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Decremental effects from actions or events that can lead to negative consequences.

In games, Damage is an indication that players have failed to avoid the actions of enemies or dangerous objects in the game. The effects of Damage in most games are minor; it is mainly used as an indicator of how many times one may fail before more serious effects occur.


Few First-Person Shooters make all hits instantaneous kills. Rather they require players to succeed with shots or strikes several times, each one giving Damage, before killing their opponents. One exception includes the ability to kill instantaneously through headshots, and can found in Counter-Strike and the Left 4 Dead series.

Roleplaying games, both in Computer-based such as the Fallout series and in Tabletop varieties such as GURPS, often have detailed rules for how Damage can occur and what effects it has, e.g. dividing character's bodies into different hit areas and having different consequences for taking Damage in each area.

In the board game RoboRally, the first points of Damage reduces the number of cards received each round. However, more Damage makes some earlier cards be repeated each turn, and this severely limits the freedom of player actions each turn. Even more Damage destroys the robot.

Using the pattern

Designing Damage effects consist of deciding what causes it, how it is measured or what effects it causes, and who or what can be affected by it (see Ability Losses, Decreased Abilities, and Health for notes on reversing the effects of Damage). Most design where taking Damage once does not kill makes use Health, so considering that pattern is often relevant when designing games where Damage can occur.

Weapons are an obvious choice for game entities that should cause Damage, but other common examples include Vehicles (when they can be used to hit other entities) and Tools (when they can be used as improvised Weapons). Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the Battlefield series use all these options (Minecraft too except for Vehicles being ineffective). Environmental Effects and Traps is another source for Damage but in this case, the Damage they cause is often what defines them (it should be noted that Environmental Effects or Game Items that cause Damage can together be Traps). Taking another perspective, the cause for receiving Damage can be failing to detect Surprise Attacks, failing to succeed in Evade goals, or failing in Maneuvering to avoid Obstacles or Diegetically Tangible Game Items. Moveable Tiles are in this respect similar to Obstacles except that they may what moves instead of players' Focus Loci, and if this makes it impossible to hinder the Tiles from moving this is a type of Ultra-Powerful Events. Less common reasons for Damage include not being King of the Hill or making Consumers perform actions where the needed Resources are described in terms of Health.

The most common type of Damage is simply a reduction of Health, sometimes called hit points but the Quake series shows how Damage can be used to reduce both Health and Armor characteristics. Resources can also stand in as an alternative. In all these cases the Damage are Energy Penalties. However, other effects such as forced Downtime, Disruption of Focused Attention, reduced Skills, loss of aiming in games with Variable Accuracy, Movement Limitations, and Ability Losses can be used to create Damage, and these can be used together with reductions of Health to create Critical Hits (another easier way is simply to increase the Damage provided). Independent of how the Damage was caused its numerical values can either be fixed or be determined by a function. Fixed Damage values give Predictable Consequences while functions can be used to create Randomness and increase the potential interest for each time Damage is received. If Damage comes as effect of Surprises, the severity of these are increased but the possibility of players' having Exaggerated Perception of Influence may be negatively affected. In games with Lives, an option for Damage is directly to cause Life Penalties rather than do it as the effects of depleting some Resource (most commonly Health).

The basic amount of Damage give is typically a fixed value or a combination of Dice. How much Damage is actually given can however be modulated by in many ways. One way is to introduce Risk/Reward aspects through that parts that are more difficult to hit suffer more Damage if hit. An example of this is the possibility to do instantaneous kills with head shots in first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike. Vulnerabilities give extra Damage if the attack is of a specific type or hits specific areas, and knowing about this is Strategic Knowledge if this is not obvious (this is often the case with Achilles' Heels). Combos is another option where succeeding with them result in increased Damage. Difficulty Levels and Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment can be used to regulate if games should have Challenging Gameplay or to achieve Player or Team Balance. The amount of Damage taken can often be diminish or cancelled by pre-emptive or counter actions. Examples of counter actions include using Privileged Abilities (e.g. playing "blocking" Cards in Card Games), or performing blocking or parrying maneuvers. Examples of pre-emptive actions include donning Armor or activating Invulnerabilities (e.g. activating "übercharges" in Team Fortress 2). Permanent Invulnerabilities reduce the presence of the Damage pattern but does not have to eliminate it completely if several different types of Damage exist.

Avatars, Characters, and Units are common entities that can be affected by Damage, but games can also let Diegetically Tangible Game Items in Game Worlds be affected by Damage if they are Destructible Objects. Typically, not all objects can be destroyed; a quite common solution is to make it possible to destroy the results of Construction.

Interface Aspects

The amount of Damage received is usually indicated by Game State Indicators in order for players to perceive the severity of the Damage and gain knowledge about what caused the Damage. When objects in gameplay environments have been damaged, they may be augmented with Diegetically Outstanding Features to show their status. In both cases, Damage can cause Traces to let players have Clues about what events have taken place.


Damage is a form of Penalty in games. Since the effect of Damage usually has Predictable Consequences, both the possibility of Damage and actually suffering Damage can be causes of Tension. When Damage can come in many different forms or have different effect, knowing about these represent Strategic Knowledge. When Combat requires player skill, Damage can provide a system component to create Player/Character Skill Composites.

While accumulated Damage can make Player Killing possible in games, it can also be used to increase granularity to Combat by making attacks not directly lose Lives. This also allows modulation of Eliminate goals so that not one single successful attack eliminates an Enemy but rather several successes are required. It can also introduce Deterioration to Game Items and destruction to Destructible Objects, creating Risk/Reward consideration for using Construction when the results of this activity can be destroyed. In general, how much Damage can be received before more severe Penalties are inflicted modulates Risk/Reward choices players do when they are under risk of taking Damage.

Like Lives, Damage can be seen as a measure of how many times one may fail avoiding bad effects in a game before a more severe Penalty is imposed. In this sense, it can be seen as a Resource. However, Damage works on a smaller scale and may have no effect on player's Freedom of Choice until the accumulated Damage is translated into another form of Penalty, typically the loss of Lives or the destruction of Units.


Can Instantiate

Deterioration, Environmental Effects, Penalties, Player Killing, Resources, Strategic Knowledge, Surprises, Tension, Traces, Traps

Player/Character Skill Composites in games with Combat

with Armor, Health, or Resources

Energy Penalties

with Construction


with Environmental Effects or Game Items


with Health and Downtime, Disruption of Focused Attention, Skills, Variable Accuracy, Movement Limitations, or Ability Losses

Critical Hits

with Lives

Life Penalties

with Moveable Tiles

Ultra-Powerful Events

Can Modulate

Avatars, Characters, Combat, Construction, Consumers, Destructible Objects, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Eliminate, Game Items, King of the Hill, Lives, Maneuvering, Obstacles, Risk/Reward, Skills, Units, Variable Accuracy

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Disruption of Focused Attention, Downtime, Moveable Tiles, Movement Limitations, Surprise Attacks, Tools, Vehicles, Weapons

Can Be Modulated By

Achilles' Heels, Armor, Combos, Critical Hits, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Difficulty Levels, Dice, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Game State Indicators, Health, Invulnerabilities, Predictable Consequences, Privileged Abilities, Randomness, Risk/Reward, Traces, Vulnerabilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Damage that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.