Unsubscribe: Breaking Dark Patterns

Kim Burgas & Caleb Foss / New York, NY, US; Chicago, IL, US — Jul 9, 2019

Kim Burgas, Caleb Foss, »Unsubscribe: Breaking Dark Patterns«, 2019, Rigged Systems

Unsubscribe is a web game based on dark patterns in contemporary UX design. Dark patterns are ways of tricking users into taking unintended actions. These patterns are particularly exploitative of some users. Users with accessibility needs, for instance, may not being able to find and select an option due to purposeful obfuscation. Users in certain economic classes may pay for products and services they did not choose and cannot afford. The game challenges players to unsubscribe from a fictitious monthly box subscription service that delivers vermin to customers’ doors. Stages draw from ubiquitous design techniques, each more aggressive than the last. These start with subtle visual choices that obscure the unsubscribe button, progress to confirmshaming actions that insult the user for choosing to opt out, and escalate to the absurd, requiring the player to traverse html elements like a platformer. Unsubscribe problematizes coercive design tactics that combat internet users’ agency. The game asks the player to actively recognize and engage with techniques developed to go unnoticed. In order to progress, players must learn strategies to overcome dark patterns, strategies which apply to interfaces they encounter regularly online. For example, players will find power-ups in the form of browser extensions that improve accessibility with such tools as heightening contrast. The game will be designed to be playable by all types of users, with a careful consideration for age, race, gender, economic class, and ability.

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