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<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-penalties.html>Penalties</a>


Players are inflicted with something perceived as negative or stripped of an advantage, due to failure to meet a requirement in the game.

Very few games allow all players to reach all the goals they have when playing a game. While failing to meet a goal that one has strived for is often experienced as unpleasant, games may make the failure of completing goals even more unpleasant by punishing those who fail them. These Penalties increase the importance of the goals they are connected to in comparison with other goals and can thereby influence player actions and tactics. In games, especially sports, where it can be difficult to judge if the actions performed by player follow the rules, there are often meta rules for how to penalize rule-breaking.

Players can receive Penalties as consequences of actions and events they have not initiated, for example being hit by an opponent. Although this can be described as failing to avoid the goal of being hit, it is more common to describe such Penalties as consequences of events; in many cases, what one player perceives as a Penalty is perceived as a good outcomefor another player.

Example: Soccer and Ice Hockey have several types of Penalties, including giving control of the ball or puck to the other team or banning players from the game, for failing to follow the rules of the game.

Example: The loss of the money bet in a deal is the Penalty in Poker for folding or not having the best hand.

Example: The Penalty for losing a piece to an opponent in Chess is the loss of that game piece for the remainder of the game.

Using the pattern

Compared to Rewards, Penalties are less common in games. This is because playing a game is a voluntary activity; if players did not over time perceive it as having more advantages than disadvantages, playing a particular game would cease in preference to other games that people overall perceived as more rewarding. Further, Penalties tend to be defined so that they are more often Predictable Consequence than Rewards; players perceive it as being more important to know what the most negative consequences can be compared to what the positive outcomes are when making Risk/Reward judgments. Due to this, Penalties are more bound by the Consistent Reality Logic of the game and do not introduce new aspect of an Alternative Reality in the same way Rewards do. For this reason, few games advance the Narrative Structure through Penalties. Penalties to Characters with players can further modulate Risk/Reward choices due to Emotional Immersion.

These restrictions on the use of Penalties are especially true in games supporting Saving, as Save-Load Cycles can return the player to a game state before the Penalty is given. However, Penalties can be used to lessen players' wishes for Reversability of the game state to occur by exposing additional explicit Penalties for allowing Continuous Goals to be interrupted, for example, losing Area Control after gaining it.

That Penalties tend to have Predictable Consequences does not mean that their effect has to be fixed. This can either be due to the definition of the Penalty depending on the game state or that the consequences create chain reactions; in both cases, this may require players to perform Attention Swapping between different activities while playing to judge the effect of Penalties given the current game state.

The choices available when designing Penalties are affected by the nature of the goals that the Penalties are linked to. For Mutual Goals, the difference between Individual Penalties and Shared Penalties greatly affects how players cooperate. For Continuous Goals, the Penalties are continuous threats while the Rewards may be distant. Penalties are required components of Committed Goals; without them, any commitment would be purely symbolic or based on Extra-Game Consequences. This does not mean that players have to fulfill them, e. g., Ephemeral Goals can appear during gameplay, and players have to decide whether to try and complete them to avoid their Penalties or accept the Penalties and focus upon the main goals of the game. In contrast, Player Defined Goals that are not modeled within the game state of a game are always without in-game Penalties.

Common forms of Penalties include loss of Resources, Skills, Combos, Lives (which may be modulated by Spawning), Parallel Lives, or Units but other forms are also common: limiting players' Freedom of Choice by giving them a Limited Set of Actions through Ability Loss; forcing players to have Downtime by doing No-Op actions for a certain amount of time or turns, often but not always as Spectators; imposing Movement Limitations; or performing a Role Reversal so that the player receiving the Penalty gets an unfavorable role. Less common is the Penalty of giving other players Privileged Abilities. Player Killing is a Penalty that gives the killed player Downtime but may also affect the player that did the killing, especially if they were in the same team in a game with Team Play.

In some cases, the Reward for one player is to select Penalties for other players, for example in Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties where one player decides with absolute power. However, in Multiplayer Games the value of such Rewards lessens compared to positive Rewards, with the number of players. This is because, unless the Penalty is given to all other players, the relative change in position for the player receiving the Reward is nothing to all but one player while a positive Reward gives a relative change in position toward all other players. The forms of Penalties encourage Negotiation, as does Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties in general.

Penalties can be used to negatively create Social Statuses; for example, by showing the amount of Player Killing each player has done. When they exist, the ability to assign Penalties within a social group without prompting from the game system is a form of Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties that is usually assigned to those with higher Social Status.

Penalties can be used to encourage Team Play by using Shared Penalties, for example by losses of Shared Resources. These can also be used to force players into Alliances where no Rewards exist. Random Individual Penalties can have the same effect; for example, the practice of decimating a Roman unit , i. e. killing one randomly chosen soldier out of every ten, after soldiers deserted made soldiers watch each other to ensure that nobody deserted the unit. Penalties can also be to ensure continued cooperation by penalizing Betrayal. When Penalties do not exist, most Alliances are actually Uncommitted Alliances, and one of the major considerations for the cooperation is the risk of Betrayal.


Penalties are the effects of Damage, Deadly Traps, or failing to complete goals and usually give Emotional Immersion in games. Penalties indicate to players what actions and strategies should be avoided in a game but do not make the action or strategies impossible. Indeed, knowing what short-term Penalties to take in order to gain long-term Rewards is often Strategic Knowledge and a sign of Game Mastery. The presence of Penalties increases Tension in a game and can be forced upon players in a way that the Tension of trying to reach a Reward cannot.

Imbalances in Freedom of Choices between players or, more generally, imbalances in Player Balance can be perceived as Penalties. For example, not having a Privileged Ability (including one that protects from a Penalty) can be seen as a Penalty. Penalties can be used to correct these imbalances; giving Penalties to players leading a game has a Balancing Effect, something that can be used by the other players in games where players can hand out Penalties and there exists a sufficient Game State Overview.

A Penalty can be modulated by a Reward and vice versa. This can mitigate the effects of a Penalty or make a Reward less attractive. Another way of modulating Rewards with Penalties is to define the Reward of a goal as the Penalty for another player, as for example, the Reward of Eliminate goals often can be seen.


Instantiates: Social Statuses, Predictable Consequences, Strategic Knowledge, Tension, Dynamic Alliances, Spawning, Emotional Immersion

Modulates: Attention Swapping, Damage, Deadly Traps, Game Mastery, Rewards, Lives, Parallel Lives, Units, Ephemeral Goals, Team Play, Area Control, Skills, Risk/Reward, Combos, Characters, Betrayal, Player Killing, Uncommitted Alliances, Player Defined Goals

Instantiated by: Spectators, Individual Penalties, Limited Set of Actions, Ability Losses, Decreased Abilities, No-Ops, Privileged Abilities, Committed Goals, Eliminate, Role Reversal, Movement Limitations, Shared Penalties, Resources, Downtime

Modulated by: Continuous Goals, Shared Resources, Consistent Reality Logic, Rewards, Privileged Abilities, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, Identification, Balancing Effects, Mutual Goals, Extra-Game Consequences

Potentially conflicting with: Narrative Structures, Freedom of Choice, Save-Load Cycles

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(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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