Game Design and the Challenge-Avoiding Impression Manager Player Type

Carrie Heeter, Brian Magerko, Ben Medler and Joe Fitzgerald

NOTE: This paper was selected by the program committee as a Meaningful Play 2008 Top Paper. It has been submitted to the Meaningful Play 2008 Special Issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS), which will be available in July-September 2009 issue. Due to the copyright requirements of the journal, only the abstract is available in the conference proceedings.

Extended Abstract

In this manuscript we propose that Challenge-avoiders, also referred to as Impression Managers, are a heretofore ignored but commonly occurring player type. We consider whether and how eight very different modern games accommodate Explorers, Challenge-seekers, and Challenge-avoiders and discuss implications for entertainment and learning game design.

Achievers and Explorers are player types found in MMOs and educational games (Bartle, 2006; Heeter and Winn, 2008). Achievers are motivated by extrinsic rewards such as leveling up and earning high scores. Explorers are motivated by intrinsic factors such as curiosity, role play, and learning. Mindset research and motivation research on learning both point to two distinctly different forms of extrinsic motivation (Lepper and Henderlong, 2000; Dweck, 2006). Dweck (2006) discovered that some learners have a Fixed mindset and others have a Mastery mindset. Fixed mindset learners avoid situations that they cannot easily do well at. Failure undermines their confidence and if they fail, they become depressed and ineffective. Having a Fixed mindset can undo a natural love of learning. In contrast, effort and learning make mastery-motivated students feel good about their intelligence; easy tasks waste their time rather than raising their self-esteem.

Gee points out that failing is part of playing a video game. Failure in video games "allow[s] players to take risks and try out hypotheses..." (p. 153). In fact, failing is a key mechanism in complex games by which players learn and improve. Players with a Fixed mindset (we will call them "Impression Managers") dislike failing and for that reason probably do not enjoy these kinds of games. Even if such players avoid complex games, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying easy successes and avoiding hard challenges in games for entertainment. However, in a learning game avoiding failure can interfere with learning. Perhaps because Impression Managers tend to opt out of playing complex games, player type research which has mostly been conducted on complex MUDs and MMOs has not identified them as a player type.

With the 8 games we analyzed, games tend to primarily serve either the Explorer or Achiever player type. Focusing on one of these player types (e.g. Explorers) often means that a game serves the opposite player type (e.g. Achievers) less well. Impression Managers are often but not always supported to some extent within the games, through user-selectable difficulty settings and other challenge-monitoring adaptive features.

A main take away from this work is that it is likely helpful for designers to be aware of the commonalities and differences between (as well as simply the existence of) the discussed player types. For example, Achievers learn as much as they can about a game to help them achieve more. If that learning does not connect back to achievement, Achievers will lose interest. Explorers learn as much as they can about a game because they are curious and like learning. Achievers and Impression Managers have extrinsic motivations in common. They both work towards rewards and judgments of their performance. This can alienate Explorers because they have to play through the same redundant challenges which restrains them from exploring. Since Impression Managers do not like extreme challenges (unless they succeed) and Explorers like to explore content at their choosing, games that provide easier means of progression through the game can work for both player types, but in doing so probably alienate Achievers.

Finally, another way that game designers may use understanding of player types is to introduce ways to change a player's motivation. The most logical instance of this would be to subtly nudge an Impression Manager into being more of an Achiever.