Researchers Say Too Much Freedom Causes Unhappiness

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

Researchers Say Too Much Freedom Causes Unhappiness

Should I change classes again? Should I have spent my skill points on something different? I just don't know!

Games that allow players to customize their characters and frequently switch classes on the fly may make players unhappy with their choices, according to psychologist Jamie Madigan. Madigan points to the new trend in games such as Diablo III and Dragon's Dogma to give players the freedom to change character classes. This ability to go back on decisions goes against a "psychological immune system" humans have.

"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," Madigan said. "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...so we're willing to take chances and make decisions, then live with them."

Madigan cites a 2002 study as an example of too much flexibility causing unhappiness. Photography students made prints of their two favorite pictures and had to pick one to take home and one to send away. Some students were told they could not change their decision later while others had an opportunity to change their minds. The students who made a firm decision liked their photos significantly more than the students who could change their minds. Madigan sums it up as "You can't change your choice, so whether you're aware of it or not you change your attitude with what you're stuck with."

Madigan says game developers shouldn't feel bound to offer players ways to change their minds later on. Sometimes players don't know which features will make them happiest.

Source: Games Industry International

Permalink

This is beyond true. Recent example was Firefall, it let you change class and do pretty much whatever you want at your own pace with little to no structure, it was all player driven...and I hated it because I wanted it to be telling me how I was doing, what I should be doing, and how I'm doing in comparison to everyone else. Those metrics, while present, were much downplayed to the game's detriment.

People are starting to get that "open world" doesn't always mean "good", and I point to strategy games like X-COM and Fire Emblem that force you to make decisions then live with them for the rest of the game as pinnacles of good game design in that respect (there are obvious problems with both games). Feeling good about making a right decision only carries weight if there would have been an equally bad outcome for making the wrong decision, and not having to make any decisions at all by making them changeable at any time means that those choices lack meaning.

From the headline I thought this was going to be some government propaganda to try and trick us in to giving up more rights.

I tend not to completely change a character and only take advantage of skill respecs if I've totally buggered up a skill tree or picked options that are useless later on. I can't say I've ever changed class though, if I want to play in a different way then I'd just start a new character all together.

Captcha: roll again. It knows!

I can definitely get on board with this train of thought. When I played Skyrim on Xbox, I had no problem with how my characters looked. When I played it on PC and learned you could bring up the face editor at any point, I found I was constantly unhappy with how they looked and regularly going back in to tweak.

I also think this maybe why I'm struggling to sink my teeth into Rome 2, there's so many building options for provincial capitals that I'm not satisfied with anything i pick. Do I make this a full on military base? Where do I make my bread basket? Is Rome remembered more for being a hub of trade, or should I build a grand aqueduct? I was a lot happier when Shogun 2 offered me a linear upgrade series for ports, until making it a choice between two simple concepts (military or economic) later on. Giving me more freedom from the start, to build cities up from the ground the way I want them sounds great on paper, but in practice it leads me frustrated and unsure I'm doing the right thing.

Interesting bit of psychological insight there.

I know I've spent half my life wondering whether I would've been better off if I did Y instead of X.

Also, is that the D3 console version? Jesus Christ that menu design is an eyesore and a half.

wow yes, lets all blindly agree that having choices sucks. . . or lets not?

i like respeccing. i do not have the time to play the same game with several distinct chars. or the will.

UrinalDook:
I can definitely get on board with this train of thought. When I played Skyrim on Xbox, I had no problem with how my characters looked. When I played it on PC and learned you could bring up the face editor at any point, I found I was constantly unhappy with how they looked and regularly going back in to tweak.

I also think this maybe why I'm struggling to sink my teeth into Rome 2, there's so many building options for provincial capitals that I'm not satisfied with anything i pick. Do I make this a full on military base? Where do I make my bread basket? Is Rome remembered more for being a hub of trade, or should I build a grand aqueduct? I was a lot happier when Shogun 2 offered me a linear upgrade series for ports, until making it a choice between two simple concepts (military or economic) later on. Giving me more freedom from the start, to build cities up from the ground the way I want them sounds great on paper, but in practice it leads me frustrated and unsure I'm doing the right thing.

Interesting bit of psychological insight there.

you just kinda fail at strategizing. do a proper inspection of what you have, what you plan to do and what you need to do it. also if you project the chance for having a new province soon, take that into account.

but here is a free tip: do not overdose on military infrastructure, focus on economy. that is always usefull. a bunch of military buildings in your soon to be not front providences is not.

So basically, what Loki in the avenger film was saying is true....?

Glad to hear it...

I think this is a little bollocks to be honest, though I might not play like some others. I stick with my choices for skills and stuff... Then when I finish the game I might start switching it up and re-spec.

I am okay with linear progression but I like the customisation in a lot of games... I love making people in games, I usually make a person with the intention of finishing the story... Then complete the tutorial and get bored and create a new person.

In DCUO I had 5 people, only 1 got further than a handful of missions. Elder scrolls series? I've had 10+ on morrowind, oblivion and skyrim each.

a choice only has actual weight in terms of gameplay/story, if you can pick and switch these choices conctantly at will they become less "choices" and more "options" that you can tick on and off.

This is especially true for MMO's, I find, being part of a select few players who have tanky characters, or are able to sneak around undetected gives you some identity and purpose in the world, it allows your character to be unique.
if everyone can switch in and out of different specialisations at will, nobody's special.

For some reason, my mind went straight to Loki's big speech in The Avengers.

Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

Still, it is true. In RPGs where I can re-spec I tend to worry far more about whether or not I've made the right choices than in ones where I can't. I guess the option to do so all but dares you to second-guess yourself.

CriticalMiss:
From the headline I thought this was going to be some government propaganda to try and trick us in to giving up more rights.

I tend not to completely change a character and only take advantage of skill respecs if I've totally buggered up a skill tree or picked options that are useless later on. I can't say I've ever changed class though, if I want to play in a different way then I'd just start a new character all together.

Captcha: roll again. It knows!

Heh, beat me to it.

*Puts on tinfoil hat*

There's some truth to this. Honestly sometimes too much freedom can be bothersome, but at the same time customization isn't a problem. I like being able to make my character unique to my own play style. At the same time I don't like the game to punish or force me to still play a certain way. Look at Deus Ex: HR. You can build and enhance the character as you like, but the most EXP is given for stealth kills. You can go in gun blazing, but you'll net less than the possible points the games allows. In other games the frustration I get with too many choices is merely the curiosity of what would have happened if I had done things differently. When I started playing Mass Effect for the first time I had a save file for each branch; Good and Evil. Stop, save, load, and then take the road not traveled. Open world is fun because of the lack of structure. I like exploration and finding things out for myself. Give me the basics, I'll teach myself the rest. And I think that's where many people balk. They run into things they don't expect or fail and blame the game for not warning them. In the real world you get lost if you don't have a map, or know what you're doing. In RPGs talking to NPCs gives you clues and hints. Don't just run off into the forest and expect everything to work out. Having things linear and scripted is like playing a rail shooter. At first the challenge is there, but after a fashion you just memorize things. Boring and dull in my book.

Yay! Another one of the Escapist's horrendously bad headlines!

This isn't about freedom. It's got absolutely nothing to do with freedom at all. It's about consequences.

Our brains are hardwired to causality and consequences. You pick something, then that has consequences and those consequences don't go away unless you do something to mitigate them. If you take that central fact away and give people choices without real consequences, choices that don't stick in any way then such choices simply don't feel real.

Freedom is something else entirely, it's much more about the possible choices one can make. It's not about the consequences of those choices. You can give the player the freedom to go in any direction and do anything but make every choice they make one that has noticeable consequences then you won't face this problem. You can constrain the player to pick between A and B but give that choice no consequences at all and allow the player to change their mind at any time and you will face this problem.

Gamers can't handle games with too much choices, for their own good, we must dumb it all down so they can't choose and be unhappy ever again!

I find this an interesting tidbit of human psychology, but boy would i be annoyed if these findings were used to remove rpg bits or character customization. If you don't like your skill set then just use the respec feature so generously provided damn you! >:O Thats what its there for!

I do my best not to exercise these freedoms in games because I tend to enjoy them better. I played through Dragon's Dogma Dark Arisen as a whole new class and enjoyed it thoroughly. the only thing it does that is nice is hold onto your levels if you wanted to change. I can't thing of a good reason to actually not just continue with your advanced class.

CriticalMiss:
From the headline I thought this was going to be some government propaganda to try and trick us in to giving up more rights.

I tend not to completely change a character and only take advantage of skill respecs if I've totally buggered up a skill tree or picked options that are useless later on. I can't say I've ever changed class though, if I want to play in a different way then I'd just start a new character all together.

Captcha: roll again. It knows!

I thought the same thing coming into the article. But in my experience, I don't take advantage of class changes. I think there is an inherent pleasure some people take in truly mastering something. It also speaks to how people like to stick with things that they are familiar with. When we become familiar with something, it's more enjoyable to stick with that than to seek out a whole new experience.

I suppose there's some truth too this, but the head line implies we don't want free roaming titles with customisation options. Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if there's very few top level writers, actors or artists who are truly, completely happy with something they've done.

In City of Heroes, I'd frequently delete and remake characters either entirely or just their costume if something bothered me, more characters then I could count not reaching level 10, especially as I couldn't just play them, they had to have character and reason as well. I had a concept character I randomly threw together of a cat girl who I tried different archetype and power combinations with before she became Kung Fu Cat and she simply stuck as that, her personality building up over her previous iterations and changing again to better fit the CoH lore, which was extremely flexible in itself. Sometimes a new costume would give a character I had little interest in a new lease of life and I wouldn't be able to leave them alone. And of course, those costume competitions where even my most awesome costumes paled in comparison to others, especially the guy who won always disappointed. At the end of the day, creating the characters was a joy in itself, but to get to the joy of creating your very own Superman, you have to create a load of duds first.

It's the same with everything, I suppose. We have so much choice in everything from our music, TV, games, clothes, food etc but we will regularly resist trying that flashy, exotic sounding item on the menu for something we're familiar and comfortable with just encase you end up wasting your time/money on something you don't like.

I think there is a distinct difference between "too much choice" vs customization though.

Customizing a character allows you to represent "you" (or whatever you want to represent in the particular game). Having this be a fully flushed out and highly detailed section of the game gives the player the proper tools they need to accomplish this. To me, character creation is a HUGE part of my investment in a game. Not all games have this, so you rely on the writers to give you a good story, but games like Skyrim, really allow you to "create" rather then emulate (a character)

Freedom of choice in context to above can be a bit of a deterrence though. Games like Diablo III, Dragon's Crown and the like give you an easy way to simply go back and "wipe the slate clean", which is not inherently a bad thing, but its frequency to happen and - seemingly - little consequence FOR that action make it harder to feel confident about your choice, even if it was a poor one. Personally, Diablo III didn't lose me in its game play or visuals/story. It lost me in the character creation portion. No build seems "right", and each time a unique/theme'd style of runes were applied it was rendered ineffective compared to the 2-3 cookie builds online. MMO's also suffer from this problem, WoW being a primary example. Unique and fun builds reigned in vanila (stun spec Tauren Warrior ftw) and as we moved into newer and newer expansions everything became homogenized and watered down until the "best spec" was the only spec. I haven't play WoW since Cata, so I don't know if anything has changed but the issue remains. Lack of consequence in rapidly changing your character(s) seems to make you less happy with the choices your making.

At least it holds true for me

Tell me about it. I'm still conflicted about my career choice in System Shock 2. I chose Navy and I keep wondering if I should have taken OSA.
This sort of thing has led me to restarting many games, some of which I never finished.

Maybe people are happy with the photographs they picked because they didn't have a choice?

I compare this knowledge with the whole "console wars" and "master PC race" slang in the video game industry and it seems true, but for different reasons. Of course a kid is going to be happy that they bought "Superman 64" on the Nintendo 64 at that time, as they only had the money for the console and one game -- so they picked the game based off their favorite TV show. This kid was limited in choice based upon his income and had to force himself to justify that the purchase he made was good. I imagine other gamers had to reach similar conclusions for other games they purchased to convince themselves that it was an appropriate purchase.

To tie back to the "console wars/PC race" thing, some people get defensive when someone attacks something they like. If they felt like justifying themselves as being right for getting a Sega Genesis or an Xbox, then someone mocking their choice is going get them angry -- due to their limited income or parents. I don't think anyone is really happy over this whole segregation of games to machines things because developers don't want to give us a choice on what we want to play our games on.

Plus, comparisons with games that have character customization (i.e. Skyrim, Dragon's Dogma, Dragon Age, etc.) limiting your choice of class/race/visual appearance is somewhat true for that game's *campaign*, but not for the *game*. The player can always restart from the beginning of the game again and make different choices of race, class, or visual appearance to have a different experience in the game. This theory would only hold true for one playthrough of a game, which is not something I strongly disagree with as games like "Skyrim" are designed to be played in multiple ways.

Frankster:
Gamers can't handle games with too much choices, for their own good, we must dumb it all down so they can't choose and be unhappy ever again!

I find this an interesting tidbit of human psychology, but boy would i be annoyed if these findings were used to remove rpg bits or character customization. If you don't like your skill set then just use the respec feature so generously provided damn you! >:O Thats what its there for!

I thought it was more implying, not so much a lack of choices, but the ability to constantly retcon and change the choices you've made. In that I agree, I prefer customization where you must live with the choices you make, rather than being able to constantly be wishy washy, picking one thing and then going back and doing something else without starting over.

CriticalMiss:
From the headline I thought this was going to be some government propaganda to try and trick us in to giving up more rights.

I tend not to completely change a character and only take advantage of skill respecs if I've totally buggered up a skill tree or picked options that are useless later on. I can't say I've ever changed class though, if I want to play in a different way then I'd just start a new character all together.

Captcha: roll again. It knows!

Me too, I though at last a chance for me to initiate my plans to become Supreme Dictator of the world... but alas no, looks like it's back to the Killer Death-Bots plan for me.

On topic:

I think there is some truth to this, while some unstructured fun in games is enjoyable for awhile. Without a clear goal or objective the novelty of total freedom begins to loose it's shine. Take games like Just Cause 2, while it is very fun to go around just causing random mayhem eventually you start only being able to enjoy that in shorter and shorter burst. Skyrim is another example you have all the choice in the world but in the end it really doesn't matter too much what you choices you pick and you can start to wonder what the point of doing it in the first place is.

I agreed with this. Sure I loved the characters I made right at the start of Guild Wars 2 but if I had a chance to redo on releaes day my characters will be alot different than they are now (I should of made an Norn Nercomancer, Sylvari Warrior and etc). The reason why I didn't redo it is due to the accomplisement for having an character that old and it would of been a total waste to delete and start the game from scratch.

Okay. Well then if this is data is correct then game companies also need to stop allowing gamers to save their game and then go back and reload in case they make a bad decision and their character dies. They should also completely disallow players the option for a second play through of a game. And RPGs should totally throw out the option for players to have more than one playable character. You are stuck with your first choice, no alts ever. Yeah those all sound like features that jive with the majority of game player behavior.

Honestly I find the rationalization behind this entire idea monumentally stupid. Saying that allowing people the freedom to pick and choose how to change their characters can only result in the player being unhappy is ludicrous. If they find the new change better, they are happy. If it doesn't work out, they can just use the same feature to go back to what was better. Game characters are not static in modern games. They are a continually changing creature. If the very nature of change is a bad thing for players then that totally negates the reason for some of the most basic game features, such as levels, skills, and better gear.

I dunno... sometimes being able to respec (if I'm reading the article right) can be a good thing so you don't end up fucking yourself in the face with a tree trunk wrapped in barbed wire. In some cases, I feel this allows you to optimize your character, even if it happens to take a few tries.

Keep in mind I'm not exactly what you would call a "metagamer." For games that allow customization in skills/abilities/etc. I have a very methodical approach to doing so, and that stems from how methodical I am in designing the character right when the game begins (long story; I'll spare everyone the details).

If I'm allowed to respec my character after investing in some skills and understanding when what works where and how, then I can essentially redesign my character according to my plans for said character without feeling like I've been wasting time dicking around with a bunch of skills that are doing little more than making the game more difficult than it may already be (i.e. Dragon's Dogma or KoA). And if the game itself is essentially telling me that I'm playing it wrong since I should've put that extra point into Dexterity instead of Constitution and I can do nothing about it (fucking Dragon Age...), then frustration is gonna set in, I end up pulling a moment that would make even James Rolfe back away in fear, and the game is gonna end up in the pile of misfit adventures that'll probably never get completed.

Observation: Huh... I guess this means I disagree, heh.

I prefer to be able to change things later on (respect a character for example), without consequences, its not real life its a game so give me a break, I don't want to invest another 2 hours into a new character just because I took some abilities that looked useful but turned out to be shitty game design.

Being able to change your mind and experiment without repercussions is what makes games fun.
Finding out that a miss-clicked skill or ability point allocation is permanent isn't.
Not being told what skills do or how exactly they work and not being able to undo their acquisition isn't fun.

I may have agreed with this in the past however my recent experience with League of Legends has changed my mind. Sure there is some short term confusion based around the initial decision of which character to choose, but overall the variety of each character and their mechanics adds so much that it creates part of what is fun about the game.

A definition needs to be made between switching between multiple options at will and a permanent change. Most of those examples tended to be based around persistent RPG's and the change was permanent. It's just not an accurate assumption to make when there are so many other types of freedom based choices in video games. Like Skyrim, oh noes I have the freedom to do whatever I like? Seems like if it were making people are unhappy it wouldn't have been the most played game on steam during the year after it's release.

Also the research cited was about photography... not exactly relevant data for this claim...

Also the initial character development was given very little coverage, it's likely not the freedom in terms of character design and class but the freedom to make those choices arbitrary later.

Changing classes might be too much, but respecs are a must have, I don't care what the "professionals" say.

I am always a fan of being able to make some changes, Diablo 2 taught me that when one wasted skill point could undo a all the time I had put into it. Maybe the answer here is to implement the respecs used in MMOs, where you can respec whenever you want but it costs you enough that you have to put thought into the respec and won't be respecing every other day.

I guess that explains how minecraft can loss its appeal after playing it for a little while

this should hardly be a revelation to anyone who's passingly familiar with say..mmo design...
there's a very thin line between "i can do anything!" and "i dunno what to do...".

Pffft -J problems. It's good to be an INTP.

Good ol' psychology. "What's good for most is good enough for all. Don't like it? Conform or leave."

Mind you, I do agree that there's such a thing as too much freedom, even in games. Absolute freedom is nothing more than anarchy; absolute freedom in gaming is just a set of dev tools.

Also, I loved the class system in Dragon's Dogma... the classes themselves were a bit too bare-bones, though.

Anachronism:

Still, it is true. In RPGs where I can re-spec I tend to worry far more about whether or not I've made the right choices than in ones where I can't. I guess the option to do so all but dares you to second-guess yourself.

I tend to worry more about my decisions when they aren't changeable. Especially in System Shock 2 :P

Gotta love all these people in here claiming that the research is bull because it doesn't apply to them specifically. Yes, decades worth of research is completely invalidated because of a few outliers. Please, by all means, teach us the ways of the world, since apparently you have it all figured out.

I remember reading a study somewhere a while ago that agreed with this article. Basically the study was measuring satisfaction levels when people purchased stuff, jeans specifically. They compared the findings and found that the more choices a person had, the less satisfaction they got out of their decision (I think it was an on-going study over the course of several decades). Back in the day there were maybe 5 choices of jeans and now there are hundreds. The study found that even though the modern jeans were objectively superior to the ones back in the day, and the person got exactly the ones they wanted, the people reported lower satisfaction levels.

I think the reason was because while their choice may have been a good one, they kept subconsciously worrying about whether there may have been a better one available. There are so many choices, maybe that other pair would have been better.

Want to see a modern example of this in action? Look at all Apple products. They've mastered this concept. Simple, few or limited choices, little to no customization beyond the basics, and generally are more expensive relative to the hardware. And yet it's practically a cult. If you live in southern California, it's the same deal with In 'n Out Burgers. You only have a handful of options, and nothing more and people love it.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here