“How Games Will Play You” Dilemma

How Games Will Play You (Togelius, 2019)

Who it effects:

Being a lifelong gamer myself, this particular issue held special significance to me. It seems gaming has become increasingly more mainstream than when I began gaming in the early 2000s. The number of individuals who identify as “gamers” has increased from 2 billion in 2015 to almost 3 billion in 2021. (Number of Gamers Worldwide 2023) Moreover, it is a relatively cheap form of entertainment if one is to look at the hours spent playing, juxtaposed with money spent on purchasing a console and the subsequent games. Yet more and more game developers are switching from pay to play models to “free to play.” (Koksal, 2019) The quotations are to infer nothing is truly “free” especially in the gaming industry. 

Why it is a problem: 

Game developers acquire user’s spending and playing habits in the same fashion as social media and search engine companies like Facebook and Google. (Boutilier, 2015) Furthermore, game developers are targeting younger audiences who do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, and capitalizing on this with microtransactions in free to play models. (Uytun, 2018, p. 8) Many loot box models (mystery rewards for cash) use certain psychological factors to encourage purchasing, such as loss aversion, impulse buying, and time constraints. (Duverge , 2016) Albeit, game developers should not shoulder all the burden associated with children, microtransactions, and data acquisition. After all, parents technically have the final say in how much time their children spend online, and what it is they do.  

Questions and potential solutions:

Should game developers be treated any differently than other companies who garner large amounts of revenue from selling data? Perhaps they should, considering the target audience of some of the most popular games in the industry target minors, (Fortnite, Hearthstone, Minecraft to name a few) all of which maintain “free to play” models with revenue based on microtransactions.  One policy approach which lightly addresses the issue was the enacting of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) in 1998. (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule(“COPPA”), 2013) The purpose of COPPA was to protect children’s personally identifiable information from being unknowingly collected in online environments. Although much has changed since 1998, and the numbers of children gamers has dramatically increased, and parents may not fully understand how much of their children’s data is being acquired. (Benedetti, 2011) It could be argued that COPPA is an antiquated policy which needs revision, and does not adequately address the acquisition of minor’s data. Raising the age requirement on video games also is not an adequate solution to the issue, but perhaps a more detailed warning to parents, coupled with a requirement for parent’s to either deny or allow access to their kids data.  


Benedetti, W. (2011, October 11). Ready to play? 91 percent of kids are gamers. NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/ready-play-91-percent-kids-are-gamers-flna120056

Boutilier, A. (2015, December 29). Video game companies are collecting massive amounts of data about you. Thestar.Com. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/12/29/how-much-data-are-video-games-collecting-about-you.html

Children’s online privacy protection rule(“Coppa”). (2013, July 25). Federal Trade Commission. https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule

Duverge , G. (2016, February 25). Insert more coins: The psychology behind microtransactions. Touro University WorldWide. https://www.tuw.edu/psychology/psychology-behind-microtransactions/

Koksal, I. (2019). Video gaming industry & its revenue shift. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilkerkoksal/2019/11/08/video-gaming-industry–its-revenue-shift/

Number of gamers worldwide 2023. (n.d.). Statista. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/748044/number-video-gamers-world/

The games industry shouldn’t be ripping off children | Geraldine Bedell. (2019, September 15). The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/15/games-industry-shouldnt-be-ripping-of-children

Togelius, J. (2019, April 17). How games will play you. The Ethical Machine. https://ai.shorensteincenter.org/ideas/2019/4/7/how-games-will-play-you

Uytun, M. C. (2018). Development period of prefrontal cortex. In A. Starcevic & B. Filipovic (Eds.), Prefrontal Cortex. InTech. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.78697