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Developers win when they use psychology to design characters. This increases engagement, brand loyalty and return game plays. Here are 6 ways developers can use game character psychology in their games.

We all want to be happy and have a feeling of well-being, according to the Self Determination psychological theory (SDT). Cyber psychologist Berni Good knows all about SDT and how its components can be applied by developers when designing game characters.


A guilt-ridden murderer thewalkingdead-part2-posterescapes on his way to prison thanks to a zombie apocalypse in the Walking Dead. The game’s players must make decisions that determine this character’s survival. Each decision influences the direction of the story.

Psychologists claim making decisions on our own is a primary need that bolsters our self-esteem. It makes us feel fulfilled. Developers find success if they create characters that give players choice over their actions.


The human hero of Skyrim, whose soul is possessed by a dragon, must seek out and eliminate a creature prophesized to destroy the world. He will interact with characters that will either hinder or help his journey.

People have a deep-seated need for interaction with others. Psychologists call this relatedness and it’s why social and multiplayer games are so popular.

Developers can employ this theory by paying attention to how their target group bonds with one another and bring this to their game character’s interaction. Keeping game characters authentic is also important to ensure a player can relate to a game (check out Jesse Schell’s description about how authenticity was part of Avatar’s popularity). A game protagonist whose achievements are validated by other characters will keep players motivated and engaged.


The flying dolphin expertly accomplishes a front double double half-out somersault. The crowd goes wild and they multiply when the dolphin improves. When the dolphin doesn’t do so well, the audience dwindles and the trainer looks disgruntled.

Kids and parents love this about My Dolphin Show, referred to by psychologists as competence, because it meets the human need to achieve and feel capable. We want to develop new skills and be challenged.

Players will feel effective and empowered when characters help them achieve a goal, liking progressing to a new level. Incorporating positive feedback will increase player satisfaction. According to Tom Chatfield developers need to find the balance between making tasks easy enough that people will not feel frustrated, but difficult enough that they feel engaged.

In addition to SDT, more theories steeped in psychology can help developers.

Role Play

Millions of players of World of Warcraft leave their real world jobs and every day stresses behind when they play this MMO. When they start playing, they evolve into leaders of a clan of warriors making strategic military decisions that will guide followers to their ultimate destiny of gold and riches.

According to Dr. Andy Przybylski the enjoyment from playing games comes from our desire to find our “ideal” self where we live the life, or elements of a life, we secretly want to have.

Game designers who understand the roles their target players aspire to and incorporate that into characters will be rewarded with players that feel connected and loyal to the game.

Emotional Connection

Players feel as if they are the character they play. Bernie Good also maintains that a player “temporarily puts himself in the place of the character and believes, certainly momentarily, that what is happening to the character is happening to him.”


This loss of self-awareness creates a chance for players to connect with characters on an emotional and cognitive level. Developers benefit from researching looks, traits and personalities that their target groups connect with before they design a game character.


Hundreds of dedicated players spend weeks and countless hours working together to build intricate worlds in Minecraft. They create virtual currency to reward one another to keep going. Players put so much energy and time into this because humans have an intrinsic need to motivate one another to keep going. This gets our brains buzzing and over billions of years humans have evolved to be wired to work together.

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