Bartle Test II

My friend Norman‘s response to my previous post on the Bartle Test prompted me to write a quick explanation of the test. For one thing, he referred to the whole thing as being related to games, which isn’t necessarily true at all. For another thing, he wanted to know what one can learn from it.

First, let me quickly quote Greg Costikyan, a fairly prominent game designer, because I once came across a quote of his that sums up the qualities of a game better than any others I’ve seen or could come up with:

A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make
decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the
pursuit of a goal.

– Greg Costikyan, “I Have No Words & I Must Design”

The key here is that a game must fulfill all of the above qualities in order to be a game — if it doesn’t, it’s not a game, it merely has aspects of a game1. Most importantly, though, games need goals.

The Bartle Test, however, isn’t about games, it’s about virtual worlds. A virtual world — call it a pretend world if you want — isn’t a game, it’s not something to do, it’s a place. Technically the term is vague enough to describe any sort of place, a game world, or just your personal perspective on the physical world we share2.

It’s important to realize that a game world is not a game. It’s merely a world created with the intention of playing a game in. Take the world of monopoly, for example. It’s a fictional, stylized world of real estate trading. The goal of the game is to get all other players to give up, which you achieve by manipulating your player figure, the houses, money and game cards according to certain rules. The form of the player figure, the fact that your resources are represented by houses and money, and the exact phrasing of game card’s contents are part of the world. The exchange of some tokens (money) for other tokens (houses, street cards), the fact that that some of the players’ actions (landing on an owned street) lead to exchanging tokens (money) amongst each other, all that is part of the game. Phrased differently, for games such as monopoly, the game world sets a theme for the game mechanics.

  1. Go to his site, and read some of his articles, because I’m not going to explain the details here. []
  2. That’s my take on the term, I’m fairly certain Bartle would dispute that at least a little. []