Casual Gameplay

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Games where gameplay is easy to begin, perform, pause, and end, without negatively affect any players' experience.

During the first decade of the 2000s, computer games started to become popular among new and large user groups that traditionally had not played these types of games. Differing in themes, gameplay, and how and when they required players to play when compared to earlier games, these games became known as casual games. Although it is possible to find earlier examples after the genre had been named, the appearance of many games of this type highlighted that a more varied flora of game types are possible and appreciated. The book A Casual Revolution[1], discussed this genre, and differentiates between casual games and casual gamers. In this four main areas of difference between causal games and hardcore games are discussed: fictional presentation, game knowledge required, time investment required, and difficulty levels.


Puzzle-based games such as Bejeweled, Combine, Staries, and Zoo Keeper are examples of games with Casual Gameplay simply because they either are played for a limited amount of time or because one can take pauses from them whenever one wishes. Icy Tower shows how an action game can provide Casual Gameplay as well due to the ease of beginning to play and the limited time of each game instance.

FarmVille and Mafia Wars are examples of Casual Gameplay first based on the social site Facebook. While players can require a lot of knowledge of how to play the games most effectively, they are easy to pick up and the gameplay allows players have control of when they wish to play - although social pressure to return favors to other players can offset the latter.

Using the pattern

The instantiation of Casual Gameplay depends on the combination of many independent design choices.

A first requirement is that players should be play sessions can be started or stopped without being too Tension or too much of a time or social commitment. This makes Single-Player Games well-suited to be be the carriers of Casual Gameplay, although the use of Private Game Spaces show how games such as FarmVille or Mafia Wars can be Massively Single-Player Online Games. Other solutions include Limited Gameplay Time, Negotiable Game Sessions, Negotiable Play Sessions, and Ubiquitous Gameplay. Time Limits are a double-edged sword in this case; it limits the time commitment but increases Tension. Game Pauses can of course also work for this, but this depends on the nature of the gameplay (e.g. level of Tension). Even if some games depict Conflicts (e.g. Mafia Wars), games aiming at Casual Gameplay more often consists of Construction or Puzzle Solving than Combat or Races in order to avoid stressful gameplay. Related, the Social Interaction they provide rarely allow Betrayal or put players in situations of Inherent Mistrust or Social Dilemmas, instead using safe alternatives as for example Free Gift Inventories.

A second requirement is that a game with Casual Gameplay should be easy to take up, even from the start. This means providing Smooth Learning Curves and avoiding Challenging Gameplay, which can be achieved through the help of Clues or Companions (either as Avatars/Characters or as Units) that explain new gameplay features as they appear. The possibility of Experimenting in games does not in itself make for Casual Gameplay, but can modulate it and support it indirectly through supporting Smooth Learning Curves. Difficulty Levels and other Handicap Systems are a simple way of letting players have a Freedom of Choice between a certain form of Casual Gameplay and Challenging Gameplay, as can Point of Interest Indicators. If the Casual Gameplay is to be enforced more, another option similar to Companions include using Non-Player Characters with Supporting Goals. As another example, Game World Navigation can be made easy initially through the use of Landmarks and other support but these can latter be absent when players can be assumed to have mastered this activity in a game.

Although Casual Gameplay needs to avoid Challenging Gameplay it does not need to avoid Complex Gameplay, since this can be introduced gradually from Smooth Learning Curves. This shows one way Casual Gameplay can be combined with Gameplay Mastery - for example knowing the most efficient ways of gaining resources given a particular style of play in FarmVille - but it can also be through being able to perform relatively simple tasks many many times in a row (as in for example Bejeweled or Icy Tower). The latter can be seen as an a form of Player Time Investments and Grinding, as can the way Puzzle Solving or Construction is instantiated to support Casual Gameplay.

Levels can be suitable for providing Casual Gameplay since they can both provide support for play sessions limited in time and be constructed to not be too difficult. For games using Player-Location Proximity, Self-Reported Positioning lets players claim be in positions they are not and thereby free them to only move as much as they wish rather than what the physical distances actually demand.

Diegetic Aspects

One of the characteristics used to describe the difference between casual games and others is that they tend use positive colors and sounds in the presentation of their Game Worlds. Although this is primarily a question of graphic and sound design, it can also reflect the tendency to focus upon Construction.


The flexibility of when to start or stop playing makes games with Casual Gameplay provide a Freedom of Choice to players. The combination of this Freedom of Choice and often having Construction or Puzzle Solving gameplay make players have the possibility to regard the gameplay of these games as Pottering.

Quite naturally, Challenging Gameplay does not work together with Casual Gameplay, and as argued above with Tension. Likewise, the possibility of Betrayal can be problematic since it makes gameplay depend on other players' behavior. Since Handicap Achievements typically make gameplay more challenging, these do not well with Casual Gameplay either (although Grind Achievements can do this).


Can Instantiate

Freedom of Choice, Pottering

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Clues, Companions, Construction, Difficulty Levels, Game Pauses, Game World Navigation, Grinding, Handicap Systems, Levels, Limited Gameplay Time, Negotiable Game Sessions, Negotiable Play Sessions, Player Time Investments, Point of Interest Indicators, Private Game Spaces, Puzzle Solving, Smooth Learning Curves, Ubiquitous Gameplay

Non-Player Characters together with Supporting Goals

Self-Reported Positioning in games with Player-Location Proximity

Can Be Modulated By

Experimenting, Free Gift Inventories, Massively Single-Player Online Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Betrayal, Challenging Gameplay, Handicap Achievements, Inherent Mistrust, Social Dilemmas, Tension


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Juul, J. (2010). A Casual Revolution - Reinventing Video Games and Their Players. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01337-6.