This is how cleverly GTA, Zelda and Co manipulate you.

You don’t always play the game, sometimes the game plays with you! Or to put it another way: Some mechanics only serve to trick the player in order to trigger a certain action. Gaming psychologist GeRannyMo deals with this manipulation by video games.

I now ask you, dear reader, a strange question. Ready? Here we go: Have you ever meticulously washed your hands after completing something particularly gory in a game? It might be, because according to the bizarre Macbeth Effect, that’s something people do sometimes. To wash the blood off your hands? Let’s talk about the weird, good, and bad ways in which our favorite games manipulate us. Gaming psychologist GeRannyMo, who is on his Youtube channel has already cleared up a few of life’s questions, such as why we want to shoot everything that’s red in games. BANG! Ah, that was satisfying.


Manipulate to make it fun

When a game is fun, it manipulates you. Not only that, if a book reads well and pulls you into the story, then what does it do? It manipulates you because somewhere and somehow the author has learned to make you – or at least a majority of the readers – feel and experience things. And only with the power of words. Speaking of which: the word “manipulation” has negative connotations and initially raises an alarm in some people when it is mentioned.

Like the signal color RED. Or a quest log crammed full of things to do. Or a leaderboard where you are unfairly NOT number one: Here we go, now we have to play through the whole weekend to be the best and everyone else to see it too!

Over a virtual cup of coffee, gaming psychologist GeRannyMo explained to me why that’s totally okay. At least, most of the time:

I suspect that without these ‘psychological tricks and manipulations’ we would get bored very quickly. Imagine a Tetris in which you can never lose – or a God of War in which you have maximum stats from the start and cannot continue to level up your skills and weapons. Or a World of Warcraft where you couldn’t team up with other players. Does that still sound exciting?”

Hmm, it doesn’t. The threat of death in a game encourages us not to die. The quest log full of tasks not only acts as a reminder, but is also a reward system: A completed mission disappears or gets a tick that sometimes puts a happy smile on our faces. Done, goal achieved! And isn’t that what we love so much about some games?

love of gamesGeRannyMo continues to tell me, can be dryly broken down into three basic motives of a theory from good old psychology:

“It is known from science or the so-called self-determination theory that it is roughly 3 basic motives why we love games so much: 1. Competence: We can put our own abilities to the test, show what we can do and improve. 2. Autonomy: It’s in our hands how good we get at our gameplay and where we go. 3. Social Inclusion: As human social beings, we feel good when we can play with others and even organize ourselves into groups.

So good game design is full of psychological tricks that crouch behind the game worlds and make you… happy? It’s not always such noble goals, some game mechanics also aim to keep you in the game for as long as possible. GeRannyMo is talking about intermediate goals in a quest that make us feel like we’re getting ahead – and that’s exactly why we don’t want to stop:

“This is what is known as the endowed progress effect. Researchers have shown that we pursue tasks all the more diligently when we have the feeling that we are already in the middle of the task and have achieved intermediate goals. So if game designers give us a good signal that we are successfully and steadily moving towards our actual goal, we stay on the ball longer. My favorite example of this is Zelda: Ocarina of Time – if you saw in the menu that you were only missing one piece of heart, you were much more eager to search than if you were missing all 4 pieces of heart.”

Keep playing, keep playing! After all, the feeling can’t stop at all not bad per se. But what if a game first makes you happy – and then suddenly asks for money?

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… but not too much fun!

Well, manipulation has a negative connotation for a reason. Because once a game is fun – yes, maybe even so much fun that you don’t want to stop – why shouldn’t there be continuous money to be made from it? Single-player games without real-money mechanics are out here from the start: because you buy them once and that’s it. If the gameplay is so good that it keeps you searching through the game until the early hours of the morning, all the better.

Free-to-play games on the other hand? You’ve probably noticed it once or twice: sometimes very specific mechanics make you spend… maybe… a few euros (or more):

“At the beginning of such games Success hails and we really want to play, but little by little the game becomes tougher and you would have to invest moneyto progress faster in the game. Game designers play with that here dopamine levels in our brain that is responsible for experiencing happiness – and we love that feeling, which is why we want it back!

…or a game like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery just stops in the middle of an adrenaline-pumping scene and demands money to continue. um:

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is about to strangle your character – and then ask you if you want to pay money to continue playing right away.

Without question, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery throws around a number of strategies designed to get you to invest a few bucks. And yes: you can go through the entire game without spending anything – if you want to wait hours after each quest or even in the middle of it. If.

you do. We do it. But actually it is completely unnecessary:

Games know how to influence us. And that’s mostly a good thing, because otherwise we’d be stuck with boring gameplay and game mechanics that just aren’t fun. Sometimes we’re even drummed into certain things over the years until we know: Yes, if there’s a red barrel there, it can go BOOM! By the way, it gets amusing when a title uses our habits to trick us: Oh you thought the red barrel would explode? Because it’s the same everywhere else? Well, we must have tricked you! HAHA!

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