February 9, 2011

Let's Categorize Gamers: Internal and External Explorers.

I was going to start this a different way, but then I realized that this works better in a dual-relationship sort of thing.  With RPGs, I'm realizing that there are two different types of personalities, that of course work more in a spectrum than just one or the other, but it something that exists.  On either end of the spectrum is essentially the kind of games I find exciting, and the kind of games the Boyfriend finds exciting. 

With most RPGs, in the traditional western sense and not exactly JRPGs (or at least not in my experience) there are the Internal Explorers and the External Explorers.  Some of you may have an idea about what I'm getting at, but since I'm blogging about it the whole point is explaining what I think.

The Internal Explorer is very interested in understanding the main character's motivations and goals.  This is the player who loves a deep detailed backstory that influences decisions later on.  This is also the player who is more likely to mingle with other characters in the world and make bonds with them, whether its romance or political allegiances or even declared enemies.  Through these relationships and past experiences, the main character will make choices and grow, making them a dynamic character reacting to social and emotional stimuli.

The External Explorer is more intrigued about the world around them.  The main character is a vehicle for the player to understand more of the material world around them.  Sometimes this is through fighting strange monsters and gaining rare treasures, sometimes it's a little more anthropological in the intrigue, finding out everything concerning history and traditions of the world around them.  The main character is more about discovering something grand and (mostly) tangible.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that you do some of both, which is why I suggest it's a spectrum.  There are a alot of players that do both, but very rarely does a player do both to so much detail due to just pure joy and not just because they're completionist, which applies more to video games then RPGs.  And I can understand using certain games to enjoy both sides of the spectrum.  As much as I consider myself more of an Internal Explorer, I prefer doing more External Exploration goals in Dungeons and Dragons or SLA.

I think the point is to be honest about what kind of game play you're actually doing, and knowing how in depth you want to be.  This is important as a gamer because if you know exactly what kind of experience you're looking for, it's easier to get it.  If you know you enjoy characters that have a tortured past, make sure that tortured past is something that works with the GMs world.  If you know you love rewarding your players with massive amounts of treasure, be upfront as a GM with you players about creating a materially motivated campaign.

This is not to say, however, that a game can only exclusively cater to one explorer or another.  Sure, there are games that are more linked to one of the other.  But with many games, RPGs or video games, you can easily cater to both.  The first example that comes to my mind is Dragon Age.  It is litered with rewards and surprised for both gamers.  The completionist External Explorer can find some of the best treasures, and rare goods with fantastic bonuses are in every level.  The Internal Explorer can communicate to all his or her compatriots and through befriending them gain bonuses.  And both  paths can change the story in monumental ways.

I think herein lies the challenge to many game designers:  Sure, you can easily make a game that caters specifically to one of these players on either extreme of the spectrum.  But it takes a very thoughtful designer to make a game that is fun and lets both types of players the discover the world both ways.

I'm writing this realizing I don't really have a conclusion for the end of this, but more of a suggestion.  For gamers, realize what kind of game play you prefer more, and the figure out how to use as a strength if it's part of your RPG style.  For designers, catering to both is going to be more profitable over time... why not explore these choices in games and reward smart players from either camp?  Let both the Internal and External Explorers have something to look forward to.  You may be surprised how appreciated this can be.

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