Altruistic Actions

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Game actions that are beneficial to somebody but not directly to the players who performed them.

Given that players try to reach various types of goals while gaming, most of their actions during gameplay are directed towards reaching these goals. However, in multiplayer games other players may be trying to reach their goals and this provides an opportunity for Altruistic Actions that don't help the players themselves, but simply the other players. The reason for these actions may not be completely without a degree of self-interest - they may be for social reasons or the hope of help in return - but as long as they don't automatically provide a benefit they may best be, or ought to best be, considered altruistic. As an alternative, the Altruistic Actions may be game actions that provide some type of help to people not playing the game or the game may accept the input from non-players to help players.


Sending gifts to other players in FarmVille or Mafia Wars do not automatically provide a benefit for the giver and as such are examples of Altruistic Actions. That players may expect gifts in return is another matter.

Conspiracy for Good made players collect books for charities as part of its gameplay.

Using the pattern

What is an Altruistic Action is subjective, since there may both be vague or unthought-of benefits to the action and that players performing such actions may feel good about doing it. Due to this, the primary design concern for Altruistic Actions is to make them not obviously have self-serving benefits. Most actions can be designed to be Altruistic Actions by how the Rewards associated with them function. Free Gift Inventories is however a way specifically to encourage Altruistic Actions and No-Ops can be Altruistic Actions if they are done instead of those giving Penalties to others. Another way of creating Altruistic Actions is to make actions in a game have Extra-Game Consequences that are altruistic. Taking an opposite approach, Non-Player Help allow people who are not participating in a game to perform Altruistic Actions aimed at those playing.

Altruistic Actions can be used in games with Symbiotic Player Relations or Teams but this depends on how Rewards and Penalties are constructed. Games with Shared Rewards and Penalties make helping other team members intrinsically tied to the players' own fortunes and are therefore difficult to combine with Altruistic Actions. This can be mitigated through the use of Limited Gameplay Time and/or Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay, e.g. Counter-Strike and the Team Fortress series. Altruistic Actions typically mean more when they are done instead of egoistic actions. Discouraging them for this reason, or at least associating them with Risk/Reward, can be done by requiring players to use some resource (making the actions a form of Investment) or by having Inherent Mistrust in the game. Social Dilemmas is a typical solution for setting Altruistic Actions against other actions.

Given their non-offensive nature, Altruistic Actions are well suited as the actions available to Neighbors on Visits to other players' Private Game Spaces, including Massively Single-Player Online Games.


Given that Altruistic Actions do not directly help the player performing them, they can easily instantiate Individual Rewards by simply just affecting one other player. They are also a way to invite other players into Cooperation in Uncommitted Alliances based on the assumption of Delayed Reciprocity, which in practice creates Asynchronous Collaborative Actions for games with Asynchronous Gameplay. In this sense the actions may not be fully altruistic but at least is only indirectly done for personal gain. When doing the Altruistic Actions requires some form of Investment they are a Risk/Reward action due to the risk of not being return, something that is likely to be felt as Betrayal.

For the people at the receiving end, Altruistic Actions may lead to Guilting. For games with Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay or Persistent Game Worlds, both the giver and givee of Altruistic Actions can feel the pressure of Encouraged Return Visits.


Can Instantiate

Betrayal, Cooperation, Delayed Reciprocity, Encouraged Return Visits, Guilting, Individual Rewards, Risk/Reward, Uncommitted Alliances

with Asynchronous Gameplay

Asynchronous Collaborative Actions

with Drop-In/Drop-Out or Persistent Game Worlds

Encouraged Return Visits

Can Modulate

Massively Single-Player Online Games, Private Game Spaces, Teams, Visits

Can Be Instantiated By

Extra-Game Consequences, Non-Player Help, No-Ops, Social Dilemmas, Symbiotic Player Relations

Can Be Modulated By

Inherent Mistrust, Investment, Neighbors

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Shared Penalties, Shared Rewards


New pattern created for this wiki by Staffan Björk.