might very well steal from Spike’s appreciation of the value of said competition. If there’s not a clear route for Spike to get better, or they don’t understand how, Spike’s not going to maintain much interest, either.
For Spike, it’s definitely about progress, and while winning may be a part of it, the emotional association of enjoying something just because it happened lends itself back more to Timmy, because Timmy’s emotion that he won is what’s important, whereas Spike should truly appreciate what winning actually means, to himself and others, as both a validation of success and the capacity to adapt. So in that way, Spike enjoys the journey because of what it means to undertake it, both for where it leads, and the steps the path needs Spike to take.
Johnny’s impact on Spike, and Spike’s impact on Johnny, is again not to be understated. Because for Johnny, there might be a need to overcome the physical limitations of his skill to improve in a way that he might be able to express himself. For Spike, the nature of the interactions which Johnny might discover along his path to self-fulfillment will likely be useful tools for Spike to improve his repertoire, and at varying points in time, Spike might find himself the first to make his way onto a new frontier, emphasizing that he must embrace creativity and Johnny as well.
Since Wizards of the Coast themselves play at the idea of a wide variety of combinations between the various features these profiles represent, I think it’s so much easier just to express it as a spectrum, one where different combinations result in different approaches.
I don’t really talk about Vorthos might feel about story telling, for the reason that it seems obvious and doesn’t need (re)stated, since his feeling is largely that he’s interested and intrigued. When feelings start to influence the decisions in what he plays, that is when he shifts towards Timmy.
When Vorthos has an appreciation for how a certain element of story is expressed through mechanics, the blend between him and Melvin becomes obvious. When Johnny has an appreciation for a certain story that drives him to use something, and then decides to play that thing well, he clearly begins to represent the multitude of facets there.
So like colors can blend into a wide variety, the best way it seems to me to interpret these profiles is in those same, broad, yet oddly specific strokes. Perhaps you might see Timmy, Johnny, and Spike as RGB, and Melvin and Vorthos as brightness and saturation.
The matter of players experiencing these different profiles at different times seems to be an obvious: not everyone is going to find themselves emotionally invested in any one game, but everyone will probably find themselves emotionally invested a game on an individual level. Similarly, while not every game might draw out in everyone the need to be creative, or the urge to compete, most any game can, and no doubt different games can bring either of those out at different times.
Sometimes it’s just what people need at that moment, and other times it might be what they’ve always wanted. Sometimes something scratches an itch, and other things might cause it to get worse.