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author: @aestranger

Reading time: 16 minutes

Player Archetypes — Using the Hero’s Journey as a Framework

In previous blog posts, we’ve been exploring the various player types and how they fit into a game or gamified environment. If haven’t read Parts OneTwoThree and Four on Bartle’s player types, then I do highly recommend it.

In general, the four-player type from Bartle is maybe a little too limited. Also using it an arbitrarily labeling people with just four types isn’t useful, especially if the environment you gamify and the audience you attract shows very little of the specifics of any of the 4 player types.

The other issue is that the many player type models don’t take into an individual or users journey through the environment and the experiences they may have. These two concepts always seem to be separated from each other.

I believe that the journey and the player type should be brought together. Only through such a method can we expand the player and create a larger functioning thesis around how to approach each one.

We’ll stick with the basic concept of 3 player types for this, but we will add 4 stages to each journey, so in the end, we will have a total of 12 player types. The stages are split into 4 following the ideas of Kevin Warbach and Yu-Kai Chou, of Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and Master/Endgame respectively. Though I won’t be naming them as such but will rather follow a naming convention closer to Joseph Campbells “Hero Journey”. The Hero journey does consist of only 3 stages, but we will be expanding the second stage with the help of K. Warbach and Y.K. Chou.

The goal is that a narrative flow can be combined with a step by step process that highlights certain psychological archetypes within an experience. The archetypes that we’ll be using will be based upon Carl Jung’s work on archetypes and how they are split across the various states of being, from the Ego to the Soul to the Self. Hopefully, with such an expanded framework it will be easier for you to plot experiences and journeys for your users.

The start of the journey and your players

What you will learn in this piece is specifically:

  • A new set of player types and their labels, along with how they view what type of experiences they desire.
  • How the various player types fit into the 4 stages of an experiential journey.
  • What the 4 stages of an experiential journey entail how they fit within the Jungian archetypal psychology and the pervasive narrative experience of Campbell’s the hero’s journey.

With this knowledge, you should hopefully overcome the problem of having a split understanding of the user and the journey. With any luck, you will gain a better grasp of spotting and highlighting certain personality traits on your users in the various stages of your narrative experience. Though this isn’t a be all, end all model, but as with others it should add another framework to your arsenal, and I hope one that can be used to offer better context for the various parts floating around.

If you wish to add other models or frameworks or feel you would like to explore them in greater depth than as mentioned the most famous, and probably most widely used theory/model is Bartle’s Player Types, which splits people into four categories: Achiever, Explorer, Socializer, Killer. There are also other variationsexpansions, and additions to this model, along with others from Lazzaro, Callois, Kersey, and other psychometric tests, many of which are explored in detail in this Gamasutra article.

The “Hero’s Journey” as a conceptual framework

The best course of action to describe the proposed framework is start with the 3 stages of the hero’s journey and the 3 categories of Jung’s archetypes. We’ll then describe the various “player” types to each stage of the journey and how those types view that stage. Joseph Campbell split his journey into 3 stages; The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. For the purposes of understanding this setup, The Initiation will be split into 2 between the Onboarding and Scaffolding stages. The Onboarding can be argued to flow into the Departure section but it fits more comfortably into the Initiation.

Jung’s archetypes as found in each stage of the Hero’s Journey

The first of Campbell’s stages is called The Departure, and Jung’s archetypes that are most connected to this stage are the ones that we find in the category of the Ego. The rationale behind this is that the start of the journey is always a personal choice. It’s about ourselves and how we wish to move through the world. Another interpretation of the Ego is the Shadow.

From this perspective, the Ego is both what we want and what we deny at the same time. This fits well with the initial stage, as with Campbell’s breakdown of the Departure, there is a moment where the player either accepts the Call, what we want, and where the player refuses the Call, where we deny.

Within the Ego archetype category, we naturally have the Hero type, the Citizen, the Innocent and the Caregiver.

  • Hero: The hero has a deep desire to prove themselves and their worth. They wish to show that they are the best. The purpose of their journey is to be the absolute master and the one that has achieved everything possible. In Bartle’s 4 player type the Hero can be related to the Achiever and the Killer to a lesser extent.


  • Citizen: The Citizen is the quintessential Socialiser type. They wish to connect with everyone and see everyone as their equals. Their journey is one of mutual understanding and spreading of knowledge gathered at every chance.


  • Innocent: The Innocent wishes to reach a state of contentment. They want to find a utopian state of peace and understanding. And the way they can achieve this is by gaining more personal knowledge. Their end goal is simply to be happier than they are now.


  • Caregiver: Similar to the Citizen, the Caregiver is a Socialiser, but unlike the Citizen that wants a broader connection, the Caregiver wishes for very specific connections. They will often go on the journey because a friend or family member is on one as well, and they feel an intrinsic need to help that person. The other reason they often have to go on the journey is to gain knowledge that can aid their own family and community, rather than something that will aid society as a whole.

The second stage is the Initiation, and the archetype category connected to this is the Soul. The Soul is better understood from the perspective of Jung’s collective unconscious. The Soul is split into 2 forms, the Female Anima and the Male Animus. The gender split is arbitrary and Jung simply used it to describe the difference between one being active and the other being passive. So, a better labeling would be to say the Passive Anima and the Active Animus.

Within the Soul archetype category, we have player types that act upon other players and act upon the world, if we grab the splits from Bartle. This better shows us the difference between the active type and the passive type respectively. The types are: Outlaw, Creator, Explorer, and Lover.

  • Outlaw: This person will test and challenge the system and journey you create. They are both positive and a negative influence. Testing the journey’s means that you can improve it but they can also become detrimental to others on the journey. This type is closest to the Killer player type, as their actions can disrupt other players. Though their overall disruption should be curtailed if there are enough Hero’s, Citizen’s, Caregivers and Lovers in the environment.


  • Creator: This individual is most common and most required for the final stage, the endgame, but they tend to appear in their first incarnation during the Initiation stage. Much like the Outlaw, Creators will try to understand and test the system they are in, but rather than disrupt it, they will want to create and add to it. For that reason, they are the ones that need to be given a push during the Initiation stage, so that they can reflect upon what they have experienced thus far and continue in their journey. Rather than stagnate and fall behind.


  • Explorer: The Explorer is very much the same as Bartle’s description. They wish to understand everything there is around them and will continue to discover and repeat steps until they have seen and know everything there is. They are necessary for any system to pave the way and reveal to others that the journey does continue and that there are still things worth experiencing.


  • Lover: This type is the next evolution of the Caregiver and the Citizen from the Departure stage. The Lover wishes to share what they have experienced on the journey and are essential for the next stage, the Return so that others can learn and benefit from what they, the community and the other user types have discovered, experienced and learned.

The final stage is the Return, and the Jungian archetype category best associated with this is the Self. The reason that Self is at the end is that of “self-discovery”, once a player has gone through everything they should have a greater understanding of themselves and their environment. From Jung’s and Campbell’s perspective, the Return is a stage of re-/birth for the Self, it is a realization of all knowledge gathered and consolidated.

Within this Soul archetype category, the Jungian archetypes present are the: Ruler, Jester, Magician, and Sage.

  • Ruler: The Ruler is the outcome of the Hero type from the Departure stage. The one who undertook the journey for personal achievement and knowledge. The Ruler/Hero is the most likely type that will wish for some sort of proof of their achievements at the end of the journey, a visible acknowledgment to show others their superiority. The Ruler may remain if they feel that the journey will continue somewhere worthwhile. But if there is little to nothing after the “end” then they will drop off instantly in search of a new journey.


  • Jester: This type values freedom and creativity above all else. The Jester is often the one that will joke and make light in the community. They may not always offer useful help but add value by being the glue of a community. The Jester brings people together and shares with them the joy of their experiences.


  • Magician: The Magician is the visionary type, they are the continuation of the Creator, and they will create and add to the journey once they feel that they have mastered the content. These are the most valuable types to have in your endgame and are needed along with the Sage to aid in creating worthwhile experiences and the longevity of your journey.


  • Sage: This particular player type continues on with their knowledge journey of self-discovery and adding knowledge to their repertoire as they move onwards. They will need to be pushed at times to add this knowledge to the wider community. But they are essential as thought leaders within the community, as without them no new findings would be discovered or new areas explored.

The Journey of the archetypes

Now that you understand how and what each archetype is within the 3 stages of the Hero’s journey, let’s break it down further by incorporating Werbach’s and Chou’s player journey into those 3 stages. To remind you, Warbach and Chou divided the player’s journey into 4 stages respectively: (Discovery,) Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Mastery/Endgame.

We’re going to expand those 4 even further, using Campbell’s description of how each his 3 stages are subdivided into even smaller steps. If you wish to use this concept then you can stay the higher levels and divide your journey into 3 stages, or drop down and divide it into 4 stages, or go even further into detail and divide into the following 17 sections. Quite an increase, so I would suggest only going that deep if required when creating, for analysis the 3 or 4 stage models are easier.

So, let’s begin with Stage 1: The Call, where the player learns about the journey and departs upon it.

Campbell’s labeling for the 5 subsections are as follows:

1. The Call to Adventure: This is the Discovery phase. Information and/or an indication of a worthwhile journey appears out of the unknown, calling the player to out and journey into the unknown. This is the trigger stage, either achieved through advertising, reviews, recommendations, word of mouth, etc…

2. The Refusal of the Call: When the information and/or indication appears, the player is often hesitant, after all, it came out of the unknown. The player will wish to delay or ignore. A stronger is then needed, one that motivates on the short term. The call must then have a sense of urgency, exclusivity, and scarcity. The player must feel that they are losing out if they don’t answer the Call.

3. Supernatural Aid: Engaging with the content needs to be easy for the player. Therefore having “magic helpers” along the way to aid them is essential. These can be seen as hints, extra’s, time extensions, any mechanic that briefly helps them in the right direction.

4. (Crossing) The First Threshold: This is the first test for the player. Here they come across a challenge that is known as the “threshold guardian”, and it is a test to see whether they are willing and able to continue on their journey. The test should be enticing enough that the player wants to continue but challenging enough that it convinces them they are capable of continuing.

5. (Belly of) The Whale: This is the voluntary acceptance by the player to continue on the journey. After the previous “test” the player will come to realize that the journey is difficult but worth taking. This is an important moment because if it is not a voluntary choice, then the experience will not be effective. It is the act of walking through the “temple” doors to the awaited reward and knowledge promised.

The following stage is Stage 2: The Initiation, this stage is split into 2 phases, the Onboarding phase, and the Scaffolding phase. Here the player is initiated and taught what the challenges are and how they work. Then more is built upon that knowledge so that they are properly prepared to face a final test and continue on to higher levels.

Campbell’s labeling of the 6 subsections are as follows:

(The Onboarding Phase)

1. The Road of Trials: This is the stage where the Epic-Fail and a sense of eustress will first appear. The “world” of the journey will test the player, and they will and should fail. But the Fail must be Epic enough that the player will try again. If the player fails too often, the “magic helper” can add in again to subtly aid them to a win, because the player must not be dissuaded from continuing at this point. From here on out the player will plunge fully into your content, they must feel empowered, gain accomplishments and have a sense of unpredictability as each challenge surprises them.

2. The Meeting (with the Goddess): Despite the naming of this stage, it is best understood as the moment the player is introduced to or prompted to start/join the community who are also on the journey. Here you see the motivator of relatedness, to care about others. This feeling of community is essential in adding context for the player.

3. The Temptress: As the final stage of the Onboarding phase, this is a crucial one to help the player move along to the next phase. Once they have reached this step they may feel semi-empowered enough to think that the journey is fulfilling enough as it is. The initial victories in the trials and being part of the community feel pretty good and can let a player stagnate in an area that is easy for them. Here the player needs to be forcefully reminded through fast positive feedback that the journey continues and that greater rewards lie ahead.

(The Scaffolding Phase)

1. The Atonement (with the Father): In this stage, the player faces their first extreme challenge. As the player has been pushed to continue and has learned from their previous trials, here they must finally learn to fully incorporate that knowledge. The first “Boss” encounter as it was. Though receiving aid and allowing to retry (within finite amounts of time, i.e.: can only retry once a day, for example, this mechanic of scarcity makes the challenge worthwhile), should warrant the gravity and level of challenge to this stage. Once the player wins, the win must be sufficiently Epic to motivate continuation.

2. Apotheosis: Here the player is given a moment to rest and reflect once they have successfully overcome the previous challenge. This can take the form of reviewing what they have done and to discuss with others in the community.

3. The Ultimate Boon: Once the player has shown their understanding and has reflected upon the experience, they are given the “level up” moment. The player now moves on to the next stage of the journey. This can be done by giving an achievement, badge, etc…A virtual good that represents what they have achieved, like adding chevrons on a soldier’s uniform. The player is endowed with a sense of owning their experience.

The final stage, Stage 3: The Return, this is where the player has mastered the content and come to the endgame area of the journey. You as a creator are able to loop the initiation phase so that the player does come to the final stage too quickly, or higher-level content can be placed in the various sections of the final stage.

Campbell’s labeling of the final 6 sub-sections are:

1. Refusal of the Return: Much like the “the Temptress” section, this is one to be vigilant of. The Epic Win may cause the player to feel an abundance of empowerment and accomplishment and feel that they have learned and/or experienced all they need. Here fast and strong positive feedback is required yet again. And also, a glimpse of what lies ahead if the player continues their journey. This stage also links in with the next step to allow for the continued loop of the journey if you choose to incorporate one.

2. The Magic Flight: Here the player is required to use the knowledge and the “booster” reward (to borrow a term from Y.K. Chou) from their “Ultimate Boon” section to continue the journey. As the experience requires continuation to increase in knowledge, the player can be diverted back to the “Road of Trials” but on a higher difficulty, so that the challenges are harder and so that they can learn more and achieve more. Once they have achieved enough in the journey, the following steps will aid them to move to the Endgame stage.

3. Rescue from Without: Here the player must be given the opportunity (pushed if needed) to receive and deliver feedback to the community. Engagement with society is paramount at this point. This will hopefully also strengthen the bond of knowledge transference to those starting out on the journey. The community must also be pushed to request knowledge transfer from the player so that it becomes a natural cycle for those that follow.

4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold: This section is the effective consequence of the previous one for the player. Here the player is sharing the knowledge, and overcoming the pride of being the sole individual to possess that knowledge. The player will be coming across novices and must navigate how best to share their knowledge without being arrogant and without giving the novices an easy path. The previous 3 steps are repeatable stages in the Endgame that incorporate the Onboarding and Scaffolding phases but at a higher level. For example, in an MMORPG, this would be similar to zones of where players move from a zone for level 1–10 (novice stage) to the zone for 10–20 (veteran stage), and so forth. The following sections are when they’ve reached the max level of 100 and require true Endgame content to remain within the journey you’ve created.

5. Master of Two Worlds: A level of mastery is achieved by the player. They have reached the end of the main learning journey and have mastered enough to warrant the status of a true “Master”. Here the player must be given the freedom to return to previous stages to learn and understand better what they have experienced and also be given a more long-term goal of knowledge gathering and dissemination to the overall community.

6. Freedom to Live: Here the player has become a “Visionary”, on par with you the creator of the journey. They are now a thought leader and are creating and adding to the journey themselves and for themselves. Thereby expanding the experience for all those who come after them. Hopefully, the player finds it more beneficial to work in aiding the community and be on a journey of self-discovery, rather than give up and leave. This final stage is the most difficult in retention, as it is left to entirely intrinsic and altruistic motivations, rather than any extrinsic rewards. The allure of the start of the Call, the epic meaning to go on the journey must reappear here to reaffirm the initial sensation of epic meaning and the inherent social relatedness. The aspect is that if they were to leave then there is a level of loss from what they’ve achieved up to this point, both in the home of where the knowledge is stored, the social bonds created and time invested.

As you can see, each stage and sub-section that has been elaborated upon have a specific purpose in the player’s journey. And using the knowledge of the 12 archetypes and how they can be attributed to each specific stage, phase, and section, you should have enough tools to create an environment of sufficient depth to retain enough players.


At the start, we saw that the common issue was that the player type and the player journey were always completely separated. What I hope has been achieved is that the player types have been expanded enough that there is a recognized archetype for every stage and phase of a journey so that you as the creator can think more accurately around who you wish to attract and how.

The first stage has the call to action, where the player who the regular everyday person, want to be a hero to achieve some emotional, spiritual, intellectual peace and wishes to care and provide for others possibly.

The second stage has the player explore knowledge, undergo trials and tests. Is pushed to understand how to love a community, to share with it. But also to rebel and test the system of the journey. To finally come to the section of fulfilling that main quest and understanding the knowledge gathered.

The final stage has the player either assert them as a true master and ruler of the knowledge gained or is magically creating and adding new knowledge to the community. Here the player can give sage advice to newcomers and joke and laugh with a community they are well and truly a part of.

The end goal is naturally retention, and achieving that, as illustrated in this piece, is done through adding challenge, community and empowering the player to enjoy and create with the knowledge they gain on the journey you have produced.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.



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