Empathy and Entropy: Mobile Gaming’s Advertising Dystopia

We are deep within the entropy of hyper casual mobile gaming. New apps are uploaded every single second, often as previously created games just with a new colour scheme. The creative bankruptcy of these developers is increasingly obvious, so how do they lure people in to download their apps?


“The tortoise lays on his back, his belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping… Why is that?” - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick

We are deep within the entropy of hyper casual mobile gaming. New apps are uploaded every single second, often as previously created games just with a new colour scheme. The creative bankruptcy of these developers is increasingly obvious, so how do they lure people in to download their apps?

Non-mobile games are advertised on their potential for experience. Console and PC game advertising frequently showcases beautiful graphics, rich storytelling, immersive gameplay - all of which mobile phone games struggle to possess because of their own technological limitations. As a result, mobile game developers choose to double down on the format’s simplicity, or flat out lie about their game. If a developer chooses the first option and leans into its more casual elements, how can you market that? The ‘claim to experience’ is no longer a selling point and differentiating a ‘pick-up-and-play’ type game from the plethora of similar ones is a huge challenge. Therefore, mobile game advertisers have made a peculiar shift in their tactics.

While we have seen sensationalised advertising in all sorts of forms before, the extent that these developers now deceive viewers in their marketing is unprecedented. Countless YouTube commentators have highlighted the more eccentric claims mobile games have made to draw in downloads. However, these bold ‘claims to experience’ are generally left unfulfilled, since their developers are only aiming for your monetisable download and time with your eyeballs. The quantitative nature of such practices reduces you to numbers, and your activity to capital.

In addition to these outlandish exaggerations about the games themselves, we are starting to see mobile game advertising depicting absolute failure. The game has simplified itself enough that its processes are easily conveyed through video advertising instead of having to play it. Of course, clear communication of ideas is not inherently bad — mechanics do not have to be gatekept to be considered ‘good’. Strategies and methods for success are then apparent to the ad viewer, but seemingly not to the game’s demonstrator, who stumbles and fumbles their way through the overtly basic gameplay.

Then the questions start. Why would you choose that? Why does that make sense to you? How could that ever be a good move? Are the creators bad at their own game? Why, why, why? The presentation of failure inflicts emotions onto us, it affects us in ways that prompt us to act. In this instance, the act of failure is calling forth pity, anger, and mild disgust in the mind of the viewer. The performance of who we assume to be the creator of the game is considered shameful. The call to action to download, and beat the demonstrator, can be seen as a rectification of their failure. We see the tortoise lying in the sun, and it is up to us to either scroll away and let it fry, or to help it. The ad has successfully gotten into your head.

Of course, triggering an emotional response in viewers occurs in advertising all the time. But what is it about these casual mobile games that elicits a physical response (ie. a download) too? Mastering a hyper casual app manages to satisfy the negative emotions inflicted onto us by its advertisement. While not shown directly, skill is assumed to be easy to attain as a direct result of the notably unskilled demonstrator. The potentiality of experience has been constructed within the mind of the advertised, as opposed to shown directly onscreen. In other words, the opposite of what was shown sustains the underlying desire for the viewer to engage. Interestingly, where other games present their endgame/final levels as an encouragement to start playing, the mastery in these casual games is never truly defined. The lack of an end state of experience presented in their advertising (alongside the infuriating failure) acts as encouragement to seek out a game to see if its difficulty ever rises.

The sheer insanity of these new advertising tactics is indicative of the competitiveness required to survive in the saturated digital marketplace. As products proliferate the market, and become subsequently harder to differentiate, advertising is discovering impressive yet terrifying new ways to infiltrate our brains. Do these advertisers need to be stopped, or can we just let this era of gaming pass by without intervention? It is difficult to tell whether this is just the natural evolution of advertising in the digital era, or if it’s a product of late-stage mobile gaming specifically. Unfortunately, the answer here may be what we’ve been repetitively told all these years, but with a twist: Don’t buy from those you don’t know. The game is secondary to the main function of these developers, which is to capture your attention for just a brief moment. Do your best to be a robot — don’t get too emotional the next time an ad makes you want to rage.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Two 2023


The harpsichords sound like skeletons. The wings of butterflies open and close like lungs. The trees are murdered for pianos. The dust in the abandoned antique store glows gently, as if made from the powdered skulls of fairies and changelings. Welcome to the weird and wonky world of Edition Six, Phantasmagoria. We bid you to tread carefully...

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