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Review: World of WarCraft: Illidan

Illidan: World of WarcraftIllidan: World of Warcraft by William King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was but a stripling, I used to dive into fantasy books and read them (devour them, really) in a single sitting. It was the best feeling in the world, to be so absorbed into a book that you only pull yourself away to change position on your bed or to take a bathroom back before diving right back into it. It’s a sort of reading I don’t get to do as often these days, whether because reading over one’s lunch break necessitates keeping one eye on the clock so you’re not late or because prolonged exposure to the Internet has shortened my attention span to the point where I can only dive in the shallowest of intellectual waters.

Regardless, “Illidan” was a return to those early days. I read it cover to cover and had a great time while I did.

Let me get a few things out of the way, however. Yes, this is a video game fiction tie-in novel. No, it doesn’t actually pass my personal litmus test for tie-in fiction (that the story be accessible enough that you can read it and enjoy it without being a fan of the game). Yes, that makes me horrifically inconsistent. No, I don’t care, because I’m not getting paid to do this and if you want foolish consistency, go find a hobgoblin. This book is for fans of the game. If you haven’t played World of WarCraft, particularly if you haven’t played the first expansion “the Burning Crusade,” you can skip this one. It’s an amazing WarCraft novel, but it’s a middling fantasy novel. There are plenty of other middling fantasy novels out there; I’ve even read and reviewed some of them. Feel free to keep scrolling.

For those that are still here, as I said, I loved this book. It’s the best damn WarCraft novel yet to be published; let me explain why.

Let’s rewind to 2007. It was a different era, to be certain. Bush II was still destroying the country and we were all blissfully unaware that the Great Recession was just around the corner. World of WarCraft had begun to measure its success as a video game not in how many units had been sold or how many subscribers were playing, but by its body count of how many players were so enthralled that they died playing it because they forgot to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. When the Burning Crusade expansion was launched, we, the brave heroes of Azeroth, fought off a demonic invasion and plunged through the Dark Portal into the strange realm of Outland. After fighting through the demonic invasion, we . . . then proceeded to wage war against the minions of a guy whose in-game class was entirely devoted to hunting and killing demons, a guy who’d always been, in the previous WarCraft game, a misunderstood anti-hero who, while often seeming a villain, usually was TRYING to do the right thing. Wait, what?

In the years since, the developers at Blizzard have acknowledged that the story in the Burning Crusade expansion was thin. And it was, indeed, paper thin. Characters that were playable heroes and well liked in the previous game (WarCraft III) are suddenly villains and raid bosses, for seemingly no reason better than “just ’cause.” What could have been a tragic and compelling story (having to fight those characters despite identifying with them) instead becomes a joke when the answer to the question “why are we killing these guys” is “because we want their stuff.” A thin story, indeed, and you can tell the lesson was taken to heart because the next expansion went out of its way to give you reasons to want to take down its final boss, the Lich King.

So, “Illidan” the book creates a storyline about what’s happening with the pseudo-final boss of the Burning Crusade to explain what he was doing while waiting around for us to kill him. It also takes several of the more strange elements that went unresolved in the game storyline and creates compelling justifications for them, in particular explaining why, despite the fact that we saw Illidan training new demon hunters, we only ever encounter one of those demon hunters as a raid boss.

The fact that the book manages to take that old game experience and create a new, interesting context feels, well, rather magical. Rationally, I know that this is all retcon; a complicated bit of storytelling judo to try and make a narrative out of the tangled, inconsistent disjointed experience of the original game narrative. However, even though I know it’s all retcon and I know that the game designers weren’t planning any of this when they made that storyline, “Illidan” manages to create explanations that feel amazingly seamless. It fits together like a puzzle piece and the revelations have actually improved my memories of that ancient expansion. It felt rather magical, honestly.

There are still plenty of flaws in the book. Although the book spends most of its time on its own narrative, the beginning and ending are set to the events of WarCraft III and the Black Temple raid, and you can absolutely feel the shift when the game narrative takes the driver seat, and not for the better. The dialogue for WarCraft III in particular has aged horrifically and feels stilted and unnatural. Unfortunately, no amount of word judo can make those pieces fit into the puzzle, but thankfully they’re rather rare.

So while Illidan doesn’t begin or end on a strong footing, it still manages to satisfy when allowed to tell its own story. It does an amazing job of building excitement for the upcoming Legion expansion and in particular makes me eager to play the new demon hunter class. And so, while it has plenty of flaws and is by no means a perfect book on its own, I can’t help but feel that this is the best WarCraft book I’ve read. As for the rating and how I justify this one, we’ll just say that we’re grading on a curve.

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Review: World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King

World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher KingWorld of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King by Luke Cuddy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up after a friend recommended it to me in the wake of my review of “Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved.” While I think this concludes my foray into pop culture philosophy for a while, I did enjoy this book considerably more than “Halo Philosophy.” The nature of MMOs as shared simulated spaces (alliteration intentional!) invites several intriguing discussions, especially with regards to the metaphysical. Furthermore, so much of what makes MMOs interesting is the people that play them, and even though a first person game like Halo is also multiplayer, it’s really in the MMO space that one can seriously consider questions of character, identity, and self.

As you might expect, not every essay in this book is going to impress, but there are some true gems. In particular, the essays on the relationship between the character and the self really intrigued me. I’ve played a wide variety of characters over the year, including characters of an opposite gender. Thus, I paid particularly close attention to the essay written by a male player who, rather unintentionally, “toured” as a perceived female gamer for several months.

Is this a book I’d recommend to a non-WoW player? Eh, probably not. The authors generally do a good job of not relying “too” heavily on the game terms, but the largest appeal of these pop culture/philosophy books is how the content of your favorite game (or show, or movie, or whatever) can become the fuel for a philosophical discussion. If you’re not already a WoW player, I’m not sure why you’d be interested in picking up a book about it. That said, this is a very solid philosophy primer and if you’re an MMO player (of any game, really), you’ll find something to mentally gnaw on.

Quick aside: it was a little silly, but I really enjoyed the chapters presented in WoW’s “0/1” quest tracker style, as well as the “+3 to intellect” for completing the chapter. It was a fun bit of attention to detail.

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Azeroth Choppers Review

You might have noticed that I spend a lot of posts talking about motorcycles. I also spend a lot of posts talking about video games. Thus, it seems natural that I’d have an opinion on Azeroth Choppers, the web series that follows (some of) the Orange County Choppers crew as they make two bikes themed for World of WarCraft.

You’re right, I do have an opinion. Buckle up (or put your helmet on, since motorcycles don’t have seatbelts) and get ready, because I’m going full-bore nerd here.

So here’s the basic idea for the uninitiated who don’t play WarCraft. The (former) Orange County Chopper guys build a bike matching the theme for the two different player factions, the Alliance and the Horde.

If you ever watched Orange County Choppers when it was on the air, this was their whole schtick. A client would request a custom chopper to promote .  . . whatever and the crew would spend the entire episode designing it and building it and then finally showing it off to the client.

The early seasons were very much in the same vein as all the other “look at this cool job” reality shows. And to be honest, it really was cool seeing how custom motorcycle design works.

But along the way, the Reality Show Curse took hold, possibly because aside from the different designs, once you’ve seen how their build a bike a few times, the formula stays pretty much the same. So they decided to focus on the drama of bike building, which meant lots of arguing, lots of squabbling, etc. You can probably guess what point I stopped watching.

So now the makers of WarCraft decide they want custom bikes. And they want their players to vote for one of the bikes to be turned into an in-game item and given to players of that faction for free.

So when it’s all said and done, one half of the player base will get a free motorcycle in the video game that’s based on the real motorcycle that was built.

This is an incredibly terrible idea.

More specifically, it’s an incredibly terrible idea because of Blizzard’s own decisions about the value of digital content.

Collecting “mounts” is a big aspect of World of WarCraft. Mounts are exactly what the name implies: they are things that you can ride so you move through the game world. In the early days of the game, mounts were limited to things like horses, wolves, tigers, and other things that could increase your travel speed on the ground. Eventually, more fantastic mounts like dragons and phoenices were added so that players could fly through the skies.

They even added a motorcycle at one point.

The reason why mounts are a big deal is that they’re some of the game’s biggest status items. They’re the most coveted. Armor and weapons are cool and improve your character’s power, but those things don’t persist in value. You replace them constantly. Today’s legendary sword is tomorrow’s useless trash.

But mounts are pure vanity. Technically, your first ground mount and your first flying mount are the only two mounts you’ll ever need. There’s no real difference between flying around on a winged eagle-lion or a dragon, except that a dragon is amazingly cool looking. So everyone wants one.

Mounts are usually hard to get, rare items that require extraordinary luck, time, or both. And then Blizzard decided to starting selling them.

The ability to buy a mount debuted relatively late in WoW’s lifespan, during the Wrath expansion. Prior to that, the only way to get a mount was to play the game and earn it.

The first “for sale” mount was the celestial steed, often denigrated as “the sparkle pony.” For $25, you could equip your characters with a sort of glowing translucent blue version of an astral horse. The horse could also fly.

Keep in mind that this horse doesn’t fly faster or anything. It’s just like every other flying mount, including the other flying horses already in the game. You’re not getting a material advantage by buying the sparkle pony. It’s purely a vanity item, just like every other mount.

They’ve added more mounts since then, including a vampire bat, a dragon that changes colors (which I did buy, to my shame, because I’m a sucker for dragons) and most recently a two-headed dragon-ish thing (that I didn’t buy because of the incredible buyer’s remorse I had over the first dragon). All of these mounts are functionally just new models. New things to look at.

On their own, they don’t cause any harm, except for the buyer’s remorse factor that I felt. They don’t hurt the game. Ignore them if you don’t want one. They’re optional.

Here’s why this Azeroth Choppers thing is a stupid idea.

Throughout the entire course of the game, the developers have created the idea that mounts have value. Mounts have value. Initially, that value was represented by playing time and dedication. You had to run the toughest encounters, kill the toughest monsters, or get incredibly lucky to even have a chance at one of these.

Or you had to invest lots of time getting in-game money to buy one. It all worked to create the perception of value. More rare mounts were perceived as more valuable, simply because of that rarity.

The ability to spend actual money to buy a mount further reinforced this perception that mounts have value, especially because now they literally have value. $25 dollars per mount. If you’re an OCD mount collector, get ready to spend over a hundred bucks . . . you know, in addition to playing the subscription fee and all.

Mounts have value. They have value in terms of time, luck and/or actual money. This is the system that has been in place since the game first launched in 2004 (although I think mounts weren’t actually added to the game until 2005, it’s hard to remember. Doesn’t matter, they’ve been around for a long time).

And now we get to the heart of why Azeroth Choppers fails at its objective.

The idea was that although two motorcycles would be created, only one would be added to the game. That motorcycle would only be available to characters of that particular faction.

For the players of the other faction, they’ll get zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Sure, they could create a character on the other faction if they really want a free motorcycle so badly, but let’s be realistic. Most players have a group of players that they’re invested in. Playing both sides isn’t very common. You have your favorite character, you “main” character. And that character may not be on the side that gets a free motorcycle.

So half the players get something and the other half get nothing.

What does that accomplish, exactly? The players on the losing side feel shafted. They feel shafted specifically because the entire concept of the mount is built around the socially engineered concept that mounts are valuable. Mounts are $25 dollars.

So you, winning player, here’s a free $25 dollar thing. Enjoy. But you, losing player? You get nothing. Have fun.

This is a terrible fucking strategy. It would have been less shitty if mounts weren’t constructed around this idea of value, but they are. If the winning motorcycle had been made available to both sides, it would be less shitty, because then everyone gets something equally. Sure, the losing faction doesn’t get “their” motorcycle but they’re still getting $25 worth of value.

Most reactions seem to be that there’s no way Blizzard will enforce the competition aspect of this whole stunt. I’ve read a lot of opinions that suggest the winning motorcycle will be free to that faction and the losing one will be available in the real-money store, presumably for $25.

If anything, that idea is even stupider, a tax on the players who aren’t on the winning side. Not to mention; how many people really want to spend $25 on something that says, hey, remember that your side lost. This whole competition idea completely damages the perception of value for the item that they themselves spent money to build!

This entire thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt, which it was. Presumably, it was supposed to generate good publicity . . . which it didn’t. The concept was flawed from inception. If they really intend not to give everyone a bike, their own model of perceived value bites them in the ass.

If they change their minds and say, sure, bikes for everyone now, why the hell didn’t they just do the entire promotion like that from the beginning? The entire spectacle is based around the idea that “one bike goes into the game” and “the losers get nothing.”

Yes, the game is built around conflict. But now that you’ve taken that perception and turned it into something tangible, it’s no longer fun. Now it just feels mean-spirited. It doesn’t matter that Blizzard didn’t choose the winner, the players did. For players of the losing faction, they get to be exactly that. You guys are the losers. Enjoy playing your game, losers. Have fun being losers.

That’s . . .  not really a great feeling to instill in half your customer base.

On one final note: it really annoys me to hear everyone referring to the three-wheeled motorcycle as a “bike.” A three-wheeled motorcycle is not a bike. It’s a trike.

This annoys me both as a rider and as a fan of the English language.

The Psychology Of WoW Classes

I’ve been promising to write about this for a while, but I needed time to let the idea percolate in my head and even more time to write out this monster of a post (over 2,000 words). I’ve learned quite a bit reading the comments from my MBTI/RPG class post that caused me to revise my opinion quite a bit.

It was a mistake to try and correlate MBTI type and class preference with such specificity. While it was a fun exercise, it had no actual application to reality. Players are too diverse and tastes vary widely. It’s impossible to separate the reasons people play a particular class into purely aesthetic or mechanical considerations, not to mention the number of players for whom novelty and trying something different are the standards rather than the exceptions.

With that said, I’d like to take another look at MBTI and RPG correlation, but from a different perspective: that of the various kinds of classes in an MMO setting. The other major difference is I’m not going to try and pigeonhole one type or even one Keirsey temperament. Instead, I’m going to look at how the three primary roles of the different World of WarCraft classes and how each appeals to each temperament in different ways.

A Brief Overview of the Four Temperaments

SJ Guardians: ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ESTJ

Keirsey defines Guardians as having the following characteristics:

  • Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
  • Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
  • Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
  • Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.

SP Artisans: ISFP, ESFP, ISTP, ESTP

Keirsey defines Artisans as having the following characteristics:

  • Artisans tend to be fun-loving, optimistic, realistic, and focused on the here and now.
  • Artisans pride themselves on being unconventional, bold, and spontaneous.
  • Artisans make playful mates, creative parents, and troubleshooting leaders.
  • Artisans are excitable, trust their impulses, want to make a splash, seek stimulation, prize freedom, and dream of mastering action skills.

NF Idealists: INFJ, ENFJ, INFP, ENFP

Keirsey defines Idealists as having the following characteristics:

  • Idealists are enthusiastic, they trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, prize meaningful relationships, and dream of attaining wisdom.
  • Idealists pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic.
  • Idealists tend to be giving, trusting, spiritual, and they are focused on personal journeys and human potentials.
  • Idealists make intense mates, nurturing parents, and inspirational leaders.

NT Rationals: INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ENTP

Keirsey defines Rationals as having the following characteristics:

  • Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
  • Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
  • Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
  • Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

Now that we’ve identified the main characteristics that are core to each temperament, let’s see how these translate into the different class roles in WoW.

Tanking

Classes: Blood Death Knight, Guardian Druid, Protection Paladin, Protection Warrior, Brewmaster Monk

It’s easy to see why the tanking role appeals to Guardians; it’s even in their temperament name! In WoW, the Tank is responsible for guiding his or her teammates safely through the dungeon. The Tank stands on the front line and takes the hits from the monsters that would drop a more fragile character. The well-being of the group depends on the Tank to perform his or her job well. Without a strong Tank, the group will fall apart. The Guardian thrives in a social environment where their natural dependability is a strong asset and the Tank role demands exactly that.

For an Artisan, I believe that tanking will appeal for a very different reason. Artisans will focus on the fact that tanking is one of the most exciting and dynamic roles. A Tank is right in the monster’s face and often has to react quickly to changing situations, lending itself to a high-adrenaline and exciting playing style. A good Tank needs to be quick on his or her feet and troubleshoot problems, which fits well with an Artisan’s preference for an intense, high-energy playing style.

Idealists are Tanks for reasons similar, at first glance, to those that motivate Guardians. Idealists are naturally cooperative and value the well-being of those they hold in their regard. The Guardian, however, will approach the Tanking role with the mindset of, well, a guardian. “The safety of the group is my responsibility.” An Idealist, on the other hand, will be more concerned with the well being of the group in an abstract sense. “If I do my job well, everybody is having more fun” is what guides an Idealist who has chosen to Tank.

Rationals, like their name suggests, are drawn to complexity and anything that stimulates their problem solving abilities. Although it might seem like the role of Tank requires nothing more than standing in front of a monster while it hits you over and over, in truth, Tanks often have the most complex job of any role. They must understand a particular encounter better than any other class and need to be able to know when to move, when to use special abilities, when to react, and many other intricacies. Although all roles are expected to know the details of an encounter in order to succeed, for tanks, understanding the encounter is essential. This natural complexity and the required understanding to succeed make tanking very appealing for the Rational.

Healing

Classes: Holy Priest, Holy Paladin, Restoration Shaman, Restoration Druid, Mistweaver Monk

Guardians who prefer a less intense, less in-your-face playing style (particularly those who are Introverts rather than Extroverts) may favor Healing instead of Tanking. Guardians prize gratitude and playing a Healer is often a rewarding experience for exactly that reason. Healers are always in demand and a good Healer will be valued and appreciated by the group. Healers provide stability and cohesion to a group, which are also valued traits to a Guardian. Again, the primary difference between the Guardian’s motivation and the Idealist’s is that for the Guardian, the task takes on the aspect of duty and responsibility. “I am the Healer. I’m responsible for keeping everybody alive.”

Although Healing is usually a more reactive than proactive role, there are moments of heart-stopping intensity that provide the thrill Artisans crave. Certain encounter will tax the Healer’s abilities or the Tank will take a beating and come within an inch of dropping and these scenarios provide adrenaline rushes as the Healer reacts quickly to resolve. There’s a visceral thrill in snapping off a large healing spell at just the right moment and Artisans can certainly appreciate that.

For Idealists, the Healing role is a natural fit (one of the Idealist types, INFP, is even called the Healer). The act of restoring and supporting one’s party fits well with the Idealist’s motivating desire for harmony. Healers watch over their parties much like Tanks do, but they don’t take the center stage or have all the focus directly on them, which is appealing to the Introverted side of the Idealist Temperament. More than any other role, however, Healers represent the ability to increase the enjoyment of other party members. Finally, from an aesthetic perspective, Healing fits well with the Idealist’s tendency towards kindness more so than hitting something in the face with a hammer (like the Tank) or setting it on fire (like the DPS).

The Rational again finds complexity in the Healer role that stimulates his or her intellect. Healers cannot be measured by raw statistics the way a DPS can, but there are other considerations a Healer must juggle that creature interesting scenarios for the Rational. Triage is an important skill of a healer; knowing when and how to use one’s best resources can often be the difference between success and failure. Healers must also be wary of overhealing, which represents a loss of strategic resources and so must employ their abilities carefully.

The DPS (Damage Per Second)

Class: Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Warlock, Arms Warrior, Fury Warrior, Retribution Paladin, Feral Druid, Balance Druid, Frost Death Knight, Unholy Death Knight, Elemental Shaman, Enhancement Shaman, Shadow Priest, Windwalker Monk

A dead monster is one that can’t hurt anyone. The Guardian might favor DPS as an extension of the maxim, “the best defense is a good offense.” Whether it’s dropping monsters with a fireball or stopping them dead with an arrow shot, the Guardian DPS player can maintain his or her party by unleashing the greatest firepower possible. Alternatively, the Guardian might play DPS because of all the roles, as evidenced by the list of potential classes, it’s the largest. The Guardian DPS might enjoy staying out of the spotlight that Tanks and Healers experience and instead be able to focus on doing his or her job dutifully and reliably. Good DPS is the backbone of the team and the Guardian, who enjoys being exactly that, can find his or her niche in this role.

Artisans approach the DPS role with a completely different attitude. For an Artisan, the DPS represents the chance to engage in intense, exciting, action packed gameplay. Instead of getting bashed on by a monster or watching health bars, the DPS Artisan is flinging huge fireballs or spinning blades at foes. DPS Artisans appreciate the big numbers; there’s nothing more thrilling than a huge critical strike or seeing one’s performance at the top of the DPS meter. Even though the group is working together, among DPS there is often competition to do the most damage. A DPS who tops the charts with his or her performance is going to feel like a rock star. It’s easy to imagine the Artisan’s attraction.

The Idealist’s reason for choosing DPS may be more nebulous than other temperaments. An Idealist DPS player might choose the role because of the different class archetypes spark the Idealist’s imagination and allows him or her to step into the fantasy of being a powerful wizard or knight. Alternatively, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS role for reasons shared by the Guardian and dropping foes efficiently helps the party have more fun. Finally, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS because it represents a change of pace from how the Idealist might normally be in a group context.

The Rational’s desire for mastery can be satisfied by the DPS role, especially in a class that requires a high level of skill to play effectively. DPS classes are dependent on using skills and resources effectively to produce more damage; this is often referred to as the “rotation” and mastery of it is critical to be successful. A Rational will enjoy figuring out the optimal rotation and mastering its execution. Alternatively, a Rational might enjoy the optimization aspect of a DPS role and balance different stats and equipment to create a superior character build.

This brings us to the end of the psychology of MMO classes. Some of my comments have been based on my own experiences, although most are derived more from observation of other players. There are likely many things that I missed for each class, but I hope that this broader approach to the subject of type and class will succeed where the previous attempt failed.

Finally, in writing this post, while my thesis is that any type can enjoy and do well at any role, I found that some types were much easier to place than others. It is my assertion that some types lend themselves better to some roles than others; call it a better fit, if you will, though it is not a pigeon-holing. Some players will always defy the norm and choose something explicitly because it’s strange or unique.

Here are my suggestions for the “best fit” for each role:

Tank: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational

DPS: Artisan and Rational

Healer: Guardian, Idealist

You’ll notice that this distribution is not necessarily balanced; all four temperaments are “best fit” with the Tank, for example. There’s also an inverse in the number of temperaments vs. the number of classes. Although DPS is the largest percentage of any group and has the largest number of classes dedicated to it, it has fewer temperaments than the more rare Tanking role.

I based this arrangement purely on my own opinion based on how easy or difficult it was to determine why a particular type might favor one role over another. It was easy for me to articulate why each temperament would have a best fit with the Tank role, but I had a difficult time determining the motivation for an Idealist to choose DPS.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this completely non-scientific look at this topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments and let me know where you believe I got it right . . . or wrong. Thanks for reading.

Myers-Briggs And RPG Classes

Buckle up, because I’m about to go full nerd in this post. This will be your only warning.

I have something of a fascination with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its variant the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. The Keirsey is my favorite between the two; I like his methodology after having read his book. My interest in typology comes not from a true scientific basis (I’ve heard it said that typology has as much scientific accuracy as a fortune cookie) but from the perspective of a writer. I spend a lot of time thinking fictional personalities and archetypes and the MBTI and KTS provide a language to facilitate such discussion.

One way this interest has manifested itself is an attempt to correlate MBTI results with character classes in roleplaying games, both tabletop and virtual. Although RPGs encourage you to create and be whoever and whatever you desire, I have found in my gaming career that most, if not all, players will trend towards a few particular archetypes. Some will play the same type of character repeatedly while others will choose from a small but interconnected pool.

There are two particular factors I’ve noticed that motivate these choices: archetype and mechanics. Archetype refers to the fantasy and storytelling aspect of a particular character: wizards are brilliant and studious, rogues are, well, roguish and devil-may-care, etc. A person may be drawn to a character because he or she enjoys the style, perhaps because it synchronizes well with one’s own internal version of the idealized self. In this example, what the character does in the game is secondary to what the character is in the fantasy context.

The second factor is the mechanical aspect. This is the inverse of the archetype aspect. A player operating from this perspective prefers characters that perform a certain roll or function within the context of the game. It might be a preference for characters with a wide variety of options, lending itself to versatility, or it might be a character that plays a vital role, such as defending more vulnerable characters. The archetype of the character is only important if it informs what the character can do. The player will choose a villainous death knight over a heroic paladin if it turns out the death knight’s abilities make it better at protecting others.

I’m planning on writing more posts about this subject, particularly after I can gather some actual research data on what characters people play and compare that to self-reported MBTI types. So far, I’ve been able to poll my weekly D&D group, which is hardly a conclusive sampling. I’m hoping that this post will lead to more information so I have something to followup with.

I also have my hypothesis on how I assume the class/type arrangement will be. It can vary by game to game, of course, and I may end up writing up arrangements for a few different popular RPGs. The archetype aspect is the easier of the two aspects to arrange in this way. I may try doing the mechanical aspect in the future.

For this chart, I’m going to go with the “default” assumptions of the class’s archetype and flavor. I’m not going by any one particular game, although if you’re talking about the fantasy genre, in some form or another, you’re talking about Dungeons & Dragons, so feel free to free to that if you need a background context although not all of the classes have a direct D&D analogue.

I’ve also included a few notes about my choices and experience in arranging the classes. Generally speaking, I believe that the Sensing preference lends itself better to the more martial archetypes, compared to the abstract focus of iNtuition which trends towards a mystical or magical aspect. This is why all the rogue and fighter types are grouped into the S temperaments while the N types are all magic users to some degree.

RPG Class/MBTI Type Comparison According to Archetype

Guardian (SJ)

  • ESTJ: Marshal
  • ISTJ: Monk
  • ESFJ: Fighter (Warrior Archetype)
  • ISFJ: Fighter (Defender Archetype)

Artisan (SP

  • ESFP: Bard
  • ISFP: Rogue (Thief Archetype)
  • ESTP: Rogue (Swashbuckler Archetype)
  • ISTP: Ranger

Idealist (NF)

  • ENFP: Paladin
  • INFP: Druid
  • ENFJ: Cleric
  • INFJ: Shaman

Rational (NT)

  • ENTP: Artificer
  • INTP: Mage
  • ENTJ: Summoner
  • INTJ: Wizard

Guardian: In the guardian temperament, all of the class choices are all variations on the same martial archetype, but this does not mean they all fill the same rolls. The Marshal is a leader that supports the other characters while the monk is characterized by inner power, discipline, and focus. I chose not to use the term barbarian, as even though it’s an iconic part of many RPGs, the word carries more of a negative connotation than I’d prefer. Characters of that type can be considered part of the “Warrior Archetype” of the Fighter. Overall, we see a group of characters that, although different in ability, are categorized by their more down-to-earth nature and their focus on protecting or supporting others, whether through leadership, defense, or combat skills.

Artisan: For the most part, I think the choices here speak for themselves. The Bard was already referred to as the Performer in Keirseys’ types. This group, like the Guardians, is more martial than mystical as a result of their S, but these characters are more individualistic than the Guardians. I thought about changing the name of the Thief to something that didn’t imply criminal larceny, but the term is fairly well situated in the fantasy genre. The only one that seems out of place is the ISTP Ranger, but Keirsey describes them as “looking for any opportunity, and just because they feel like it, to play with their various toys: cars, motorcycles, boats, dune-buggies, hunting rifles, fishing tackle, scuba gear, and on and on.”

Idealist: This is the arrangement I feel the most confident about, possibly due to my own familiarity/bias as an NF. Cleric and Paladin were placed due to their Extroversion; in my opinion, these are characters that are leaders and champions of their churches and faiths which suggests an Extrovert mentality. Shamans and druids are more isolated and removed from social structure, meditating alone on the elements and natural world respectively, which to me indicates Introversion. All four derive their power from an abstract, mystical source, a trait they share with the other N temperament.

Rational: All four of the classes here are variations of the same core archetype, that of the mage. Fortunately, the mage archetype has many different permutations which allows for a wider variety. The Artificer could also be called the alchemist; this is the character that uses magical items or enchanted equipment such as potions and the like. The difference between wizard and mage was harder to articulate, due to the imprecision of the terminology, but in this context, the INTP mage was the more reclusive sort who would be focused on the study of magic while the INTJ wizard would more resemble Gandalf, an entity who is not eager to lead but steps in during moments of crisis.

Originally, I conceived of this list as mapping specifically to World of WarCraft’s classes, however, I decided to change to a more general approach when I realized that WoW’s classes were missing a few of the important fantasy archetypes. Even with the larger, more general approach to fantasy RPGs that I took, I still missed a few popular archetypes. I wasn’t sure where to include the fighter/mage and sorcerer, for example.

One final note: in preparing this list and reading through the descriptions, while there were a few choices I felt were very strong, most ended up being more arbitrary than anything. If I were to revisit this list, I might better note the places of ambiguity: mage, for example, might be better classified as xNTP, rather than indicating a particular preference for Extroversion or Introversion.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment and let me know where I got it right or wrong. And if you are feeling so inclined, feel free to post your own MBTI type and the class or classes you prefer to play, whether in WoW or in other RPGs. It’d be great to get some hard numbers for future comparisons.

Exploring Forgotten Lands

When I worked at GameStop, once or twice I managed to get a free copy of a game. They were usually promotional copies that were given out at manager’s conferences, the idea being that if you play and enjoy a free game, you’ll generate more sales through the enthusiasm you pass off to customers. I should note that this plan didn’t always work out if the game happened to be terrible.

I acquired several games like this during my few years there but there were a couple that I never got around to playing: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and EverQuest II. The reason I never installed or played either game was twofold: first, both games came out during the darkest days of my World of WarCraft addiction, so the idea of playing another fantasy-themed MMO was neither appealing nor necessary. Second, both of these games required subscription fees. Even though the discs were free, I’d still have to pay to play; it wasn’t like getting a free Xbox 360 game where I could try it out at no cost to myself beyond time invested. For those reasons, my copies of Vanguard and EQII sat on my game shelf for several years, unopened and gathering dust.

Although I’m cured of my WoW addiction, every so often, I still get this strange, random urge to play an MMO for a little while. When this urge happens, I’ve found that the best way to satiate it, rather than reinstalling WoW is to try out one of the many, many MMOs that I ignored during their release due to the WoW addiction. Sometimes, this doesn’t end well: my brief time with Lord of the Rings: Online was uneventful and plain to the extent that even the promise of being a wizard loremaster wielding a sword and a staff together couldn’t hold my interest. I played for a few hours and then uninstalled the game.

Yesterday, the Vanguard box on my game shelf caught my eye. I’d read somewhere that the game had gone free to play, which meant I could try it out without having to pay anything. What the hell, I figured. I installed the game and made a Dark Elf Sorcerer.

Generally speaking, Vanguard is one of the many casualties that tried to compete with the WoW juggernaut and lost. I’m honestly surprised that there’s still support for it, when better loved MMOs like City of Heroes have been shut down. Maybe that’s the secret to Vanguard’s life-span. It’s not so popular that its maintenance costs outweigh the benefits of keeping it online. Or maybe Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is just that determined to keep it going.

Coming into an MMO like this years after the fact is a somewhat surreal experience. Unlike returning to WoW, there is no nostalgia filter that colors your every experience. Things feel both new and old at the same time; familiar due to the mechanics that all MMOs now use and yet alien because you’ve never seen this class or this world. There’s also the feeling of stumbling upon something hidden, something that’s been passed over by the rest of the world. There are still people here having fun and enjoying their game. It’s their own little world in a way that the WoW juggernaut can’t be. Everybody knows WoW. Everybody has their Horde or their Alliance experience; you’re not unique or special there.

Playing Vanguard feels like being a virtual-world archaeologist. The mechanics are pure WoW: push button, kill stuff, talk to guy, kill more stuff. The fact that I can play a dark elf is a large draw for me, even though I realize, mechanically speaking, this isn’t really a big game play alteration. I’m a little bit curious to try out some of their other classes, particularly the Necromancer and the Blood Mage. The Blood Mage sounds especially cool: a vampiric sort of healer that restores her party members by siphoning life away from others.

Will I stick with Vanguard for long? Probably not. The reality is that I quit WoW because I was bored of WoW. I was tired of quests, tired of reputation grinds, tired of push-button, kill stuff mechanics. The MMO genre has stagnated into a Pavlovian treadmill: kill stuff to get better stuff that helps you kill more stuff. That was a fun cycle the first three times I ran it, but now I want something else. I want to do more in a virtual world than just kill things. I think back to my time with Ultima Online and how much fun I had playing interior decorator with my own house. I want gameplay that moves in that direction: world simulation instead of just theme-park experiences.

In the meantime, however, exploring Vanguard is an interesting experience. It feels like a forgotten land, not by virtue of its world design, but by the fact that this is a place that few gamers have wandered. There are 10 million+ gamers who know the world of Azeroth. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time there. I know all its lore. I know its conflicts. I know it and I’m bored because I know.

I don’t even know what the world in Vanguard is called and for a person whose two basic motivations in a game are exploration and the story, that’s a strong draw. So I’ll play and I’ll wander and I’ll find my way through a virtual world that few have known or likely ever will know.