We’ll save the Moby Dick puns for the episode itself, but suffice it to say that sinister game developers are on a whale hunt. This episode is about the sophisticated psychological tactics they use to hunt and capture their prey. Free to play mobile games as glorified slot machines, in-game purchases even for triple-A titles, game design that keep gamers hooked to their rigs. These practices are often exploitative and, for some who fall victim to them, devastating. Some countries, like China, are pushing back. But their restrictions are overbearing and unlikely to work as people skirt the restrictions. There are better ways. On this episode of Darts and Letters, we take a journey to save the whales.
- First (@11:38), habit loops, slot machine tactics, skinner boxes, and praying on the lizard brain. What’s wrong with that? Torulf Jernstrom is founder of Tribeflame, a Finish game development company that makes table and mobile games. He’s known for a 2016 conference presentation that was totally masks off. It was called “Let’s Go Whaling: Tricks for Monetising Mobile Game Players With Free-To-Play.” Gamers freaked out, calling him a scam artist and scum bag. But he doesn’t think he’s any worse than other developers; he just happened to be the one who said the quiet part out loud. We debate the morality of these practices.
- Then (@33:25), we tack in a different direction and ask: Where do values fit into game design and development? Mary Flanagan is a radical developer, artist, and the Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College. She inquires into the politics of games, relations of power, who is represented, how, and what that says about a game — all the way down to the level of mechanics. She pushes developers to think about the fundamental values that drive their work, or not.
- Finally (@50:29), some games exploit and undermine agency, but others empower players. Maru Nihoniho is a Maori game developer in New Zealand and the founder and managing director of Metia Interactive. Her games are designed to educate and help people — one of them is quite literally mental health treatment. She talks about how games can help us understand and navigate mental health and wellness.
——————-FURTHER READING AND LISTENING——————
- Watch Torulf Jernstrom’s talk on monetization, Let’s Go Whaling, at the 2016 Pocket Gamer Connects in Helsinki and visit his company Tribeflame to view their catalogue of games. Plus, watch YouTuber and World of Warcraft player Asmongold’s hilarious reaction to the video.
- Visit Mary Flanagan’s homepage to explore her art, games, writing, and more. Also, have a look at her academic page and her books Critical Play: Radical Game Design and the co-written (with Helen Nissenbaum) Values at Play in Digital Games. Plus, check out her indie board game company Resonym.
- Explore Maru Nihoniho’s development studio Metia Interactive, including their most recent game Guardian Maia, Episode 1, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.
- Read about China’s attempts to legislate gaming, including a memo they sent to game developers. Plus, read about South Korea’s abandonment of their gaming curfew law.
- For more of the stop gaming content we discussed from Reddit, visit r/StopGaming, including this, this, and this quotation we cited.
We’re excited to share that we’re joining the Harbinger Media Network. Harbinger is home to several left-wing podcasts in Canada, including Alberta Advantage, Nora Loreto’s Take Back the Fight, and Paris Marx’s Tech Won’t Save Us.
——————-SUPPORT THE SHOW————————-
We need your support. If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters. Patreon subscribers usually get the episode a day early, and sometimes will also receive bonus content.
Don’t have the money to chip in this week? Not to fear, you can help in other ways. For one: subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. It helps other people find our work.
Darts and Letters is hosted and edited by Gordon Katic. Our lead producer is Jay Cockburn and our assistant producer this week was Jason Cohanim. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio. David Moscrop is our research assistant and wrote the show notes.
This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research as part of a project that funded us to look at the politics of video games. It’s housed at the University of British Columbia & the University of Waterloo.
Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.