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Personality Types in Games: The Idealist
The Artisan · The Guardian · The Idealist · The Rational


This is the third in a series of articles applying to the board games hobby the Jungian theory of personality types. I claim no official expertise, but have read quite a bit on the topic. If you wish to know more about the theory, a bibliography is available. If you wish to find out your own type, a free on-line test is available. In the following the introductory quotations are all excerpted from Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey.

The Idealist Type

"Idealists are said to exhibit the NF qualities of temperament – N for Intuitive, meaning paying attention to the abstract world of of ideas, concepts, theories and imaginings; and F for Feeling, meaning "following the heart" in decisionmaking and how they deal with others."
Idealists comprise about 10% of the American population. In terms of the other MBTI letters, they may be E (Extraverted) or I (Introverted) and make decisions and arrange their lives either by J (Judging) – deciding quickly and by a schedule – or by P (Perceiving) – delaying decisions and keeping options open.

Idealists tend to look at the long term, the big picture. They see life as a pursuit of some larger ideal. They can be sometimes be seen by other types as slightly eccentric or impractical, with their heads in the clouds, but on the other hand are generally some of the kindest and most giving people around.

They are called the abstract cooperators because they are abstract in communicating and cooperative in implementing goals.

The Idealist as Rules Explainer

"Idealists talk little of what they observe – "of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings." They talk instead of what can only be seen with the mind's eye: love and hate, heaven and hell, comedy and tragedy, heart and soul, tales and legends, eras and epochs, beliefs, fantasies, possibilities, symbols, selves, and yes, temperament, character and personality".
With an Idealist explaining the rules, maybe some practical details will be missed here and there, but you will be sure to get the theme and the overall picture of what's going on.
"Idealists are naturally inductive in their thought and speech, which is to say that they move quickly from part to whole, from a few particulars to sweeping generalizations, from the smallest sign of something to its entirety."
They will usually prefer to start with an example and use that to show how the entire rules system works.
"Idealist thought and speech tends to be interpretive, which means they frequently comment how one thing is really something else."

"This zeal to connect disparate ideas is why Idealist communication is often laced with metaphors, ascribing features to people and things that belong to other people and things."

Use of analogy to explain a game concept is common. For example, in Rheinländer, "duchy takeover is like a Silicon Valley takeover; even though you're taken over, you still get paid".
"Idealist expression is rich in hyperbole and exaggeration, and at the same time short on gradation. NFs do not say they are "somewhat" interested in an idea, or dissatisfied "in some degree" with a person's behavior; they are "totally" fascinated or "completely" disgusted, "perfectly" delighted or "absolutely" appalled."
If after explaining the rules the Idealist goes on to describe common strategies or tactics, you may want to adjust the vehemence level.
"Idealists are highly sensitive to the nuances of communication that qualify messages, the body language, facial expressions, and voice inflections which, quite often, the other character types are not even aware of. And NFs are so sensitive to the subtleties of spoken language, finding implications and insinuations in the slightest remark, that they seem to have invested language with supernatural powers, what might be called "word magic". Word magic refers to the ancient idea that words have the ability to make things happen."

"One consequence of this hypersensitivity is that now and then NFs make mistakes in attributing meanings to communications that are not intended by the senders."

If after the explanation is complete you are left wondering something and need to ask for follow-up, you might considering mentioning that you didn't mean to cause any trouble.

The Idealist Opponent

"Idealists are the best suited of all the types to read between the lines, or to have a sixth sense about people, and they do indeed follow their hunches, heed their feelings, and insist they "just know" what people are really up to, or what they really mean."
Be careful about bluffing or fooling this type in a game. They read people very well. They can also be very good at Poker, TransAmerica, Diplomacy or any game where it's important to intuit whether someone may be lying.
"Idealists observe that many laws that govern our conduct – building codes, laws, rules of the road, and many more – not simply because they are laws, but because they represent a common assent of their community, a unity of purpose or like-mindedness that NFs hold dear. Accord, concurrence, agreement, accommodation: this side of cooperation is what looms large in the consciousness of Idealists."
Idealist players not only play by the rules as written, but also by their spirit. They may experience internal disruption when others do not do likewise.
"Acting in concert with others for the good of the group – cooperation – is considerably more important to Idealists... In the Idealist's view, people's instruments and actions need to be acceptable to others, even if they prove less effective than some other disapproved instruments or actions."
The obvious observation is that Idealists appreciate and should do well at purely cooperative games like Lord of the Rings or Pandemic, but it's possible to go further and say that they appreciate and thrive at the cooperative elements that are offered in any game, say the win-win of a trade in Settlers of Catan, for example.
"NFs, like SJs, regard the Artisans' and Rationals' utilitarian style – get the job done any which way – as counterproductive if not unethical and offensive. "
"Indeed, NFs can be quite suspicious of utilitarian actions which go after results too coldly or single-mindedly; they worry that the warm human touch will be lost, that good feelings will be sacrificed, and that unity will dissolve in a quest for expediency."
"Fighting in any form is inordinately painful to NFs and they will do whatever is necessary to avoid it or prevent it."
This seems to suggest that an Idealist could never enjoy games featuring a great deal of conflict. Paradoxically, observation indicates this is not always the case. How this can be explained is not readily apparent, but perhaps it speaks to our conflict-ridden human past, a necessity in our earliest days of struggle for survival and continued over the millennia. Some delight in conflict seems to be inside almost all of us. But at the same time, in the case of an Idealist, it is likely being suppressed almost all of the time. However, in the context of a game, because it is only a game, an Idealist can feel free to give expression to some thoughts and actions which otherwise he or she would not.
"In any enterprise the NF's first consideration is always to foster caring human relationships – this seems to them necessary if they are to accomplish their ends."
On the other hand, even in tough game circumstances, you can expect an Idealist opponent to ultimately relate to other players with empathy and with happiness and good feeling restored by its end. They will also laugh at themselves as often as anyone else.
"Diplomacy is the ability to deal with people in a skillful, tactful manner, only here 'tact' is a metaphor for the interpersonal touch or sensitivity in which Idealists seem to be both interested and particularly talented."

"With their instinct for seeking common ground, with their ability to interpret each side's communications in a positive way, with their gift for putting themselves in another's place, and with their metaphorical language easily and fluidly turning one thing into another, Idealists are well-equipped for the difficult task of influencing people's attitudes and actions, not only inspiring them to grow, but also settling differences among them, smoothing difficulties – ever looking to enlighten the people around them and to forge unity among them."

"The Idealists' lifelong interest in diplomatic action fuels their daily exercise of diplomatic skills."

In games of negotiation or in situations where players can use table talk to influence one another, watch out for the Idealists' strong talents in this area. Because of their great empathy and ability to read the emotions of others, they can also do well in games that require bluffing.
"In normal development the Idealists instinctively practice diplomatic actions far more and far earlier than the others, and therefore end up more highly skilled in diplomacy than in strategy and logistics, and much more than in tactics."
If they have weaknesses, short term tactics and awareness are the most likely area. Secondarily, evaluation of what something is worth (such as in an auction game) or extensive dealings with prices are also probably less to their taste.

The Idealist Game Buyer

"At school the Idealists are typically drawn to courses in the humanities and not to commerce or science.... they find their true niche in the studying and teaching of humanities, or, more generally, in professions which involve transmitting ideas through words. NFs perfer working with words, and need and want to be directly or indirectly in communication with people. Those who work at it come to speak and write fluently, often with poetic flair, and often make excellent students and teachers of literature. The fictional narrative in any of its forms – stories, poems, legends, myths – is their delight and their strength, and not only are themes and characters meaningful to Idealists, but stylistic details and symbolic motifs loom for them with amazing significance."
In addition to those types already mentioned – games of negotiation or cooperation or bluffing – Idealists are attracted to word games in which they can employ their impressive powers. Nor are party games outside their purview where they are willing as anyone, if not more so, to exhibit their silly sides.
"Individual development is the Idealists' domain, which is to say they are naturally good at influencing the growth and maturation of others. Teaching, counseling, interviewing and tutoring come easily to Idealists, and are highly intuitive pursuits for them."
Idealists have a strong interest in education – many school teachers are Idealists – and in the use of games for educational purposes.
"The notion of the spiritual odyssey, the crusade, the pilgrimage, or the quest, is deeply satisfying to Idealists, and is perhaps their favorite metaphor for their experience of life."
Games with a strong story or experience element are their cup of tea as well.

But it appears that not all Idealists to enjoy games. Some object to most of them as veering too much in the direction of entertainment and a possible distraction from learning. Others see them as inherently adding unwelcome extra conflict and competition to life. The complaint of the Chelsea character in the film On Golden Pond that her father likes board games just for the purpose of defeating others is likely an Idealist one.

The Idealist Game Inventor

Because of the abovementioned interest in education, it's likely that Idealists are generating many, perhaps most, of those games which are expressly intended for children. Beyond that I suspect that word games and cooperative games come to us from Idealists.

One possible Idealist may be Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. Having studied theology at university – religious and otherworldly matters being another interest of Ideaslists – he eventually became a teacher, which is a common Idealist profession. His Carcassonne series of games has a strongly cooperative nature, but sometimes features cutthroat activities as well. In this, as well as many of his other games such as Downfall of Pompeii and Mesopotamia, he seems to show a strong interest in learned topics such as culture and history. In interviews he states that philosophy is one of his strong interests.

Another possible Idealist might be Günter Burkhardt. He is also a teacher and some of his games such as Manitou and Die Pyramiden des Jaguar show interest in somewhat obscure cultures. He is also rather generous to the gaming community, having offered, for example, on his website a personalized game recommendation service in which anyone can send in a request for the kind of game he is looking for and the inventor will himself send back an appropriate suggestion.

The Idealist as Reviewer

Given their skills and enjoyment of words, it's likely that there are many Idealist game reviewers. One possibility may be Tom Vasel who is in his daily life a missionary and even calls his long series of interviews "Interviews with an Optimist".

What can Personality Theory do for the hobby?

It's not certain, but everyone who has played games for long enough has at some point along the line experienced trouble at the games table. Just maybe a better understanding of the various types and goals and styles that exist would help things go more easily and avoid problems? At the same time, there are many games and many reviewers. Perhaps knowing about types can help in figuring out which games you will like and which reviewers work for you? Check out the bibliography to learn more about the theory, learn your own type and soon you can begin making it work for you.


Created: April 22, 2008
Please send any comments to Rick Heli