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The action of introducing or rearranging game elements to create structures in game states or game worlds.

Building is a common activity possible in games; this may be actual constructions or simply actions that are diegetically presented as constructing something but other possibilities exist. One is that players may construct their own set of game elements to bring to a game, which may include actually building or creating them also. Another is that the main activity for players is to create the code that will be performing the actual gameplay. A third is that the story told by the game is seen as something constructed during gameplay.


Building houses and hotels in Monopoly and pyramids in Amun-Re are simple examples of how game actions can represent Construction, and this exists in computer games such as FarmVille and Ravenwood Fair as well although in these players may need the help of other players to complete the building projects. The Sims series combines this with controlling the 'Sims' or simply letting them behave as they wish in the houses constructed by the players. Games such as the SimCity series, the Incredible Machine game series, Pontifex, Minecraft, and Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress all focus heavily on building, and the two latter do that to a level of complexity that players have constructed computers within the games.

The Age of Empires and Civilization series show how units can be the result of Construction while Carcassonne shows how it can be used to create the game world as the game is being played. Spore is noteworthy in that it supports Construction on many different levels throughout the gameplay: from characteristics of microorganism to the development of bases on other planets as well as terraforming them. P-Robots and Crobots are games where the only influence players can have on the gameplay is how they program the robots. Although Construction is part of the diegesis of Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy, here players win or lose by how they build the functionality of their colonies and empires respectively, and an important part of mastering the game is knowing how to construct efficient combinations.

Some games make construction privileged actions for some players. Typical cases for this is so-called 'class-based' FPS Games, for example the 'engineer' class in the Team Fortress series and the 'field ops', 'engineer', 'constructor', and 'technician' classes in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay most often have ready-made game worlds and narratives but the final touches are made by the game masters, besides that players often get to create their own characters. This was continued in early Massively Multiplayer Online Games, e.g. Kingdoms and DragonMud, where players that had shown their commitment could expand the game rules and game world. Some of the later commercial versions, e.g. Ultima Online, maintained aspects of this by letting players buy (and thereby build) houses. Superstruct shows how Construction can be used to stimulate players to create and describe future versions of themselves and how big scale modern day problem can be solved.

Players of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K need to construct the armies which they intended to play with using ones they have purchased. The Collectible Card Games Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon Trading Card Game work in a similar fashion. For those participating in Live Action Roleplaying Games such as 1942 – Noen å stole på and Dragonbane need to create not only some items with narrative importance, such as full-scale dragons, but also everyday utensils and clothing.

Using the pattern

The design of Construction consists of choosing what game elements (or other material) is the basis for the activity, what the end result of the activity is, and what is required to be able to perform the activity. Using Game Masters ensure that these choices can be done on a case-by-case basis and do not have to be done before they become relevant, but otherwise the choices need to be done earlier. Crafting is the more specific activity resulting in Game Items. While the Construction pattern is more literally design through letting players change Game Worlds, it can also be supported in a more abstract fashion through letting them construct structures or functionalities in Abstract Player Constructs, e.g. Gameplay Engines.

There are many possible type of game elements usable as building materials but examples include Units (in Warhammer Fantasy Battle) and Tiles (in Carcassonne). Since Construction cannot typically be done without any restrictions, the material chosen becomes a Resource if it was not already. Construction do not need any base material but if this is the case there is typically some other Resources linked to the action, or the action has limitations (e.g. through Action Caps). The game elements used for Construction can come from a number of different source. One is from outside the game as Game Element Insertion, while another is that they are created by the game system and a third is that they are simply rearranged within the Game Worlds through Movement.

While perhaps Cards are not so often used as the material for Construction, they are in games with Card or Deck Building or those with Pre-Customized Decks. In these they serve the purpose of being the material to create or modifying Decks.

Besides being building material, Characters and Units can also be the end result of Construction, and by using these patterns in this way one modifies their presence. Similarly, allowing Bases and Installations to be constructed is a way of letting this pattern modify how those patterns function. Another possible end result is the Construction of permanent Combos, which for example success in Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy depend upon. These Combos can intentionally be put into the game design as a way to modulate Construction but can also easily emerge as an effect. How Units or AI Players should behave is another possible outcome of Construction, found for example in P-Robots and Crobots. This is most often done through some form of Action Programming, and is one of the ways players can have influence in Zero-Player Games. The Player Constructed Worlds of early Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as Kingdoms and DragonMud take Construction further since the actual Game Worlds are the result of player Construction, and providing this type of player activity gives a possibility for Varied Gameplay to players given this power. This is taken one step further in games such as Conway's Game of Life[1], Minecraft[2], and Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress[3], where players construct computers to be able to code within the Game Worlds. Where players have to create the game elements used for gameplay, i.e. games with Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, this forces players to engage in Construction (or Trading as Extra-Game Actions).

When building materials are Resources having these naturally become a requirement for Construction, and can motivate have support for Trading activities and provide the basis for Game World Exploration or Gain Ownership goals. Another common requirement (e.g. in the Age of Empires series and the Civilization series) is to require a certain Development Time for the Construction to be finished. The amount of Construction in a game can easily be limited by making it a Privileged Abilities (as for example in the Team Fortress series). In Massively Single-Player Games with Neighbors, e.g. CityVille or Empires & Allies, Altruistic Actions by the other players may also be needed (diegetically this is often explained as filling occupational positions).

The will of players to engage in Construction can be reduced if they constructions can be destroyed through Damage by Enemies. For Multiplayer Games this includes other players, and this may make Construction more suitable to modulate Single-Player Games, which can still be noticeable by others, Spectators, through Extra-Game Broadcasting (the various youtube videos from Minecraft are examples of this, as is the stories created using the various installments in the Sims series). Although the Risk/Reward of building something that may be destroyed can be desired by the designers, if Construction is to be promoted this can be done by creating Private Game Spaces or making them into Irreversible Events. When promote in this way, Construction makes sense as a way of providing Casual Gameplay.

Narrative Aspects

An additional type of outcome of Construction is the Narration Structures of a game, something common in Roleplaying Games. This can require Storytelling from both players and Game Masters and can support Never Ending Stories since the stories can be added to as gameplay progresses.


Construction allows the creation and modification of Game Worlds and can easily gives rise to Safe Havens as well as Combos and Emergent Gameplay if sufficiently many combinations are possible. Knowing about these effects from Experimenting (or Trans-Game Information) is a form of Strategic Knowledge and often part of what is required to have Gameplay Mastery in games focusing on Construction. When Construction depends on the help of Neighbors through Altruistic Actions, this can put players in a position of Helplessness if such actions do not occur. Preventing Goals can occur when several Agents can perform Construction but wish to do different types of constructions in the same space. This is one way of creating Preventing Goals which are not (necessarily) Combat-oriented.

The introduction of game elements through Construction is functionally similar to the effect of Producers but does not need to use Spawning. As such, Construction often provides Abilities to diegetic game elements and can more easily be given representations that allow the introduction of Game Elements in Game Worlds without breaking Thematic Consistency. Heavy focus on Construction in some parts of a game instance can create Expansion or Exploitation phases depending on if new game elements are produced or existing ones improved.

Construction actions typically represent Investments and are perceived as Constructive Gameplay. If they can be destroyed through Damage, these Investments provide an even higher level of Risk/Reward than only having invested wrongly. With enough possible permutations in what and how to construct things, the pattern gives Freedom of Choice and Creative Control which in turn can lead to Surprises, both for themselves and others. When permutations can be used to explain what is possible to construct, it however also means that it is limited in some way and therefore an example of Framed Freedom. With Creative Control comes the additional possibility of Player-Defined Goals (and adopting these can be said to be a requirement for games such as the SimCity series, FarmVille, and Minecraft to be games), and since players in most cases can themselves choose how hard they need to struggle for these goals games with these structures are also suitable for Pottering. All of these effects make it quite likely that Stimulated Planning rises from Construction. Gameplay Engines can be created through Construction in Game Worlds even if Gameplay Engines probably more often and easier are designed as features of Abstract Player Constructs.

Construction can easily represent Persistent Game World Changes in games. When it exists in Persistent Game Worlds, or where players can activate Extra-Game Broadcasting, the pattern can have a higher Value of Effort since other players (and Spectators) can observe the outcomes of the activities, especially when do not need to worry about them being destroy due to being Irreversible Events. When taken to a more pervasive level, Construction enables Player Constructed Worlds. This does necessarily make the elements into Player Created Game Elements, for this to occur some level of Creative Control or actual craftsmanship is required. The Construction of Characters by players however leads to the presence of Player-Created Characters, regardless if they are actually to be used as Player Characters (most but not all RPGs), Companions (e.g. the 'grogs' and 'companions' in Ars Magica), or Non-Player Characters (e.g. 'dependents' in GURPS). When players have to construct the actual materials used to play the game, Construction supports Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership.

When Tiles are used for the Construction of Game Worlds (e.g. Carcassonne) or abstract structure (like the power structures in Illuminati, this gives rise to Tile-Laying. This can - despite the name of the resulting pattern - be done with Cards and Tokens as well.


Can Instantiate

Abilities, Freedom of Choice, Casual Gameplay, Combos, Constructive Gameplay, Creative Control, Emergent Gameplay, Expansion, Exploitation, Gameplay Engines, Investments, Narration Structures, Never Ending Stories, Persistent Game World Changes, Player Constructed Worlds, Player Created Game Elements, Privileged Abilities, Producers, Resources, Risk/Reward, Safe Havens, Stimulated Planning, Storytelling, Thematic Consistency

with Cards, Tiles or Tokens


with Characters

Player-Created Characters

with Combos or Emergent Gameplay

Experimenting, Gameplay Mastery, Strategic Knowledge, Trans-Game Information

with Creative Control

Framed Freedom, Player-Defined Goals, Pottering, Surprises

with Damage


with Extra-Game Broadcasting, Irreversible Events, or Persistent Game Worlds

Value of Effort

with Agents

Preventing Goals

with Neighbors


with Persistent Game Worlds

Varied Gameplay

Can Modulate

Abstract Player Constructs, Bases, Characters, Game Worlds, Installations, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Resources, Single-Player Games, Units, Zero-Player Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Action Programming, AI Players, Card Building, Companions, Crafting, Deck Building, Game Element Insertion, Game Masters, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Movement, Pre-Customized Decks, Tiles, Units

Can Be Modulated By

Combos, Damage, Development Time, Extra-Game Broadcasting, Irreversible Events, Neighbors, Private Game Spaces

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Construction that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[4].


  1. Paul Chapman (November 11, 2002). Life Universal Computer. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  2. Forum thread about building redstone computer on the official forum for Minecraft.
  3. Forum thread 'Dwarven Computer' at the official site for Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress.
  4. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.