Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Sep 29, 2010

Personality Traits: Dominator vs. Perfecter

Wow, it's been a while since my last post. I hope it was worth the wait, assuming anyone stops by to read this at all. Anyway, this is a bit of a continuation of the post I made over *cough* a year ago *cough* about Questioners and Answerers and is somewhat in that same vein. If I keep this up I'm going to wind up developing my own personality "typology" along the lines of Myers-Briggs and I will officially have become a pseudo-psychological hack.

While the earlier post was more about psycho-epistemological habits, this one is about how people handle their ambition differently. As before, I started theorizing about this because of some things I encountered that started me thinking. I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons Online in my spare time, a MMORPG. I'm going to apologize now for some of the video-game related arcana that follows--I'm hoping that knowing the jargon won't be necessary to following my point but it may make my examples a bit confusing. A lot of people in the game (particularly in the guild I joined) think of me as a "hardcore" player because I approach the game with a fair amount of ambition. There are a fair number of similarly "hardcore" players in the game so I've gotten to see a fair cross-section of, I suppose you could say, how people approach their ambitions when they have any.

Then, recently, one of the exclusively "hardcore" guilds (Legion, if it matters) issued a "challenge" to other guilds to be the first one to complete the new raid from the latest update on Epic difficulty instead of letting Legion do it first and learning how to do it off them. The reactions that I saw were generally along the lines of: Legion are jerks, and let's show them! My reaction: who cares? But I'm "hardcore" (meaning ambitious), and the Legion guild is "hardcore" (also meaning ambitious). So what's the difference?

The difference is between being a Dominator and a Perfecter. Now, I'd like to make a point here that a Dominator is not always or sometimes ever interested in dominating or defeating other people. There are plenty of Dominators out there who aren't interested in competing with people, which is a subjective standard anyway. And Perfecters can be extremely competitive if THEY have subjective standards. I am not one of these, which is why I'm making this point, because my examples are all going to come from my perspective and it may sound like this is what I'm stating. The difference I'm stating here isn't so much in *what* they do but in what they *care* about.

A Dominator is all about challenge. They want to tackle a hard problem and carry it off--not just carry it off, but pwn it, to use the internet vernacular. (I'm aware that my vernacular is out of date and marks me as a wannabe in the leet circles. I make no apologies because I don't friggin care.) They focus on the particulars of the problem and will often memorize some incredibly arcane stuff so that they can pwn it even more severely.

In games, Dominators are very often one-trick ponies (although in DDO at least, if you do your one trick well enough you can pretend to have a well-rounded character because you can often get away with not having to do anything else). They want to have The Biggest something. Anything. The most damage. The best AC. They don't necessarily care if it's bigger than somebody else's whatever-it-is as long as it's absolutely the most they can figure out how to get. In other areas than gaming these people are usually described as "greedy", in the sense that no amount is ever "enough" for them. If they can do more of something, they're going to pursue it, even if it means sharply limiting themselves in other areas. They are completely oriented on particular challenges and address each one as a separate and distinct unit.

To give a very specific example (because I've run across it several times and it drives me up the wall--that, and I think it's a very good example), because I play a rogue a lot in DDO, one of the things I do often is disarm traps. There's a very simple procedure involved in disarming a trap that relies on three different skills. One, you need Spot so you can notice that there's a trap in the general vicinity (you get a little pop-up warning), preferably *before* you walk into it. Two, you need Search so you can find the control box for the trap, and third, you need Disable Device so you can actually use the control box to disable the trap. Well, a lot of Dominators in the game REFUSE to put skill points into Spot, claiming that it's "useless". They just memorize the location of every trap box in the game. Or, excuse me, they don't actually do this, they claim that they do this, but much of the time (especially in the quests where the traps are semi-randomly placed) they don't manage to pull it off. There are many quests where I happen to know where the trap boxes are off the top of my head, but I'd never actually go out of my way to memorize this stuff because I'm much more interested in general solutions, not particular ones.

I'm a Perfecter. I don't care about going through these contortions to know The Solution to every single individual problem I ever run across. So, yeah, it may take me longer to solve particular problems than Dominators (after they have The Solution, that is). I'm interested in general solution algorithms. My focus is not on this challenge but on making sure I have the means to handle as many different challenges as I can come up with. When faced with a tradeoff between having The Biggest something-or-other and being absolutely pathetic somewhere else, I either find a way to do both of them (even if it's going to take a LOT of near-obsessive work), or just accept that I'm not going to have The Best something.

In my mind, Dominators have it easy--there's a reason being a perfectionist is not considered a positive trait. Our desire to do EVERYTHING WELL can make us so scattered that we don't do ANYTHING well ENOUGH. (Or, we get overloaded and burn ourselves out. It's not fun.) Our interest in a generalized algorithmic approach to problems means that some of us (me) aren't motivated to actually go FIX the PARTICULAR problem because we know it's going to involve some messy bits that our algorithm doesn't and can't account for. We may have a hard time settling because we often have unrealistic expectations for how much we ought to be able to accomplish. And we're not that interested in "challenges"--in fact, I at least PREFER things to be easy. It means my algorithm is working. Whereas a Dominator faced with a lack of challenge will quickly get bored and go look for something else to do.

Then again, Dominators have problems too. If their knowledge of particulars fails them, they may get utterly stuck on a problem--and their drive to surmount challenges can lead them to keep beating their head against a stone wall. From what I've seen, though, most Dominators don't have actual antipathy for the Perfecter approach the way many Perfecters have for the Dominator approach, so many are somewhat capable of taking a step back and attempting a general solution when their particular approach fails them--but not always.

So, to go back to the beginning here, I have zero interest in this Legion challenge, not even enough to say that they're jerks for issuing it. I find the entire business silly. My interest in the new raid would be to see whether MY algorithms work on it, so it doesn't matter WHEN I do it or even really whether I do it at all. I'll get to it when I get to it. But for Legion being First is a big deal because it means they're still pushing the envelope and getting every last bit of toothpaste out of that tube.

Edit: Ugh, that wasn't complete, because I didn't explain why I chose "perfecter" as the alternate to dominator. It's because since Dominator's charge out there and attack the problem until they get The Solution, perfecters (at least I do) are often willing to pick up a ready-made approach from a dominator and then fix it up--do the editing, as it were. So very often we're working with someone else's original ideas and efforts. Interesting, no?