<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-conflict.html>Conflict</a>


In conflict, two or more parties, often players or players against the game system, have goals, that cannot be satisfied together.

Almost all games have conflict situations, as otherwise it would be difficult to motivate the goal structures within the game. This, however, does not necessarily mean that all games are of an aggressive and competitive nature, but that games can be based on different kinds of conflict situations and on different levels. Even highly cooperative games, such as Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings, have a built-in conflict between the players and the game system. The same applies, of course, to all single-player games, where the players struggle against the game system. However, it can be argued that certain categories of games, especially simulation games, do not have explicit conflict situations and to a certain extent this is true. It is possible to play a simulation game, such as SimCity or The Sims, in such a way that there is no perceived conflict situation, but as soon as the players set goals for themselves in the game, there has to be conflict, as otherwise there is no game.

Example: The Conflict situation in Tetris is that the game system creates blocks that start to fall down, and the player tries to keep the screen as clear from blocks as possible.

Example: In Chess, the Conflict situation is clear: the two players try to checkmate each other's king, and the winner is the first player able to do that.

Using the pattern

Conflict is almost intuitively part of all games, but determining which kinds of Conflict situations and on which levels the Conflict appears is a difficult task. Using Eliminate and Overcome goals or direct Competition from Enemies in the form of other players or Agents, is an easy way to create Conflict in games, especially if Combat actions are available. The severity of the Conflict can be modulated by the use of Lives or the possibility of Player Elimination.

Gain Ownership through Transfer of Control events can either modulate or be the main reason for almost any kind of Conflict. Competitions with Individual Rewards for the players are Conflict situations, as only some of the players are able to reach their goals in an adequate manner, especially if Tiebreakers are used. Race, Rescue, Last Man Standing, and King of the Hill are classical ways of bringing Conflict and Competition into games and can be modulated by the goals resulting in Player Elimination. Betrayals that cause Role Reversals give Conflicts with potentially greater Emotional Immersion, since the Conflict is unexpected and probably perceived as unfairly motivated. Tournaments allow the Conflict to extend between game instances.

For Conflict to exist, players must be aware that they have opponents, so Uncertainty of Information or Imperfect Information about the goals of players, or even which players exist, make Conflict difficult. Although not required for Conflict to exist, Symmetric Information can intensify and focus Conflicts, especially if players have Symmetric Goals.


Conflict is a common source in games of Emotional Immersion, and Conflict naturally creates Tension in games as other players or the game system are actively working against oneself. Games use different kinds of Conflict situations as the main motivations for the players to play the game and spectators to watch the drama unfold. Conflict can happen on several different levels in the game, and even though a game might contain features of Collaborative Actions without Conflict, there usually is a Conflict situation at least on some level, for example, as a Social Dilemma or rivalries between the members of the Social Organization.


Instantiates: Tension, Emotional Immersion

Modulates: Attention Swapping, Social Dilemmas, Social Organizations

Instantiated by: Role Reversal, Combat, Betting, Tiebreakers, Interferable Goals, Preventing Goals, Excluding Goals, Incompatible Goals, Last Man Standing, King of the Hill, Race, Transfer of Control, Overcome, Player Elimination, Betrayal, Competition, Tournaments, Rescue, Enemies, Gain Ownership, Eliminate

Modulated by: Dedicated Game Facilitators, Individual Rewards, Ownership, Tiebreakers, Agents, Symmetric Goals, Lives, Symmetric Information, Shrinking Game World

Potentially conflicting with: Collaborative Actions, Mutual Goals, Shared Rewards, Supporting Goals, Uncertainty of Information, Imperfect Information, Cooperation