I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t an equivalent for the game development industry. Don’t Move triggered this thought, because it distills “player investment manipulation” to turn the simple act of moving a ninja left and right into a game that I played for upwards of twenty minutes.
When you start the game, you only have the title’s instruction, which is “Don’t Move.” So you don’t, but nothing happens. You have two torches to your ninja’s left, and the same on the right. It’s a thin, horizontal strip in the middle of the screen. Around it is black. With no other option, you move the ninja left or right a little bit. Nothing happens. Then a little bit more. Still, nothing.
Then the next bit of movement sees the ninja explode into tiny bits, before they’re reset to the middle of the screen. So next you try to make a couple of dashes across the screen. The ninja explodes with just a few hurried steps. Then you sneak, trying to fool the system. Maybe it hears your footsteps and knows you’re trying to escape. Nope, you go as slowly and as quietly as possible, and the ninja still explodes.
Then you notice that you can unlock something with five attempts at escaping, indicated by a padlock and some text in the top-left. So you do it, and now the game is recording your attempts and the distance you move. Travel 500 distance it demands next, and when you do, you add time to the counters.
“Don’t Move is a game about failure, ninjas, ludonarrative dissonance and player investment manipulation.”
From here on in, Don’t Move doesn’t change its gameplay one little bit, but it does give you more and more incentive to keep pressing on with these unlocks, each one of them demanding more from you. I have to admit that, after a while, I was invested in this game, interested in what the next unlock would be. And that’s when it had me. Despite its dull gameplay that literally involves moving left and/or right, Don’t Move’s unlock system, which sees medals and trophies added eventually, as well as coin-collecting, had me hooked.
I played Don’t Move to the point where I was chasing trophies that were given out in a way that almost felt random. The distance counter had actually stopped I had run so far; maybe I wasn’t supposed to play it for that long. The screen above is how far I got before finally deciding to stop.
It’s this formula of chasing progression through these types of unlocks that a lot of modern games tend to use. You ignore the gameplay and just engage with it on a distant level, accepting it as the menial tasks you must do to unlock the next achievement, or whatever it may be. Don’t Move is deliberately designed fairly badly; it’s not engaging outside of the unlocks. And that proves its point.
Game designers have realized that giving players things to chase, achieve and unlock that exist outside of the game’s world, but give structure to the gameplay and give the player something to invest into is a way of making a game that appeals to our desire to chase the carrot, to see the goal and to reach it, and then the next one, and the next one. You can slap any old thing in there as padding; it doesn’t matter, so long as that “player investment manipulation” is in place.
It’s worrying, really, as it allows for games to be lazy and formulaic, just like the Hollywood movies.