So recently I have picked up Pokemon Shuffle out of pure curiosity and somewhat longing, as it seems to be everything that I wanted; a quick and easy to play puzzle game, Pokemon (because really we all love Pokemon at heart and know the Pokemon theme song and if you say you don’t you are a liar!), and hell its “free”! But as I ventured on my quest with this mystical software I found something sinister plugging away at the back of my mind. As if this game was trying to take over my thoughts! As I struggled with the bright flash of lights, cute characters and chimes whistling in the background as I made combo after combo, it dawned on me. Nintendo is trying to take over the WORLD!
If you have already read my review of Pokemon Shuffle you will see that it has some amazing qualities blockaded by a crippling business model, but there is allot more going on here. Let’s actually break down the basic game mechanics of which the game is based. We will be looking at three major areas; sight, sound, and gameplay.
When it comes to the visuals, there are several things at play. Which many of you, might not even realize are connected. Since the release of the game Peggle, by Pop Cap Games on February 27, 2007 and its wild success, puzzle games have taken a liking to colors in fireworks like display when the most minimal of tasks are completed.
The fireworks like explosions of color when completing a set in the puzzle plays more on the psychological aspect of growing up with and having fond memories around the explosions of color known as fireworks as theorized by Kansas State Universitys Psychology Department. Normally the feelings of joy we experience when seeing fireworks is not natural as fireworks for all intensive purposes are colorful explosive ordnance that would be pretty terrifying if you had no idea what they were. This plays heavily on our personal psychology, and brings up feelings of joy and nostalgia, much like Pokemon itself. But the second visual component is just as important, and that is the colors themselves.
These colors, as broken down by the numerous studies of color and their effects on our body and mind, are broken down in to a series of Warm colors like red, orange and yellow (evoking feelings of happiness and optimism and stimulating the player) and Cool colors like green, blue and purple(evoking calm or soothing feelings). This mix of colors and visuals plays off, not only our psychology but physiology, culminating into the visual equivalent of Redbull (Caffeine: Upper) and Vodka (Alcohol: Downer) amplifies the effects.
Sound and music is integral to magnifying the effects but is very intricate. Each sound is not too loud or to sharp, many of which focus on a sort of wave or repetitive manner, similar to how slot machines/ pachinko sound.
In one study at the of University of waterloo, Canada, measured subjects response to two slot machines in which one was with the calculated sound, verses no sound at all. After playing both machines, subjects where asked not only which machine they enjoyed more, but what machine they thought won more than what they had bet. Subjects that played the games with the sound cues had more of a physiological response and enjoyed the game more. While both games gave the perception that the players had won more (which could be attributed to visual aspects listed above), the slot machines with sound cues in place saw a considerably higher exaggeration of their perceptions: 24 percent to 15 percent more.
Now this sort of well-timed colors, visual images, and sound add up to an enormous amount of sensory pleasure. Specifically the release of large amounts of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure centers in the brain. As it stands right now, on a base level, Shuffle is already imitating some of the most addicting properties of Las Vegas Slot Machines.
Now we enter the most addictive piece to Nintendo’s mind controlling master plan, the gameplay. There are a whole host of mechanics that are not only focused on getting you addicted, but numerous ones dedicated to having players make it rain all over this game.
Let’s first talk about the indoctrination of addiction. Nearly every aspect of the game is controlled by chance. Will you be able to catch this Pokemon that has a 42% chance rate? Will this map give you a random pattern that you will be lucky enough to beat this challenge with? Will this Pokemons Skill activate on the right block to give me an advantage? It’s not so much a matter of earning it as it is with winning it, similar to research studies by Professors Steven Levitt and Thomas Miles on the effects of earning money verse winning money. The game carefully toes that line with the player right beside it. This creates similar physical and psychological responses to that of playing poker or other similar gambling related games.
The next hook is the timed intervolves at which players can access game play, with a limit of five plays (roughly 1-2 minutes per game on average as tested by myself over the course of 100 games) at a time unless you want to spend some serious cash. That means you will only have about 10 minutes with the game before you are waiting 30 minutes for you to regain 1 heart, just to play 1-2 minutes of game time. This causes the player to not only keep their 3DS/2DS on them at all time, but checking the device at least every 2 and a half hours, out of fear they will miss out on maximizing their chances to play. This builds dependence on the software and to be constantly thinking about it in an almost obsessive way if you want to play or make any perceived progress. Kind of like the girl at the party that is always going to the bathroom to “powder her nose” and talks really fast at a party.
When it comes to the final piece of Nintendo’s master plan, they are not fooling around one bit. Micro Transactions are heavy and a bit jarring. 1 Jewel is equal to $0.99, which in turn is equal to 5 hearts or 3,000 coins, which are used to buy boost items, and let’s just say 3,000 really can’t buy you much. If you want to calculate it out, it would cost you $4.99 every hour, if you wanted to play this game for any great length of time.
Jewels are also used to buy more time or turns if you mess up on a puzzle. This is a dangerous gamble when it comes to higher levels, as if you are not getting it with the turns you have, you most likely won’t get it with 5 more turns, and even less likely to catch the Pokemon in said puzzle. You can earn Jewels, but those opportunities are far and few between, and tempting players every step of the way to throw some green toward the game. It can be maddening, yet always alluring, as if you are slowly being brainwashed to think about nothing but Pokemon, every single day.
With all that said, there is something to say about a game systematically aimed at children, while programmed with some of the most addictive elements of modern gabling. It’s a disturbing trend that we see in many games like Candy Crush Saga or anything produced by Zynga, but they are not reaching the level that we see with Pokemon Shuffle. This is a dark road to follow and Nintendo has willing set out to walk it, becoming the Walter White of videogames.
Have we finally seen Nintendo grow old enough to become the villain? Let us know in the comments below.