The Psychology of Levelling up a Character


In this series we reveal why the laws of gameplay work and how and why you should apply them to real life. This time around we’re look at character levelling to reveal how a sense of progression keeps you on the right tracks and how you can make use of character levelling in real life.

Fans of RPGs are near obsessed with character levelling and fans of other genres aren’t far behind. Though they might not term it “character levelling,” in the leaderboards, weapon-upgrades and even, to a degree, in the sequential ordering of levels themselves, nearly all games have some form of progressive development, a  1 2 3 , a b c of baby steps that lead up the gaming mountain. Objectives lead to missions lead to levels lead to game completion. Call it what you will, we move up a ladder as we play through a game.

As people, we love having a sense of progression. We love believing that working hard will result in a promotion which in turn will result in a big house or whatever else we desire. There’s a reassurance and a comfort to a sense of logical progression, and its something games tap into with great success.

Be it the pistol leading to the machine gun leading to the rocket launcher; the key leading to the door leading to the new room in the dungeon, or “+1” leading to “Level up” leading to a maxed-out character, games continually make us aware of three things: Where we currently are (peasant), where we’ll be next (warrior) and where we’ll end up (hero). Through these three basic elements, games manage to motivate us, to give us a sense of progress and to keep us thinking positively as we head from one stage to the next.

Consider how you would feel with such a sense of progress in real life. Just for a moment, if you will, consider what it would be like to know, for example, that right the work you are doing right now will unquestionably lead you to become a respected, well sought after individual and that that, in turn, will lead you to life long prosperity. How much better would you feel about getting up in the morning and going to work? You’d likely be delighted to. The only question left to ask is: how do we replicate the character levelling of games to create this logical, reassuring and motivating sense of progression in real life? How do games make us believe we’re heading in the right direction and will soon became all we ever wanted to be. . . ? The answer is surprisingly simple: they tell us.

How RPGs motivate us and keep us on the right track 

RPGs begun us off, more often than not, as a lowly or everyday character who isn’t particularly special. Often, the only thing separating a RPG player-character from everyone else in the game is the simple fact that they have the desire to achieve or to become something worth achieving or becoming. They have an ambition. They want to be a hero.

What Character are you at the beginning of the game? 

Just imagine for one moment that you are a character in a RPG. Right now you are on level one. What does your character look like? Are they [example RPG characters?] Mentally imagine that you are this character. What skills do you have? What tools and resources? Visualise every part of yourself just as a character artist would for a RPG lead character.

Paul M Harrison

Professional esports commentator and freelance games journalist. Basically, gaming is my life. And I love it.

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