The dark patterns of game design

Beware of the ways gaming companies keep you playing.

Gaming

Have you spotted any of these “dark patterns” in the games you play? Probably not as they’re meant to be hidden in plain sight. Canvs Editorial made a list of some of these for UX Collective:

For someone who plays video games a lot, I realize how easy it is to get sucked into a game and play for hours at a time, but this can be a problem if you are playing a game INTENTIONALLY designed to be played for hours at a time.

More often than not, game designers are regarded as advocates for players, but sometimes their interests may not align with those of players’. These underhanded strategies are called dark patterns. Here’s a research paper that discusses dark game design patterns in detail.

These dark patterns include “playing by appointment” where the game requires you to play at specific times of the day rather than whenever you have time, “daily rewards” that require you to play at least once a day (same kind of issue), and “pay to skip” where you have to pay to skip a part of a game or watch an ad.

One of the more interesting patterns is playing by appointment. Canvs posited that this wouldn’t be a dark pattern if the player didn’t have to do the specific timed task to advance. An example was catching nocturnal Pokémon or ones that appear on a specific day (and sometimes time, like Drifloon in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl). However, the primary goal of Pokémon is to catch ’em all and, unless you can trade with someone, you’ll have to do it if you don’t just want to beat the Champion. The concept of shiny hunting has also grown in popularity since methods have become easier than in previous generations. Shiny hunting via chaining could be linked to the idea of:

  • endowed value (the basic psychology of a human’s reluctance to abandon anything in which they’ve invested a lot)
  • social obligation
  • pay to skip (this would be illegal in a game sense but there are vendors outside the game who can “create” shiny Pokémon to buy on dedicated sites like pokeflash.co and eBay)
  • scarcity (e.g. the shiny Zeraora event from 2020)

Some dark patterns are darker than others but it’s important to see them when they affect the quality of play and enjoyment. Thinking back, I realised that some of these contributed to feelings of burnout, including my current hiatus from gameplay. It’s also good for carers of children to keep an eye on these patterns.