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  • 7 Nudges & Manipulative Techniques Present In Undertale

    - Mattia Podini

  • 4. Selective Perception


    Individuals tend to perceive specific information based on their particular frame of reference.

    People automatically interpret sensory information in a way that is congruent with their beliefs. This tendency is linked to the high number of stimuli experienced by humans, in relation to their needs. Selective perception distorts human judgment, causing an ignorance of opposing viewpoints.


    During the course of the story these are some of the elements that tend to be erroneously perceived:

    • Name of the main character. At the start of the game the player assumes that the name given to the fallen human refers to the main character, whose real name turns out to be Frisk.
    • EXP and LV. Commonly known as "experience" and "level" from an RPG perspective, they instead stand for "execution points" and "Level of Violence".

    5. Mere Exposure Effect


    People tend to develop a preference for things that are more familiar to them than others.

    Humans tend to prefer easy cognitive processes over complex ones, for this reason they stick with familiar things. Repeated exposure increases familiarity, and familiarity reduces uncertainty. Ultimately, this phenomenon makes understanding and interpreting easier.


    Undyne is introduced to the player through a combination of mere exposure and gradualism:

    • At first she is mentioned by Papyrus as a fearsome authority of the Royal Guard.
    • After entering Waterfall she is presented in a dim light, with her full armor on.
    • Before the Garbage Dump she unleashes two spear barrages against the player.
    • Undyne appears two more times in the presence of Monster Kid before revealing her fish-like aspect and facing the human.

    6. Category Size Bias


    The relative size of a category has an effect on its perceived value.

    Utilizing this bias, games tend to convey the level of danger that the player is going to face. Incrementing the visual size of an obstacle, in relation to its group, leads to a perceived higher difficulty: for this reason bigger bosses are generally associated to bigger challenges. A visual and numerical categorization can also create a contrast between a minor group, made of bigger and stronger bosses, and a major group of smaller common enemies.


    The addressed phenomenon is especially true for the last four main bosses of the neutral run, and it's generally applicable to a selected category of bosses and enemies:

    • The sprites of Papyrus (aspiring Royal Guard), Undyne and king Asgore reflect their position and the threat posed.
    • The king's trident is red and stands out as a deadly weapon, Undyne's spear remains white. These weapons are linked to their roles.
    • Flowey's godlike status is represented by his body, made of a cluster of rendered images. His appearance sets him apart from the rest of the monsters, evoking a dichotomy between organic tissues and mechanical components.

    7. Nostalgia Effect


    Feelings of nostalgia weaken the desire for money, instead fostering social connectedness.

    Nostalgia is an independent emotion, a sentimentality for the past that enhances positive self-regard and provides existential meaning. It has a powerful and long-lasting effect on human decisions. This emotion increases the perception of a social network in which we belong and our urge to spend money.


    Undertale posses different elements that can arouse this emotion:

    • The pixel art and the color palette, similar to the ones used in the 16-bit era.
    • Visual and auditory references to games such as Mother, Shin Megami Tensei, Tomba!, Mario Paint and many others.
    • Toriel motherly attitude and places with familiar or melancholic atmosphere: the Ruins, Snowdin Town, Waterfall area, etc...


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