Ready Check: Know your raiders

Ready Check is a weekly column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, ZA or Sunwell Plateau, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. This week, we
get psychological on your posterior.

We're all familiar with caricatures of raiders, from the aggressive aggro-hungry warlock to the placid, gentle priest. Generalising to quite this extent is perhaps a little unfair, but it's certainly true that many raiders share common personality traits; by looking at research into personality and learning types, we can understand our raid force better and perhaps even find out a thing or two about how to manage them.

Have you ever wondered what makes your raid group tick? Why people with seemingly conflicting behaviour and goals get on just fine when there are dragons to be slain? Psychology research explains it all.

First of all, a disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist, I'm a researcher in computer science, and as such I am honour-bound to say that psychology is an inexact science -- hence I'm going to talk about a few different approaches in this column.

Bartle's Typing

Let's start by taking our cues from gaming research, and one of the seminal attempts at player classification, Richard Bartle's. Blogger and raider Sebastian combines this eight-way typing with Kolb's learning styles, but we'll revisit learning a bit later. Sebastian expounds that there are three types of hardcore raider, all with corresponding Bartle types:

  • The Silent but Deadly player may not be outspoken, but their dedication and skill make them a cornerstone of your guild.

  • The Killer seeks achievement and glory; their motivation and desire to be the best keep the guild pushing for high world rankings.

  • The Dramatic is social and group-oriented, keeping guild atmosphere flowing, but is also the most likely to get political and cause drama.

Sebastian's classifications certainly fit nicely with my own experiences as a leader and long(ish) term member across three guilds. I've also noticed that the more hardcore the guild, the more of the former two and the fewer of the latter seem to be present: those Dramatics that are present in higher-ranked guilds tend to be a positive influence, not a negative one.

iNTj and temperaments

There are plenty of other personality classification systems beyond Bartle. One well-known approach is the Myers-Briggs test, a personality questionnaire that divides takers into sixteen categories -- it'd be interesting to give this questionnaire to the top ten or fifty guilds and see the results. There are a couple of Myers-Briggs types that immediately stand out as 'raider' personalities: the iNTj, introverted thinker, fits right into the Silent but Deadly category, whereas the eSFp, extroverted socialiser, might slot right in as a Dramatic. Given the tendency of online gamers to classify as introverted and thinkers, though, you might well find most hardcore Dramatics actually classify as iNFp.

Classifying people as one of four basic temperaments dates back to Aristotle and Plato, and is more recently the basis of the Keirsey personality classification system. Under these dimensions, you are either an Artisan, Guardian, Idealist or Rational. Helen Fisher takes this further, identifying which chemicals in the brain are responsible for each personality type. Again, this seems to fit really neatly into WoW raiders: you have your dopamine-fuelled Artisans, optimistic, risk-taking and playful; serotonin-powered Guardians, reliable and calm; oestrogen-based Idealists, nurturing and idealistic; and testosterone-fuelled Rationals, focused workaholics.

It's clear that there's a straight mapping between Guardians and the Silent but Deadly player, the reliable, solid members everyone can lean on. Killers may be both Artisans and Rationals, with the Artisan types inspired to achieve through creativity and the Rationals motivated by ambition. Dramatics are likely to be the linguistic Idealists, but you'll also find Rationals in this bucket. Chances are your guild's leadership is primarily Rationals, with one or two Idealists or Artisans to temper their ambition and help counterbalance burnout. (A quick way to tell if you had high exposure to testosterone in the womb is to compare the lengths of your index and ring fingers. If the ring finger is longer, your testosterone levels were higher. Try asking your guild officers to do this test!)


Personality isn't everything, though. WoW is a constant learning experience, and looking at how different people learn is key to managing progress raids and new trials alike. Altitis and Sebastian both look at different learning styles:

  • Activists learn by doing, jumping in head first.

  • Theorists like to have clear mental images and models.

  • Reflectors learn by internalising and analysing their own experiences.

  • Pragmatists focus on information that has a direct use.

What I found most interesting about these learning styles is how easily I could start applying labels to those I raided with. The Silent but Deadly types prove hardest to pin down, since it's hard to figure out exactly how they learn when they simply do everything right. However, it's clear who are the people who want to just get on and pull, and who's still trying to get a detailed model of the encounter exactly right in their head before they charge in. It's also more than clear when the Dramatics with different learning styles run into conflict with one another, and out of patience.

How can this information help you raid?

By knowing how your players roll, you can deal with them better. Understanding that people learn differently, and figuring out exactly why your main tank spends so much time on EJ when she hardly says a word during raids, means you're less likely to get frustrated and/or come to blows with her over her obsessive need for detail. Having a raid leader who wants to pull just to see what happens when your raid is primarily composed of people who think that on-the-fly planning is a waste of time means you're setting yourself up for a struggle; understanding your player base and how they learn and interoperate is key.

The main takeway from all the above for me is to remember that not everyone plays, or learns, the same way I do. There's a place for everyone, and by understanding exactly what drives those I raid with, I have a better chance of getting on with them when our personalities and styles naturally clash. The styles above are exactly why certain people are impatient to pull and angry when they die, why some respond better to pages of discussions on our forums where others will make do with a ten minute chat on ventrilo. The big question, of course, is which categorisation do you fall into? Me, I'm a Dramatic, primarily Rational with a sprinkling of Artisan, and I learn as a Reflector.

For those interested in applying this to non-hardcore guilds, Sebastian's just published a followup looking at guilds more generally.