Originally posted November 2007
So I was thinking about the two main types of fantasy fiction: empowerment and disempowerment. That is, is the story about a hero that is consistently awesome, facing regular minor setbacks to allow development and chances to shine, or is the story about a hero that gets buried under hardships until finally scraping out at the last minute by overcoming nearly impossible odds? Enjoying one or the other usually depends on whether you’re willing to follow the protagonist into darkness in order to receive an even greater emotional thrill when he finally overcomes.
Then I realized that there were a few other fantasy styles, particularly in gaming, that didn’t exactly fit one or the other. Mystery stories typically feature a protagonist a step removed from the normal pull of the plot; whether the protagonist is empowered or disempowered is usually tangential to the throughplot of the narrative. Less common in fiction but more common in games is the tactical story; what’s good for the story takes a backseat to the cunning of the players, and whether they’re empowered or disempowered is completely up to their savvy in outmaneuvering the opposition.
And if all those are viable, the four styles seem to map loosely onto the four video gaming styles: achievers to empowerment (they like to succeed), socializers to disempowerment (there’s often more to roleplay and talk about when things are going poorly than when you almost always win), explorers to mysteries (it’s all about finding new things and noticing clues others have missed), and killers to tactical (it’s about outthinking the GM/rival players).
Which is all to say: I wonder if you can tell what kind of story-driven game a player will prefer if you know his or her Bartle type.