Dark patterns in games

Originally published at: Dark patterns in games | Boing Boing


Wordle 230 2/6




I’m okay with calling out all these categories except for the so-called “psychological dark patterns”. While I think “freemium” games that force you to pay to win or those that force you to spam your friends on social media are terrible (and should perhaps not be allowed), a lot of the so-called “psychological dark patterns” are simply good game design. People enjoy collecting bonuses and trying to get 100% on levels, getting badges for achievements and the like.


Starting with mobile games was a smart move. The companies that make them must have dedicated developers, if not dedicated departments, that do nothing but integrate dark patterns into the product.

I recognise some of these elements in other gamified apps, like Duolingo (where, fortunately, they’re easy to avoid or ignore).


If you read the details on those, a lot of them are seen as healthy uses. Sometimes, though, they’re mainly used to trick the player into grinding or watching ads or spending more money on loot.

“Illusion of Control” is a good example. To a certain degree it can add enjoyment and satisfaction to a game when you think you’re in charge of a task but the mechanism is actually doing some of the heavy lifting. Too much, however, and you get a scammy claw machine.


Yeah, it seems like it could be hard to make an engaging game without using at least one of those psychological dark patterns. Even if your core gameplay is solid, it’s hard not to include some of these elements because players expect them, like badges and achievements.

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What is is that makes people download these games despite all the suspect permissions required , link them to social media accounts and payment options, play them incessantly … and all for what… a badge or booby prize?

I was talking with a friend one time and in the middle of a good conversation she pulls out her phone and starts playing some sorta diamond/gem game… it looked stupid anyways. It was like she was compelled to play at that moment… she said she needed to get a certain amount of points before the end of the day for some recognition.

How do you approach the subject of a game/app becoming unhealthy to use? I’ve never really been into video games, I suppose I don’t have that type of addiction or dependency connection in my brain so it is hard to relate to those caught in that suck.

That you can buy virtual things with actual money… it’s the money… this is gambling… a game should be fun and not affect the chemistry in your brain, and fuck those developers who manipulate folks for gain.


Skinner boxes

They scratch some very low level instincts.


Pay to skip is my primary problem with mobile games. So many of them are multiplayer when you just want a simple single player game that you can casually drop into whenever you like but the game doesn’t just let you play because, ostensibly, it would be unfair to let you just skip the development for a building or troop unit when everyone else waited…unless you wanted to spend some money to convince us!

Most mobile games are annoyance engines, not games.

Pay me to remove this artificial barrier that I designed in order to annoy you enough to pay me. That’s not a game. That’s abuse.


Playing by Appointment
Being forced to play according to the game’s schedule instead of yours.



Ok, I’ll leave the same comment on two topics. This is a first.

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I really wish that they’d define examples of patterns on individual games instead of the “rankings”. I really like Pokémon Go, for example, and I know that it DOES have some severe issues, but because of my style of play I don’t feel impacted by them - but I’d like to know what I might be sidestepping, or what I’m stepping right into unawares.
(And several years too late, but I’d be REALLY interested to see what they’d have had to say about Doctor Who Legacy, which seemed to me to be one of the games least-infested with dark patterns, but I’d heard from at least one person for whom it was a money-sink maze.)

The site is about mobile games but since they mention MMORPGs, I’ll mention that my motivation to quit WoW was, as stupid as it sounds, they introduced a pet that was only available in the store. Prior to that as far as I was aware (even though I think I’m wrong) things in the store were hard to get in game but possible. They would build up the idea of collecting full sets of things through game play. As soon as it became apparent that no matter how long you played or what you did some collections could only be completed by buying things from the store I lost interest. We already paid monthly for the privilege. That was just greedy.


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