<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-betrayal.html>Betrayal</a>


One or several players that have an agreement with other players either intentionally fail to do as agreed or otherwise hinder the fulfillment of the agreement.

Players can be put in situations where promises or the expectations of other players may be broken. These acts of Betrayal often cause friction between players, and therefore players betraying other players usually have an incentive to do so. This may be due to individual gains received by the Betrayal, differences in player positions in the game, revenge for previous injustices, or situations where the game forces players to choose which players they will betray.

Example: Much of the enjoyment and tension of Diplomacy is in the possibility to betray and backstab other players. This sometimes leads to very intense diplomacy phases where the players try to get more information about what other players really try to achieve in the game.

Example: The negotiation game Intrigue forces players into situations where they sometimes must betray another player due to having made certain promises to several different players that appeared to be unrelated when they were given but later became related.

Using the pattern

Betrayal requires that one player in the game has some Committed Goals whose completion is dependent on other players' actions, even if the commitment may only be a promise and the goals may be Player Defined Goals. Thus, Betrayal can happen in almost any situation where the players are cooperating in some way, usually towards Mutual Goals. Less severe cases of Betrayal can happen in Collaborative Actions and in situations of Delayed Reciprocity such as Player Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties or Trading with Delayed Effects. One way, and perhaps the best, to enhance the possibility of Betrayal is to give the players at least a perceived chance of reaping Individual Rewards for betraying the other players. This form of Betrayal is the basis for some Social Dilemmas. An example is where Tied Results can be perceived and Rewards are distributed evenly: in these cases, players may negotiate to have a Tied Result in order to use their Resources and efforts in other parts of the game but have the possibility of Betrayal to gain the whole Reward for themselves.

Betrayal is one of the classic themes that can be used to create Narrative Structures and Role Reversal events. The interplay of trust and deceit is a way to achieve Emotional Immersion as Betrayal will almost inevitably create strong emotions in both parties involved. Betrayal has to come as a Surprise for those who are betrayed, or it loses much of its emotional impact. This can be achieved, for example, by having a Delayed Effect for Collaborative Actions and using Asymmetric Information about the actions the players have performed, which also raises the levels of Anticipation. In most cases, Betrayal is used together with Bluffing. The players who are about to betray other players have to conceal their true intentions and in some games, for example Diplomacy, Bluffing to conceal Betrayal is the basis for much of the enjoyment of the game.


The possibility of Betrayal in games gives players a form of Player Decided Results, and the power this gives most likely increases Tension between players and has a negative effect on Team Play and possible Cooperation. As is the case with Bluffing, even the perceived possibility of Betrayal can increase Social Interaction between players. In these cases, the heightened Tension is due to the players trying to find out what the other players' true intentions are. Betrayal, in any case, is much more common in Uncommitted Alliances than in stable Alliances such as teams. The effect of Betrayal is more drastic when the other players feel that the Alliance is stable. For example, a Soccer player perceived as betraying his team in the World Cup finals will probably be treated as a real-world betrayer and suffer the consequences.

For players to put themselves in positions where Betrayal of their trust can occur requires them to make Risk/Reward calculations and heavily influences how Negotiation is conducted. The actual action of putting oneself in the position where one can be betrayed is a Leap of Faith and if the Betrayal takes place, it is usually the source for Conflict.


Instantiates: Conflict, Surprises, Leaps of Faith, Emotional Immersion, Social Dilemmas, Role Reversal, Tension, Uncommitted Alliances, Risk/Reward

Modulates: Trading, Alliances, Anticipation, Tied Results, Social Interaction, Negotiation, Narrative Structures

Instantiated by: Collaborative Actions, Player Decided Results, Committed Goals, Cooperation, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, Mutual Goals, Individual Rewards, Asymmetric Information, Bluffing

Modulated by: Indirect Information, Penalties, Rewards, Delayed Reciprocity, Delayed Effects

Potentially conflicting with: Cooperation