The truth about Timmy, Johnny and Spike
Fun’s Got Nothing to Do with it
According to Mark Rosewater, the three basic psychographics of Magic players are defined as follows:
Timmy wants to experience something.
Johnny wants to express something.
Spike wants to prove something.
While this classification in itself is insightful and useful, its definitions and interpretations are a bit off the mark. That’s not unintentional: MaRo is using every opportunity to more or less subtly discredit the Spike psychographic (even up to the point of portraying them as antisocial), while applauding Johnny’s creativity and Timmy’s ability to enjoy the game. (The reason for this is, of course, the same as the motive behind creating planeswalker points and practically every other decision made during the last years: Steering the game away from its former image as a mental sport and towards a business model closer to that of Farmville, rewarding time and money spent much more than playing skill.) To do this, he warps the Spike psychographic, pretending it would exclude having fun and being creative. That is why, among his definitions, the one pertaining to Spike isn’t completely correct, while the others are just worded cleverly. If we go with the euphemistic tone present in the two other definitions, a fitting definition for Spike would be: Spike wants to learn something.
Since the three psychographics are about a player’s primary motivation to play, a real person will usually show traits from all of them. This is why the “hybrid” psychographics make so little sense: To a certain degree, everyone is motivated by Timmy, Johnny and Spike reasons. Note that, in his article, MaRo defaults to defining the hybrid psychographics by what they do, being inconsistent with his approach of defining the base psychographics. In order for this to make sense, he stresses apparent incompatibilities of the basic psychographics: “Timmy/Spike is torn. He wants to win, yet he also wants to have fun.” is probably the best (meaning the worst) example of this. Here is the message MaRo wants to send out to his readers phrased the clearest: PLAYING TO WIN IS NOT FUN.
Why does MaRo write such bullshit? Well, obviously because it is what the majority of players – those who are not good at winning at this game, to be specific – want to read! MaRo gives them a reason to feel superior to players with stronger play skills: THOSE GUYS AREN’T HAVING FUN, BUT YOU DO.
You don’t need to think too hard to realize what utter crap this is. Barring those few people who might participate in magic games purely for social reasons without enjoying the game itself (classic examples are the girlfriend who doesn’t want to be left out, and the guy with no friends who knows no other way to find company), as well as those even fewer people (if they exist at all) who play Magic for a living without enjoying it (unlikely, because someone that good at Magic will likely be also good at much more lucrative endeavours), EVERYONE plays Magic because they have fun doing so! Oh, and winning, of course, is more fun than losing for everyone. (Did you notice how often a “casual player”, after losing to a “tournament player” who is visibly happy after winning the game, will unhappily complain that the winner’s deck or playing style wasn’t fun?)
“Having fun” isn’t pertinent to the psychographics’ definitions at all! In fact, they are about WHAT is fun for certain players. Also, since winning is fun for everyone, it isn’t something fit to describe Spike’s profile. He’s just more focussed about it. He enjoys the challenge. He’s not about proving something, he’s about finding out ways to win. Yes, he might be proud of his accomplishments, but so is Johnny when his obscure and complicated combo finally works, and so is Timmy when he kills someone with his 1024/1024 Primordial Hydra or wins a multiplayer game after getting lucky with his Scrambleverse. Getting there is the most fun, of course, and that holds true for all three psychographics.
Granted, some Spikes might actually be willing to systematically cheat or indulge in unsportsmanlike behavior in order to win. That’s much the same issue, though, as with Timmies who don’t care for the game itself, annoying all other players because they just don’t pay attention, and maybe are watching TV or even sucking up a milkshake through their nose at the same time – and it’s also the same with Johnnies who go on prattling about how that 7-card combo which failed to materialize in their last game SHOULD have worked, while locking down an entire multiplayer table with their ingenious Living Plane / Night of Soul’s Betrayal / Pendrell Mists / Energy Flux / Kismet combo. Antisocial behavior is not intrinsic to any of the three psychographics, but it can – being a widespread human trait – manifest in all of them. And cheating at games is a phenomenon which is not at all linked to any player demographic or psychographic – little children cheat while playing hide-and-seek, grandmas cheat at canasta, top managers cheat when playing poker for pennies. Spike may cheat to win a tournament, a game at the kitchen table or in playtesting, because cheating is part of the game for him. Johnny may cheat in any of these settings to find that last missing combo piece. Timmy may cheat in any of these settings because he just wants that big creature on the battlefield now, even if he’s still one mana short. And all of them may cheat sometimes simply because winning is more fun than losing for everyone, and humans are just human.
A Better Definition
If we look at the three psychographics without the intent to idolize two of them and demonize the third, we will find that the most important difference between them is how they relate to the event of playing Magic. This will lead us to definitions which – in contrast to those by MaRo – do not actually overlap:
Timmy prefers to enjoy the game passively.
Johnny prefers to enjoy the game actively.
Spike prefers to enjoy the game interactively.
Let me explain:
Certainly, Timmy’s not the only one wanting to experience something while playing, but his take on it is special: Timmy wants to see things happen. He’s the player enjoying the mystery of the draw step the most. He’s the one who loves to see big creatures clash in the red zone. He’s the one most likely to Fork a Scrambleverse or Shahrazad just to watch what happens (and prefers to let the other players sort out the mess). A pure Timmy (note again that real players are actually a mix of all three psychographics) wants to enjoy a game of Magic the way a woman who allows herself to be blindfolded and tied up in a bedroom with several men unknown to her wants to enjoy sex! He is not planning anything – that’s not fun! He wants to be taken on a rollercoaster ride or into a tunnel of horror and be shown cool things. He doesn’t want to make hard decisions or think much about the game at all – that is boring. He’s a big fan of cards which script what is about to happen. Play an Avatar of Slaughter, end your turn, and grab a bag of popcorn! This is the essence of being a Timmy. (Note that this only covers two of the four subgroups MaRo mentions. I’ll get to “social gamers” and “diversity gamers” later.)
Johnny, however, is a schemer. He does plan – he loves making plans! That’s why his favorite pastime is deckbuilding. (Here, MaRo’s subgroups make all sense, although they have so much overlap that I don’t see the need for further division at all – MaRo probably felt that if he had to use subgroups for Timmy, he should also create them for Johnny.) He is actively looking to make things happen – according to his plans, of course. This is, incidentally, why he tends to use combos so much: When his combo is working, he has total control over the game – the game becomes all about the execution of his masterpiece. Pure Johnny is often a control freak, actively trying to shut down all interference, but sometimes he just doesn’t care for those parts of the game he has no control over and either accepts losses due to an opponent’s disruption or whines about that disruption (especially countermagic) being unfair. For him, the game is a tool he uses to create things. It is no coincidence at all that most Johnny decks, while they might be constructed ingeniously and interesting to look at, actually are not much fun to play against. Johnny focusses so much on what he wants to do, that games will often come down to if he gets to doing it or not, leaving little room for interaction between players. Actually playing games of Magic isn’t paramount for Johnny – this is just a way to show off his creations. He is happiest when creating decks, without interference from other players, fully in charge of everything.
Finally, Spike sees the game as what it, at its core, actually is: A competition. Magic is an extremely rich game able to make lots of different things happen and providing players with a plethora of options how to play it, but in the end it comes down to determining who is able to reduce his opponent’s life total to 0 (or fulfill an alternate winning condition). Everything Timmy enjoys, and everything Johnny creates only makes sense in this larger context: Big creatures are impressive because of their potential to win the game (and they’re only BIG because the game rules give their size context), and offbeat combos only “do” something because the rules define what CAN and SHOULD be done. Other than, for example, with a storytelling game, there would simply be no point to playing Magic if it wasn’t about winning and losing. I want to stress, once more, that EVERYONE wants to win – if Timmy wasn’t interesting in winning, he’d go to the movies or a pleasure ground instead of shuffling up cards, and if Johnny didn’t have this goal in mind, he’d play a storytelling game, or paint fantasy art.
What sets Spike apart is his willingness to learn as much as he can about this game and apply it to the goal of getting better at it to win more often. He realizes that, under its colorful dress, Magic is a game about resource management, having each player start out with an equal amount of resources, and that the key to winning is to use these resources more efficiently than his opponents. He understands that, in a 2-player-game, there are two ways (which can be combined) to win against an opponent who is trying to do the same: Win faster, or prevent your opponent from winning (including preventing him from preventing you from winning, and so on). Let’s call these two ways “speed” and “disruption” hereafter. (In a multiplayer game “waiting for your opponents to weaken or kill each other” becomes a third valid choice.) Playing creatures with 2-digit toughness, turning all your opponent’s creatures into zombies, or creating as many subgames as possible might in rare circumstances prove to actually be the best way to win a game, but they make for poor goals, since they are most likely neither the answer to the question “How can I outspeed my opponent?” nor to “How can I disrupt my opponent’s plans?”
Note that both these questions can only be answered in relation to an actual opponent – even if you find the fastest possible deck, you will still have to figure out what to do against an opponent using the same deck (the answer is, of course, finding ways to disrupt him, and defend against his disruption, and so on…) In stark contrast to Johnny, Spike doesn’t just acknowledge the existence of an actual opponent, he prepares for him and looks forward to interact with him!
As I said before, Spike wants to learn everything he can about this game, but he does so with the goal of applying his knowledge to gain the upper hand against his opponents. So, naturally, he likes to maximize opportunities to compare his level of understanding with that of his opponent’s: He actively seeks out interaction! The more interaction a game of Magic has, the greater is the chance that it will be decided by the skill of the players involved. A pure race between two non-interactive decks (think Mountain & Lava Spike vs Island & Tome Scour for a perfect example) gives players no opportunity to influence its outcome (other than completely screwing up). Of course, Spike will play non-interactive decks if he believes them to be his strongest choice, but that doesn’t mean he LIKES playing them. He sees Magic as a competition between himself and his opponent, not as a race against the gameturns-counting clock.
MaRo uses a number of subgroups in the Spike psychographic, none of which are really necessary in this context, since they simply describe how some players specialize in different areas in the vast realm of Magic strategy – certainly an interesting analysis, but not having much to do with a player’s motivation. Since I already said that his Johnny subgroups are unnecessary as well, this leaves Timmy as the real reason MaRo felt compelled to create such subgroups in the first place: He wasn’t happy with his original portrayal of Timmy and saw the need to expand on this psychographic’s definition. Doing this, he realized that the picture he created became quite heterogenous. Instead of questioning his vague umbrella concept “Timmy wants to have fun”, though, he decided to create these subgroups.
I hold that Magic players generally like to have fun, and suddenly there is no reason at all anymore to assign “social gamers” and “diversity gamers” to the Timmy psychographic: Shockingly, the Spike psychographic goes very well with the “social gamers” profile, too! They organize tournaments, they build playtest groups, and they actually even meet to play self-created Magic variants (or – would you believe it? – do things which are not Magic-related)! That is because they are always on the lookout for competition, but also always on the lookout for ways to learn more about the game – with both goals obviously leading to social activities. I concede that Johnnies might possibly have issues with the idea of playing Magic being a social event, since they are, by definition, not overly interested in other players, but maybe it is too much of a stretch to proclaim that their approach to Magic must correlate with their approach to their social life. Anyway, the typical reasons why the three psychographics want to socialize are the following: Timmy wants company, Johnny wants an audience, and Spike wants competition. (Those are all good reasons and not at all exclusive.)
Then there are those players who don’t care for Magic at all and just want to be with friends, and if that means to play the game, so be it. This has nothing to do with experiencing Magic, though. I don’t even think it makes sense to include players with this motivation in any psychographic, but if you do, you need to create one especially for them: They don’t care about Magic. (Going with the cliche, this psychographic should be named after a woman.) Other than those, “social gamers” are no separate group at all. Casual playgroups consist of Timmies, Johnnies and Spikes, although the exact nature of their composition will vary:
Free-for-all multiplayer groups will often be populated mainly by Timmies and Johnnies. Here, the third way to win a game (see above) is possible and gives them a shot at winning with decks which are neither especially fast nor good at taking control via disruption. Spikes will often get frustrated with multiplayer formats, because they do not reward a deeper understanding of Magic strategy, and because playing well (in Magic terms) will often even get punished.
Groups trying out new or unusual one-on-one-formats, however (playing established formats falls under playtesting), such as winchester draft, alphabet magic or mono-artist constructed, will usually consist mainly of Spikes: Yes, “diversity gamers” aren’t a subgroup of Timmy – they are a subgroup of Spike! If you research which players invented various alternate formats, you will usually find their names to be inextricably linked with spikedom. You simply need to learn a lot about the game to be able to develop a great new format, and you have to be interested in ever new challenges to have the drive to design them.
The Psychographics as Tournament Players
Note that “Spike” is NOT a synonym for “tournament player”! Obviously, tournaments cater to the wants of Spikes well, and because of that those make up a large percentage of players there. You don’t need to go to tournaments, though, to compete with other players and improve your game. And of course, Timmies and Johnnies can also be found playing at tournaments.
You know that kid buying a complete tier-1-deck from an online shop and playing it at FNMs without a real clue what he is doing there, unwilling to take advice from other players? He’s not a Spike, he’s a Timmy! He enjoys winning (like everyone), but he is unwilling to actively do much for it. He loves it if his deck wins on autopilot, but he experiences his success passively.
That is an extreme example, though (and these kids often develop into Spikes). However, it is much the same as the casual player who only goes to Prereleases and there builds decks with the coolest cards he gets without any real understanding of limited strategy – a Timmy mentality: Preparation is boring, the play’s the fun!
And then there’s Johnny. He might actually be quite succesful at tournaments! He tries to plan as much in advance as possible. He has a strong preference for combo decks, since they minimize interaction, and if he plays another deck, he makes sure that he has definite plans on how to play and sideboard in specific matchups. Yes, that means that he is probably a Legacy player (the kind that ONLY plays Legacy, of course)! Then again, he might just be the guy who brings his weird combo deck to an FNM, goes 1-3 and is happy about his win.
Creativity, Losing and Getting Along
Johnny is not the only creative psychographic. Timmy might show some whimsical creativity, but usually without a clear purpose, and often lacking the necessary understanding to achieve anything with it. Johnny prides himself on his creativity, but he is designing in the ivory tower of non-interactivity, ignoring the restrictions that facing a real opponent poses. Spike is actually very creative, but he restricts himself to ideas which show promise to increase his winning percentage and thus often discards ideas which Johnnies will pick up (some of which, due to their sheer number, might actually prove their worth to Spikes after some tinkering with them). Really creative Spikes will use self-imposed restrictions on their designs so that they get to try out new ideas which won’t work otherwise – this is how new casual formats are born!
Everyone has fun winning (most of the time – usually it’s not fun for anyone winning against a completely manascrewed opponent unless there’s a lot on the line), but every psychographic is also able to enjoy playing Magic if they lose (although probably not every individual):
Timmy will usually enjoy games if enough cool stuff happened in them.
Johnny might enjoy games he didn’t actually win, but where he was able to demonstrate that his deck worked.
Spike will often enjoy games which were close, had interesting interactions and were played well by both sides.
One problem which R&D faces is that the different psychographics enjoy different types of games:
Spike obviously doesn’t enjoy too much randomness, since it reduces the amount by which he can influence the outcome of a game with his skill. That puts him at odds with Timmy, who will play swingy cards with bad EV just for the fun of it, but even more with Johnny, who often does everything he can to make the outcome of a duel dependent entirely on the performance of his own deck. Also, Spike will usually not get a lot of satisfaction from beating up bad Timmy decks or nearly unplayble Johnny concoctions.
Johnny hates it when other players disrupt his carefully-laid plans or just don’t give him enough time to set his plans in motion. His enemy number one is therefore Spike, who will all too often crush him fast or outcontrol him. (Spike is then guilty of playing a “boring” deck.) Funnily, he doesn’t necessarily get along too well with other Johnnies as well, if their gameplans prove simply superior to his. (The other Johnny will then often be accused of playing a “broken” deck.) Timmies, on the other hand, make the perfect audience for him: Their decks are usually inefficient enough that Johnny can pull off his deck’s game plan somehow reliably, and they might even marvel at his ingenuity.
Timmy will usually get along with all three psychographics somehow (maybe this is what leads people to believe they’re the most social psychographic). Other Timmies are preferred, though, since they do much of the same stuff he does and usually give him time to do his own. Johnnies are mostly okay, because Timmy has a reasonable chance to win against them (or at least do a few things he likes before he loses), and because their decks will often win in a way which Timmy finds exciting – at least the first few times… Spikes are somehow problematic, because they will usually make games end too fast for Timmy’s taste, or prevent them from doing the things they like. Also, they have an annoying tendency to try to help Timmy to become a better player, which he’s often simply not interested in – the point of a game is not to think or talk about it, let alone practice it, but PLAY it! Still, in a multiplayer group, Timmy doesn’t mind Spikes much, because he knows that he can get others to help gang up on them if they get irritating.
In the end, there’s “good” Timmies, Johnnies and Spikes as well as “bad” ones, regardless of the psychographic, when it comes to social interaction. However, in a mixed group in need of standards for their casual multiplayer activities, Spikes tend to try to establish a clearly defined set of hard rules, which would usually benefit the group overall the most, but will often meet the protest of Timmies and Johnnies, accusing the Spikes to take the game too seriously. Then, a set of house rules will be established with the clear goal of taking away as much as possible from Spike’s advantage of understanding the principle of disruption, but with the details left vague, so that future problems will be decided by “a general consensus of what feels right” in the group – in other words, by group politics and mobbing with each player advocating that their preferred style of decks is fine, but anything else as strong or superior is not. This is why Spikes usually steer clear off multiplayer groups, and it is another reason there is so much animosity between “casual players” and “tournament players”. (There is a subset of Spikes, though, focussing on multiplayer strategy and honing their diplomacy skills, which thrive in these environments.)
Spikes are, on average, much better players than Timmies and Johnnies, BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT THEY CARE ABOUT! They’re neither less socially inclined than Timmies, nor less creative than Johnnies. They are competitive, because this is what makes Magic fun for them. They’re getting bad press, though, because losing in a game is often frustrating, and people losing to players who are more dedicated and talented love to look for excuses. With his warped definition of the three player psychographics and his frequent odd swipes at Spikes MaRo intentionally reinforces the stereotype of them having no fun playing and being no fun to play against, with the ulterior motive of discrediting people still interested in practicing Magic as a mental sport and speaking up for it.
(Addendum: You might also want to take this “survey”!)