Sad Gamers: A Daughter Story


“Mommy,” Child declares from the backseat, “I don’t like that dolphin game.”

For a moment my brain blanks. We had just been talking about something completely different; this topic shift is rather out of the blue. “The dolphin game?”

“The ipad dolphin game,” she says. “The one where you swim and get coins.”

“Oh!” I say. “I wasn’t sure what you meant. Why don’t you like the dolphin game?”

“Because it wants to make people sad,” she says, very firmly.

I glance in the rear-view mirror at her. She’s looking out the window. “It does? How does it do that?”

“I don’t know,” she says. And then a moment later, “It makes people want to have more money than everyone else. And then you don’t have money to get things. And when you do, you can’t get other things.”

Startled, I say, “Well… yes. You’re absolutely right. Games like that just want you to get lots of money and then spend it.”

“I don’t like it,” she says. “It wants to make people sad.”

“It does,” I say. “So you shouldn’t play it anymore, if you don’t like it. You should do other things you like better.”

Helping her out of the car, I reflect that we’ve been doing our best to educate her about sales tactics, particularly since so many of them are aimed at children because of their low impulse control. When the two of us are out together, I explain to her why stores give out samples, or why people like to give things to children, or why stores sell things for money. But I absolutely did not expect her to extrapolate that to her freemium dolphin game at five years old. And I especially didn’t expect her to make the connection between having money and being happy or sad.

What a world she’s entering. But I have some hope that she’ll go into it clear-eyed.

  1. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, that kid of yours is amazing. :)

  2. Wow! There was an article discussing exactly these tactics on Boing Boing just the other day, a much more involved study of the tactics of Freemium games in driving sales.

    http://boingboing.net/2013/07/09/behavioral-economics-of-free-t.html

    But I think your daughter has a keen insight all her own onto the emotional reality of these games and what they do to players.

    Good on you for raising a child astute enough to perceive and explain it, and better on you still for having the patience and understanding to hear what she had to say and encourage her to develop her insight. :)

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