Alice and Dorothy play together – but what about Wendy?

In a recent post I wrote about why I don’t consider SL a game, Richard Bartle was very kind to comment and point my attention to one of his articles entitled “Alice and Dorothy play together” (Bartle, 2009). I’ve now read it and together with some of Bartle’s other works, I find it very useful in relation to my own work with what I prefer to call open-ended Virtual Worlds – so thank you again, Richard for stopping by and pointing to various resources :-)

In the article, Bartle describes three philosophies or design approaches that have influenced the work of designing Virtual Worlds. Based on three major fictional works, Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from Oz, and Wendy in Neverland, Bartle identifies differences and commonalities and discusses their ability to “play together”. It’s important to notice that Bartle is addressing a game (world) designer audience, and that Bartle’s work in general has focused on Virtual Worlds designed with the explicit intent to entertain the players – fun is the key motivation for using such worlds. In the table below, I’ve tried to summarize some of Bartle’s points.

Without going too much into detail with the table here in this post, I think it’s important to notice a couple of things in order to understand what follows. In terms of “appeal” this should be seen in the light of immediate attraction, does the world attract and more importantly retain newbies? Evidently, a Dorothy world like WoW (with millions of active players) also appeals to oldbies, the kind of players who find joy and interest in “leveling up”, the kind Bartle calls “Achievers” (as we shall see further down). The table also shows why SL has problems when it comes to retaining users (with approx. 20 mio. accounts, but less than 100.000 concurrent users on a daily basis, there is a problem). Judging from the table, SL’s credo “Your World, Your Imagination” becomes a double-edged sword. The lack of a fixed narrative leaves the SL-user completely on his/her own to come up with a reason to play/stay. This problem, however, is not unique to SL, but points to a classic dilemma between the different needs of newbies and oldbies. Following from this, the next question that comes to mind then is: what motivates Wendy? or more precisely, why do users find interest in SL and what do they do in SL?

In “Designing Virtual Worlds” Bartle explains how he in the early 90’s, based on a long-lasting debate between senior players of MUD2 regarding the motives for playing, analyzed the ideas of what constituted fun and found that players could be categorized into four major types:

  • Achievers, who are interested in doing things to the game, i.e. in ACTING on the WORLD. (later sub-categorized in Opportunists and Planners)
  • Explorers, who are interested in having the game surprise them, i.e. in INTERACTING with the WORLD. (later sub-categorized in Scientists and Hackers*)
  • Socializers, who are interested in INTERACTING with other PLAYERS. (later sub-categorized in Networkers and Friends)
  • Killers, who are interested in doing things to people, ie. in ACTING on other PLAYERS. (later sub-categorized in Griefers and Politicians)

Based on continued refinement of these categories, Bartle created the so-called Player Interest Graph depicted below:

The Original Player Interest Graph (Bartle, 1996/2004 – see references)

The graph describes players in terms of two dimensions: how they prefer acting on things as opposed to interacting with, and how they prefer to direct their attentions toward other players. When trying to apply this graph to SL, I see three issues that don’t match.

  • The term “players” indicates that there is a game to be played**.
  • The category “killers” implies a combat game-type world.
  • The category “achievers” is also closely tied to the existence of a game – Bartle highlights their motivation: “These people put the game-like aspect of the virtual world to the fore. They like doing things that achieve defined goals, thereby progressing their character through the world’s built-in ranking system.” (Bartle, 2004, p. 130)

Regardless of this, I still think the principal idea of the graph can be used in relation to SL, and so I have re-designed the graph:

SL User Interest Graph

  • Users is my personal preference. Linden Lab calls its users “residents”, and many experienced users in SL refer to themselves as “residents” – I do too. It is, however, a problematic term. My observations and research data clearly show that many (especially newbies, but not only) feel homeless and marginalized from the general SL community (but this has to be the topic of another post).
  • Griefers is a term borrowed from the game worlds, it is, however, how we define trouble-makers in SL too, and the term is also used in academic writings on SL (i.e. Boellstorff, 2008). I did consider the Internet term “troll”, but since trolls seem to be deliberately malicious, and my experience with (some) griefers is that they often have more humorous intentions (albeit still annoying to those they act upon), I discarded it.
  • Designers refers to the SL users, who well … design things (buildings, art, clothes, animations etc.). I did consider the term “producers”, but in my opinion the socializers also produce and contribute to the content of SL. Compared to Bartle’s achievers, there are some interesting similarities. Designers also aim at mastering and acting upon the world, and even though there is no leveling system in SL, the mastery also results in high scores in terms of social capital (cf. Huvila et al, 2010).

Given my particular focus on education, I would also categorize teachers (and to some extent students) as designers – we design for learning, but that’s another story :-)


*) Bartle uses the term to refer to skills, rather than (malicious) intentions.

**) Yes, I’m aware of Linden Realms and the many RP-communities in SL, but that still doesn’t make it a game per se.


Bartle, R.A. (no date): Virtual Worlds: Why People Play.

Bartle, R.A. (1996): Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who suit MUDs.

Bartle, R.A. (2004): Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders.

Bartle, R.A. (2009): Alice and Dorothy play together. In: Harrigan, P. & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (eds) Third Person – authoring and exploring vast narratives. The MIT Press. p. 105-117

Boellstorff, T. (2008): Coming of age in Second Life. An anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton University Press.

Huvila, I.; Holmberg, K.; Ek, S. & Widen-Wulff (2010): Social capital in Second Life. In: Emeralindsight, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2010. p. 295-316

18 responses to “Alice and Dorothy play together – but what about Wendy?”

  1. Mirror World says :

    Suggestion. “Designers” could instead be renamed to “Content makers” ?

  2. Mariis says :

    hm, well the thing is that I also consider what the socializers contribute with as a kind of content -arguably it is a different kind than that of “objects”, but in a social-centric world the “social” component – however we define that – is an important part of the content. I guess I consider both “objects” and processes as content, but perhaps that only makes sense in my head ;-)

  3. Mirror World says :

    I think I can follow you.
    Just by attending a virtual world, you are contributing to the content (environment). By your actions, chat and movements, but not building a pixel object, one could argue, you are still creating content.
    I should have suggested content creators, but guess that doesn’t change much :)

  4. Mariis says :

    Yes, I guess my claim is that all of them – also the griefers and the explorers (insofar as they share their findings) – contribute to the ecology :-) Socializers are often underestimated, I think but in this type of world, their contributions are very important … Generally speaking ;-)

  5. richardbartle says :

    What you are describing, Mirror World, is the difference between player-created content and player-generated content. Player-created content is content created explicitly by players, which in SL terms usually means objects, functionality, landscapes and so on. Player-generated content is content that is created implicitly by interactions between players. If you walk into a location full of players dancing and joking, that’s effectively content for you – user-generated, but not user-created. Drama caused by people falling out with each other is also user-generated content.


  6. Mirror World says :

    Thank you Richard. Yes, I understood, and I can see the challenge is to come up with a good short descriptive word.
    Usually I see “Content creators” used, for people that create a virtual object, like a dress, building or art piece. Those you refer to as “Player-created content”.
    I was a bit surprised to see them called “Designers”, which they ofcourse are too :-)


  7. Vaneeesa Blaylock says :

    Hi Mariis, WoW! Just discovered your blog – so many powerful ideas explored here — yay, congratulations, and oh-goodie! :)

    I haven’t really thought about gamification in any formal way, but it’s been on my mind lately. I have a sense that gamification is a sort of “conceptual capitalism.” What I mean by that is, that analogous to the way that memes are the idea parallel to biological genes… perhaps gamification is the idea parellel to physical capitalism.

    Forgive the coming sledge-hammerish statement of what I hope to be able to express in a more nuanced and less pejorative way in the future — anyway, haha, here it comes — I feel that like capitalism, gamification has enormous productivity, but also a tendency to promote “wrong values.”

    So in capitalism, we are very productive, but there’s a tendency to become obsessed with the extrinsic thing, money, at the expense of the intrinsic thing: the values, goals, aesthetics, and ideologies that we thought our life was about. And analogously it seems like the current and coming gamification of everything tends to help us focus on the extrinsic, experience points, and less so on the more fundamental things that our life, work, and leisure are putatively about.

    Anyway, as for your post, I do think about “Dorothy” vs “Wendy” a lot. I have heard so many remarkable stories about not just leveling or XP in worlds like WoW, but in all sorts of interactions and community building. My friend Ironyca has been judging Transmogrification Festivals there lately, I’m not sure if that’s “Player-Created” or “Player-Generated,” but it is taking the elements of a world as provided, and creating new or at least unexpected paradigms from them.

    in spite of all that fantastic activity, I personally am so not a gamer. With no disrespect for all that compelling work and just plain fun, to be honest, a world like WoW just feels mostly tedious to me… whereas, hours of rants about the fitness of the platform notwithstanding, a world like Second Life just feels so exciting and full of creative possibilities to me.

    So apparently I’m “Wendy” not “Dorothy,” but I hadn’t really thought of that “Alice” middle way… that’s kind of interesting…

    Great blog post, and WoW, so much compelling work here on your site, Thank You!

    — Vaneeesa

  8. Mariis says :

    In my world world “Designer” and “Design” are quite common, so I guess that’s why I like them, but if you come up with a better word please do let me know :-)

  9. Mariis says :

    Hi Vaneeesa, well thank you so much for the kind words :-)
    It’s an interesting idea to compare capitalism and gamification! I haven’t spent much time dealing with gamification in my current PhD-work, but I “get” the attraction: humans are goal-driven, and many are competitive. As I see it both “gamification” and “immersion/immersive” have become buzzwords in my field of education, and I think it may cause people to loose perspective. Both Dorothy and Wendy worlds have been seen as the great saviors of education, and they are not, in my opinion. So in my particular context, I think I can follow your thoughts, when something becomes dominant, something else steps in the background – but I have to think some more about that …
    The Transmogrification Festivals sounds really fascinating, I have to admit that I had never even heard that word, but if I understand it correctly it sounds great to try to push the limits of the game. That’s also what keeps fascinating me about users/players of almost any system: they always try to use the way they feel it fits their particular needs – regardless of how the system was intended.
    Yes, Richard’s distinction between “Player-Created” and “Player-Generated,” content is quite interesting because it also gives credit to those who don’t create content in the common sense, but who nonetheless contribute to the game/world.
    I’m so not a Dorothy either, I guess I lack the competition gene, but like you I find the “Alice” middle way interesting, and I’m thinking that that’s where Rodvik and LL are heading .. they need newbies …
    Anyways, thank you for stopping by – you had me thinking, and that’s always appreciated :-)

  10. Vaneeesa Blaylock says :

    Great work Mariis – it’d be nice to do coffee or shoe shopping in-world sometime…

    Anyway, here’s Ironyca’s Transmog post:

    and I was lucky to catch her tweet about the live stream of another one so I wrote a little post about watching that with some pix I snapped from the live stream:

    Yes, Richard’s distinction between “Player-Created” and “Player-Generated,” content is quite interesting because it also gives credit to those who don’t create content in the common sense, but who nonetheless contribute to the game/world.

    You know, this is really interesting, in that it says even if Blizzard Entertainment creates everything… the peeps “on the ground” and the lived experience they have is still material, valuable, fundamental…

    In a funny way it reminds me of one of Richard Stallman’s famous ideas, that he hated when passwords came to MIT, because he didn’t want the person who was sitting there yesterday, to be able to determine what the person who was sitting there today was able to do or not do.

    So passwords and administrators, game designers and content, these are all overarching power wielding roles, yet the person on the ground here and now… it is, should be, perhaps must be, their experience in their world and in their own time.

    Perhaps this even extends to the University White Board. If the equation or poem on the white board is so powerful, so insightful, so compelling, that you don’t have the nerve to erase it, then you’ve become a parishioner on your knees and not a writer. I’m really glad we don’t do much book burning, still, we need the freedom (informed by history) to write our own equations and our own poems, here, in our time.

  11. Mariis says :

    Thx for the links, Vaneeesa – I’ll explore later (RL work is calling). Btw, I’m not sure why your comment wasn’t approved automatically now that I’ve approved you once .. hmm, I’ll look into that. Yes, feel free to friend me and let’s have a cup of coffee ;-)

  12. richardbartle says :

    There’s a tendency to see social worlds as distinct from game worlds, because in social worlds everyone can create content but in game worlds only the designers can create it (although in both cases everyone can generate it). However, if you think about it, social worlds are just pushing the creation one level down: yes, people can create content in a social world, but can other people create content in the content they so create?

    Game worlds, which are created embedded within the real world, have designers. Worlds that are created embedded within social worlds also have designers. The social world is a platform. You can nest worlds-within-worlds as much as you like, but eventually you’ll have someone create a world that they don’t want other people to create things within. All that social worlds do ismove the creative act from the real world to a world hosted by the real world.


  13. Mariis says :

    Interesting point about pushing the creation down, Richard. In SL, creators can literally make their objects modifiable, but my impression is that this mainly applies to content you have to pay for, whereas freebies often can’t be modified (although there are exceptions in both cases). In this respect a lot of content remains proprietary. Another interesting aspect of this has to do with quality.
    For some reason, your comment reminded me of the so-called “folding stories” that I used to engage in as a child – the outcome was often quite unexpected, typically very funny, but oftentimes also incomprehensible. The quality seemed to be related more to the act of creating something together, rather than the actual outcome. I imagine that in text-based worlds the quality assessment of the narrative also oscillates between these poles, between players who are in it for the journey and players who are in it for the destination – not only at the Alice and Dorothy meta-level, but also within the worlds?
    And yes, SL isn’t always open, we have plenty of places that are proprietary – SLs reflects the real world in that aspect too :0

  14. Vaneeesa Blaylock says :

    On SETTINGS > DISCUSSION WordPress has:

    Hold a comment in the queue if it contains X or more links.

    the default for X is 2… so the comment was probably held because it had 2 links (spam alert! :)

  15. Mariis says :

    ah, ok – guess I shouldn’t complain about WP protecting me – thx :-))

  16. Ener Hax (@iliveisl) says :

    i would agree that educators are designers because they are designing learning interactions and/or learning environments. they may also be allowing the student to be their own designer such as the work often done with sim-on-a-stick

    i would self-identify as a pretty much purely designer-focused person and i find it interesting that Bartle uses three female characters as archetypes

  17. Mariis says :

    Thx, for stopping by and the mention on your blog, Ener :-) I’ve been afk due to family business .. Yes; I like the notion of educators and students being designers, the construction capabilities in 3D worlds would be my primary reason to use these over more traditional 2D platforms. Even though there is a tendency in academia to use female protagonists, I was surprised too – I’m looking forward to presenting Bartle’s ideas to my next SL class and see how the male students react to/identify with Alice and her girl friends …

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