Dr. Barry Schwartz, describing 'The Leakage Principle'
Let me begin by saying that if the reader is unfamiliar with the consequences of choice, they might begin first with this post I wrote back in Feb, 2013. You might also want to make a mark on your calendar, because today I'm going to talk about why I was wrong when I wrote that.
In fact, I was wrong twice.
First of all, because the point I argued on the post was to say that we are all making the best of what we have - and that in spite of the fact that we were all shoved into round holes in terms of upbringing, education and ability, on the whole we are good with that. We've learned to adapt.
Oh, how ignorant I was 19 months ago. Because I no longer think we have. It is probably more true to say we fume, we struggle, we bitch and moan and seek to assign blame that the world has unfairly limited us. We may live with it, but we don't do so contentedly and that under the surface there is a screaming demand that in those things we can control, we deserve absolute, unrestrained freedom. Even when that is impractical or wholly selfish.
I now think this unrequited expectation influences greatly the way that many people approach role-playing games.
The other point upon which I committed an error was in calling the WOTC a group of 'friendly fuckwits' for providing choice on the principle that choice can only improve things. And yet, at present, the friendly fuckwit in the room is me - because I am, with my sage abilities, walking right down that same road.
Here is the difficulty with choice: the more we add, the more difficult it becomes to make a decision. Additionally, we will probably make a bad decision, as we'll try to simply the decision in order to enable ourselves to make it. We may not make any decision at all, as that will be easiest. On the whole, the process of making a decision is less pleasurable, and we'll be less likely to be happy no matter what decision we make. Finally, in the end, we'll find ourselves so focused on the decision we didn't make, it will forever taint whatever we have.
All of this is explained in detail by Schwartz, in overview on the TED talk linked on the 2013 post, or in the longer lecture linked at the top of this post.
My present boondoggle, the sage abilities, are poised to make life much, much harder for the player than easier - because I am trying, with all my efforts, to make every study in the collection interesting, useful and relevant. This will mean that when the player chooses to be a fighter and not a cleric, all those clerical abilities will be slammed closed to the player; and when the player has chosen to be an historian or an expert on heraldry, once again a wide variety of other options will be removed - at least temporarily, and at any rate no character can become an expert in everything, there isn't time.
Thus, even if the player doesn't 'buy' skills, the player is still forced to make a choice, one that will haunt and undermine all the pleasures of whatever ability the character has actually adopted. And this will be a problem that never, ever goes away.
For those who might be interested, the reason why so many railroading campaigns remain successful comes from the relative peace that comes from not having to make a choice. Once the bit is out of the player's mouth, then comes the expectation that the world owes a person happiness; and all that resentment against the world asserts itself in the forefront of the mind. At once, the player's expectations grow. They MUST now make the right choice, only there are so many choices, what the hell is that? They don't know. The look over the options and the pressure builds. The other players and the campaign are waiting, but the player just doesn't know. All the player can see now is the wrong choice, not the right one - and in the end, it doesn't matter because due to the leakage principle, given time every choice ultimately becomes the wrong one.
I can see the problem. I can see how I'm creating the problem and how my efforts are exacerbating the problem. And yet, I'm already in love with this idea.
So I am wrong. And I do know it. Despite that, I have no intention of changing my plans.
Just now, I don't know what to think about that.