Dexterity-Based Actions

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Actions whose success or failure depends on some form of dexterity, in most cases, eye-hand coordination.

Games challenge players in performing different types of activities. Those that include challenges whose outcome depend on players motoric abilities have Dexterity-Based Actions.

Dexterity-Based Actions are those actions whose effects are determined by how the player physically performs them. The effects of the actions do not have to be directly connected to what the player is manipulating for actions to be dexterous: billiards and computer games are examples of how games can be manipulated through indirect control.


Sports are the oldest examples of Dexterity-Based Actions. While some, e.g. the Long Jump and Sprints, depend relatively little on other factors the physical skill of participants are as important in individual Sports such as the Javelin Throw and the Pole Vault, and team-based ones such as Ice Hockey and Soccer. While all these examples require heavy bodily exertion, Boules, Darts and Pool Games such as Eight-ball and Snooker show that Dexterity-Based Actions do not have to be physically tiring.

While many associate sports with physical challenges and games with mental challenges, this mapping is false for many reasons. Relevant for this pattern, many games than are not considered sports do require Dexterity-Based Actions. Jenga is one of the most well-known Board Games requiring Dexterity-Based Actions unless one considers rolling Dice a skill; Ascending Empires is a more modern example.

Dexterity-Based Actions are as good as ubiquitous in Computer Games. In Racing Games such as the Gran Turismo and Mario Kart series this consists of maneuvering, while for Platform Games (e.g. LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario series) and First-Person Shooters (e.g. the Doom or Uncharted series), aiming and shooting are added to the needed skills. The same applies to Fighting Games such as the Mortal Kombat and Tekken series although having a good rhythm can be necessary here as well. Music games such as the Donkey Konga and Rock Band series show how Dexterity-Based Actions can consist nearly only of being able to keep a rhythm and press the right buttons.

Using the pattern

Dexterity-Based Actions are present in both traditional games and computer games, but are mediated in computer games. They must be Real-Time Games, and for the latter case response times from computer systems can affect Dexterity-Based Actions negatively; if feedback from computers take too much time to appear - typically above 100 milliseconds - they do not seem to be the immediate effects of player actions and is thereby difficult to recognize as Dexterity-Based Actions. This can somewhat be mitigated with games that have few Surprises and either use Timing for single actions together with Progress Indicators or use Rhythm-Based Actions where the delays can be ignored for the internal rhythm that players can maintain. Two specific gameplay activities that often rely on Dexterity-Based Actions and Mimetic Interfaces and Physical Enactment.

Being a Real-Time Game is however not enough for Dexterity-Based Actions to exist in a game. The real-time feature needs to be combined with some action whose outcome depends on the fact that it has to be done while the rest of the game state continues to update; for this reason, Dexterity-Based Actions can modulate Real-Time Games even if they need the pattern to exist. Examples of actions that can create Dexterity-Based Actions are Maneuvering (especially to avoid Obstacles), Stealth, and various forms of Combat such as those depending on Aim & Shoot actions or Capture goals. Note that neither Enemies nor dangerous Traps or Environmental Effects need to be present; Archery, Darts, Eight-ball, and Jenga all give evidence to this and in Computer Games simply positioning Avatars or Cameras can be Dexterity-Based Actions. The various Rhythm-Based Actions possible are also ways of creating Dexterity-Based Actions since they are a more specific forms of these.

The difficulty of Dexterity-Based Actions dependent on how players can perceive the gameplay space. This is most often possible for game designers to affect in Computer Games (but see Strutfotboll) through the choices of views possible. While First-Person Views can give players Spatial Engrossment this does not necessarily make Dexterity-Based Actions easier since one cannot easily perceive the extent of one's Avatar. In cases where this may matter, most often in Racing Games such as the F-Zero and Wipeout series, Third-Person Views can be easier. In contrast, Aim & Shoot can be more difficult in Third-Person Views unless aided by some type of Auto-Aim mechanism.

Surprises make ongoing Dexterity-Based Actions difficult, and do any Disruption of Focused Attention events. As a side note, for non-mediated Dexterity-Based Actions in sports, e. g., Archery, the high levels of Gameplay Mastery can be described as being able to ignore Disruption of Focused Attention events - including the ones generated by one's own thoughts.

Crosshairs can be used to make the Dexterity-Based Action of Aim & Shoot easier. Leaning is a specific type of actions supported mainly in First-Person Shooters to help players with Stealth or Combat based on Dexterity-Based Actions.

Interface Aspects

The interfaces that allow Dexterity-Based Actions are often of essential concern for games with these types of actions. This can be seen not only in the specialized equipment for the Donkey Konga and Rock Band series (and peripheral such as steering wheels for Racing Games) but also the heavy regulation regarding which equipment is allowed in sporting competitions such as the Long Jump, the Javelin Throw, and the Pole Vault. For this reason, Dexterity-Based Actions is an Interface Pattern.


Dexterity-Based Actions are typically Extended Actions that allow players to enter both Sensory-Motoric and Spatial Engrossment. Mastering Dexterity-Based Actions often forms the core of Gameplay Mastery based on Player Physical Prowess in Real-Time Games, and provide easy access route for creating Player/Character Skill Composites in games. Since players often have a high degree of granularity to affect the outcome when they use their bodies to perform Dexterity-Based Actions, this can lead to an Exaggerated Perception of Influence. One example of this is the often debated case if rolling Dice is a skill-based activity.


Can Instantiate

Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Extended Actions, Gameplay Mastery, Mimetic Interfaces, Physical Enactment, Player Physical Prowess, Player/Character Skill Composites, Sensory-Motoric, Spatial Engrossment

Can Modulate

Real-Time Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Avatars, Cameras, Maneuvering, Obstacles, Rhythm-Based Actions

Real-Time Games together with Aim & Shoot, Capture, Combat, Stealth

Can Be Modulated By

Crosshairs, Disruption of Focused Attention, First-Person Views, Leaning, Surprises, Third-Person Views

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Dexterity-Based Actions 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.