How game apps manipulate children

3 min
Tags: children Game-Apps manipulate Dark Patterns

How game apps manipulate children

Children and young people have a huge selection when it comes to the typical game apps for mobile phones and smartphones. Purchases are increasing, as are sales. Such games are often offered free of charge at the beginning. Only later is the young player persuaded to buy. There are different strategies for this, which are highly manipulative. These strategies involve some risks for the children. One of the reasons for this is that the market is geared towards children and young people. They represent a separate target group.

Manipulation of children

Dark patterns are created to manipulate children and teenagers via an app. They are used, for example, to keep the child engaged with the app for longer. An example of this is the ticking clock; there is always too little time to get things done. These strategies are unknown to many parents. Nevertheless, the youngest users are often manipulated by them. Children's brains, which are still developing, are particularly susceptible to this.

It's no wonder that the smallest users are hardly able to get away from smartphones or tablets. The psychological tricks keep growing. Even at preschool age, children often use various games that are filled with manipulative elements. Especially during the Corona period, the numbers on this went up. The German Center for Addiction Issues has now also looked into this. Studies have shown that these techniques can lead to pathological gaming behavior. There is also talk of so-called social media addiction among children and young people. This also increased sharply during the Corona pandemic.

Dark Patterns are special psychologically compound dark patterns. Even three-year-old children are targeted. The aim is to artificially prolong the course of the game so that the young user will engage with the app again or watch advertisements. Indirectly, this exerts enormous buying pressure. Typical free versions of this kind include games like "Minecraft" or "Subway Surfers".

The relationship pressure is also exerted, this happens parasocially. The imaginary game characters persuade the user to buy something. If the user does not continue playing, the fictitious character appears sad, for example. Young people and children are particularly susceptible to this. There is often a countdown that shows how long a paid extra will be available. Navigation restrictions also make the young player buy something or play longer. The children identify with their favorite character in the game. Virtual rewards are always enticing, so the screen flashes frequently. Those who want to leave the app are baited again.

It has been proven that the brain is not fully mature until around the age of 20. That's why manipulative elements are always built into such games to get the user hooked. The user is always given a little push to get things done virtually. This concept is also used in supermarkets, for example. More detailed data is unfortunately not provided by the respective companies and game developers.

Recommendation for parents

It is therefore generally recommended that younger children should be accompanied by their parents when playing such online games on tablets or smartphones. Manipulative game designs can thus be better detected. It is possible to restrict the device settings accordingly. Alternatively, certain games can also be used in offline mode. However, this usually leads to a reduced gaming experience, and consequently the gaming fun is missing.

A safe Internet for our children - how children can learn to use digital media. Children should not discover the Internet alone. Take your time and discover the Internet together.

Swisscows Digital media education