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Character Respeccing Freedom May Cause Unhappiness, Psychologist Suggests

Posted on September 16, 2013 AT 02:02pm

An overabundance of character customization freedom—primarily from respeccing—might make players less confident, comfortable, and happy with their decisions, according to psychologist Jamie Madigan.

In a Psychology of Games article for GamesIndustry, Madigan points out how some psychological research suggests that the ability to respec characters in games like Diablo III and Dragon’s Dogma causes players to make decisions founded in uncertainty—the freedom to reverse their decision on the fly prevents them from committing to a role and living with their decision. This is a phenomenon called “psychological reactance,” says Madigan.

“This may make me sound like a cranky old man, but it used to be that you made build choices in a game and the only way you could change your mind was to start a new game,” Madigan wrote. “There’s a new trend, though, to make such choices much more flexible.

“Decades of research in psychology labs and in the field has shown that humans are super good at seeking out, overvaluing, and remembering information that lets them feel better about their current situation. They all show that if we’re good at looking for silver linings, we’re even better at ignoring the clouds altogether. And overall, that’s useful. It’s kind of a psychological immune system to protect us when things turn out to be suboptimal, so we’re willing to take chances and make decisions, then live with them.”

According to Madigan, developers shouldn’t “feel shackled to convenience as an immutable design principle” geared toward pandering to players. And as for players?

“Don’t worry. You’ll be happy,” Madigan concluded.


Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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