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.

 What Character are you at the end of the game?

Now do the same thing but imagining who you want to become. What do you look like? What do you have? How do others see you? What skills separate you from everyone else? Imagine that you are the RPG hero at the end of the game and truly allow yourself to draw a mental picture of that character.

After RPGs have set these two very important beginning and end points, they give the gamer a set of interim points. Perhaps there’s the peasant, the rookie, the fighter, the warrior, the leader and the hero. These are just examples. What’s important is that RPGs give us a logical order of progression, little stepping stones up the mountain. And again,  these are fully realised, giving the gamer a vivid picture of the path they are walking. The gamer wants to go from A to B because they know that character B has the shotgun. They then want to go from B to C. . . to Z because Z has the Dawn Hammer.

Imagine that there is an order of characters you will be as you progress to the end result you really want to achieve. Just as before, create a vivid mental picture of each of these characters.

What would your character be like at every stage of your journey? Here’s a look at Luke Skywalker’s complete journey for inspiration

images of Luke SKywalker from Star Wars (New Hope, Empire & Jedi)

RPG Stats 

RPGs create a sense of reality to each of these characters and also a sense of progression by ascribing to them various important stats. As you know, you have money stats, strength stats, magic, health and so on. These stats are important for two reasons. First off, they help motivate the gamer by telling them the rewards of reaching each level (you want to reach level 10 because level 10 has +1000 strength, for instance).  Secondly, these stats create a bridge between where the player is now and where they will be when they reach the next level (Level 3 is +10 armour compared to Level 2, for instance).

Decide which “stats” are important to you. Is your body weight important? Is money important? How about number of friends? Ascribe to each of your characters any stats that are personally important to you. Also ascribe these stats to the character you currently are.

Actions and Rewards 

You may already have read’s Actions & Rewards article. If so, great, it’ll really help with this next step.

In order to bring all these characters and stats into being in the present moment, RPGs give you certain stats bonuses for certain actions. It’s for this reason that we happily spend hours beating random beasts just to watch our stats go up. Of course, it would be much better if we spent hours working and watching our work stats go up, which is exactly what we’re going to do here.

Decide upon the actions that are important to your goal. Or instance, doing 20 push-ups might be important to getting fit; sending out 10 job resume’s might be important to getting your next job. Write a list of actions that are important to your goal and then ascribe stat bonuses to them, so that performing an action in your action list results in +X to your stats list from the above section on stats.

Categories: gaming

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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