Gamers, Practicals, and Immersives – Dr. X’s Tripartite Theory of Avatar Types

This is going to be awkward, because these ideas aren’t my own but those of an expert in virtual relationships who spoke in SL months ago, and whose name I’ve totally forgotten. I won’t go into the details of how I managed this epic feat of lost notes and abject amnesia. I’ll only say that the gist of her talk is well worth repeating, and I apologize to her—call her Dr. X—for not being able to give her credit for some very interesting ideas.

The Tripartite Theory says we can divide the people in Second Life into three broad Types, based on the way they relate to the virtual world and their motivation for being here. They are:

  • Pragmatics, who use Second Life to get something for themselves, be it money or computer skills or to or network or, or to have sex. Their motivations are practical and pragmatic, and they relate to others on this level.
  • Immersives, who are involved in SL on an personal and emotional level, and treat it as an extension of real life. They take it seriously and are immersed in the reality of it. They treat other avatars as real people.
  • Gamers, for whom Second Life is one, elaborate video game, and whose object is to win by outwitting, outshooting, or outpranking others. For a Gamer, other avatars are nothing more than pieces in his or her game, to be used to achieve their goals.

The three types aren’t mutually exclusive by any means. You can be a Gamer and still have a lot of Immersive or Practical in you, or be a Practical with some Gamer and Immersive. The Types are rather the extremes of a spectrum, a sliding scale. You can think of them of the vertices of a triangle. One side is the Gamer-Immersive scale, another is the Gamer-Practical Scale, and the third is the Immersive-Practical scale. You can think of locating yourself on each scale and then drawing a line perpendicular to that scale. The three perpendiculars will cross at some point inside the triangle, and that’s your unique make-up in tripartite space.

So who cares? Well, number one, this explains a lot of behavior in SL. The jerks who bring particle poofers to your party are probably Gamers. The guy who comes up to you and rudely asks for sex is mostly a Practical, with a healthy dose of Gamer and—if he enjoys the sex at all—some Immersive.

But even more important, Tripartite theory is a powerful tool for analyzing relationships, past, present, and future. Because the three Types aren’t very compatible, and if you’re an Immersive involved with a Gamer or a Practical, it’s probably not going to work out, and the same if you’re a G trying to make a go with a P or an Im, etc.

The way the three Types relate to Second Life and the people in it are different, because their goals and understanding of it are different. And if you’re an Im trying to establish a mutually caring relationship with a G, say, you’re going to wonder why he doesn’t want to be with you but instead wants to go out and shoot things all day.s

So you can ask yourself, was that person you just broke up with too involved in building and acquiring things to pay you much attention? There’s a good chance he or she was a Practical while you’re a hard-core Immersive. Or is your girl friend insanely jealous and possessive and won’t let you out of her sight? She’s a hardcore Immersive who’s brought her RL fears and insecurities to SL, and she needs a large dose of Gamer or Practical to make her loosen up. Type mismatch is probably one of the most common cause of relationship failure in SL. The best, most stable relationships involve the same general Types.

Since identifying a person’s Type is so essential to getting what you want out of a relationship, let’s take a closer look at the three types:

The Immersive: From my experience, this comprises the largest group of people involved in SL. Immersives bring their hearts to SL. They’re looking for love, or friendship, to bask in the beauty of a gorgeous sim, or to just relax. Mostly they’re feeding the emotional part of themselves, their moods and feelings. They have high empathy for others and they treat their avatars as extensions of themselves. The things they experience in SL affect their moods in their Real Lives, and they’re emotionally invested in the virtual world. They have a lot of skin in the game.

Practicals are motivated by more concrete and specific goals. They’re here for personal gain, for material things like money and possessions, or to gain expertise useful in their real lives. They use SL to satisfy specific needs (sex, status, power) and aren’t that open to emotional relationships. They tend to keep people at arm’s length because they’re not as interested in you as they are in what you can do for them.
At the same time, it’s the Practicals who built SL and run the businesses and create the sims and generate the content. They keep SL running and exciting. They get a bad rap, but they’re the very foundation of Second Life.

Gamers are another group that people don’t seem to like, because trolls and cyberjerks are almost always Gamers. Gamers are basically competitive or tricksters who don’t have a lot of regard for other people’s feelings, and very little  empathy. Their main motivation is the thrill of the game and finding ways to best you. They like to draw attention to themselves. To a gamer, you’re just a prop in their adventure, and SL is one big playground. Only a Gamer can love another Gamer.
On the other hand, we all have some gamer in us. The Practical might be competing in business. The Immersive has to take chances. The sense of adventure and urge to explore are Gamer traits, as is our desire to make ourselves beautiful or try new things. Insofar as life is competition, we all need some Gamer in us.

That’s the basic outline of Dr Xs Tripartite theory as I remember it, perhaps embellished a bit by my own understanding. What you do with this information is up to you, but it’s worth knowing, and worth thinking about. If you find yourself in a Type-mismatched relationship, you should probably proceed cautiously. As if that were an option in Second Life.


About Aiden Swain

Editor/Publisher, Humm Magazine: Journal of Cybersexuality

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