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Gearbox boss explains console fanboyism with psychology

7:11 PM on 02.07.2013 // Dale North

Player choice becomes the 'best' choice

Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford's D.I.C.E. Summit presentation focused on how player choice is a good thing for games. In one of his many examples on how choice works in games like Borderlands 2, he touched on a bit of psychology, using the work of Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert to show that the choices players make become the 'best' choice.

Gilbert studies the psychology of happiness. In a recreation of one of his tests, Pitchford used swag from his D.I.C.E. Summit gift bag to show how this works. In this demonstration he laid out six items from the gift bag on stage and asked the audience to quickly rank them from most to least desirable. In the Gilbert test you would take the items away and then come back in 20 minutes or so to tell the subject that some of the items have been made available to participants. Asking them to pick between their third and fourth most desired items, subjects would pick the third from their memory of their earlier ranking.

Things become interesting in a second part of this test. Coming back to the subjects even later, after some of the memory of their original ranking fades, they're told that the original rankings were lost, and are asked to re-rank the items. What happens is that the item that originally was third down on the list, the one they now own, ranks higher, and previously higher ranked items are pushed down.

Pitchford explains that choice changes their thinking, and that the same thing shows in games. For example, when given a choice between two weapons with comparable power early on in the game, the player's initial choice becomes their 'best' despite its effectiveness ranking. The choice a player makes becomes the good choice over time, with the one not chosen labeled as the bad one.

Pitchford says that this same psychology can be applied to console fanboyism. Those limited to one console make an initial decision, and eventually becomes the 'best' one for them, making other consoles the 'worst' choice. By this, I was a Sega kid because my dad bought me a Genesis because I asked for it first. Later, I bought my own Super Nintendo. While I loved it, I was always partial to Sega consoles. My mind made my first choice the 'best' one. For the time, at least.

Dale North, Former Dtoid EIC
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