That’s the question I raise about Diablo 3 and any other game that lets you unstick your guns in my new article over at Gameindustry.biz.
I gave Bobo The Quote Monkey a chance to pick one AND ONLY ONE quote. Here’s what he came back with:
There’s a new trend, though, to make such choices much more flexible. One of the more radical design changes in Diablo 3, which has just released on consoles, is letting you change class builds practically on the fly, swapping powers in and out with zero cost. Dragon’s Dogma’s goes even further: its entire class system is predicated on the assumption that players will flitter back and forth between the game’s many occupations, each of which offers unique play styles. And changing skill point allocations in World of Warcraft and many other RPGs is similarly trivial most of the time.
Players like this freedom. But players, some psychological research shows, may be wrong to do so.
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. This has been studied under many names: dissonance reduction, self-deception, ego defense, positive illusion, emotion-based coping, self-affirmation, self serving attribution, and subjective optimization. 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. It’s an adaptive trait for our species.
The question stems from research I’d been reading on subjective optimization, which says that we tend to find ways of feeling good about our situation as a way of maintaining good mental health and learning to live with risks. But the thing is that we want to avoid being put in a situation that will lead to such an upbeat outlook. We want to hang on to our choices even if it means being less happy as a result.
Thus the question about whether it’s best to let yourself be locked into a character build once we’ve made a choice (a la Diablo 2) or revel in freedom of choice where we can undo changes on the fly (a la Diablo 3).