Diegetic Consistency

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Depictions of game worlds that only contains the visual elements that are diegetically present.

Diegesis is the presentation of the elements in a game world. However, games may need to provide more information due to their systems containing more information than just the game worlds and when this occurs designers may need to question the value of having Diegetic Consistency or showing this information within the reference system of the game world.

Examples

Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Call of Cthulhu, Storytelling System, and Hârnmaster can have Diegetic Consistency relatively easy since it is the game masters and players themselves that describe the world. Challenges to upholding this consistency can come when system terms (such as hit points, character levels, skill levels, etc.) are mixed into the descriptions or when disagreements arise on what is actually part of the game world or not, or what actions are possible to do or not.

Diegetic Consistency is striven for in many Live Action Roleplaying Games given both the effort to produce the artifacts and props used in these and the effort in enacting bodily the characters and actions of these game (for several days in some case). Examples of LARPs that put especial focus on this, that can be said to aim at a "360 illusion"[1], include 1942 – Noen å stole på and Trenne Byar. The related category of Alternate Reality Games, e.g. Prosopopeia and Conspiracy for Good also have this type of design aim.

Left 4 Dead 2 has a realism mode which increases the difficulty of the game by making the game have more Diegetic Consistency; this is achieved by removing nearly all of the glowing outlines that help players locate other players and important game items even through walls.

Using the pattern

While an obvious requirement for having Diegetic Consistency is that the design elements that represent Game Worlds, e.g. Tiles, do not break the diegesis and theme, a more common problem with making Diegetic Consistency possible is to avoid Non-Diegetic Features such as Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Information, Extra-Game Input, Geospatial Game Widgets (including Check Points, Ghosts, Reward Widgets), and Tooltips. HUD Interfaces may be necessary to avoid as well, since they are not thematically consistent with all themes and are Non-Diegetic Features if an assumption existing that everything shown on a display should be presented the Game Worlds. Power-Ups share similar problems but mainly since they so clearly affect gameplay. Game State Indicators, e.g. Lives and Scores, do not have to be presented within Game Worlds but having them in any form may start making players perceive other game elements more from the perspective of a game system than a diegetic setting. For this reason, Game State Overviews in general work against Diegetic Consistency. Related to this is having to do sequences of actions repeatedly, e.g. due to Setback Penalties; this may not make diegetic sense. A second requirement is to not make to strong use of Diegetically Outstanding Features since they may be experienced as not being diegetic. Feelies can be seen as an exception to this claim, they provide physical Props that are Diegetically Outstanding Features but can even so expand the Diegetic Consistency beyond a game's primary medium.

Diegetic Consistency can be easy to maintain during gameplay if Dedicated Game Facilitators are used to present Game Worlds. This cannot be guaranteed in Self-Facilitated Games but a solution, which puts the responsibility on somebody else, is to assign the task of portray Game Worlds to Game Masters. While Enactment can create Diegetic Consistency since players can perform the expected actions, games using this pattern also create the requirement that all players should do so; this is even more the case for Physical Enactment.

One part of designing for Diegetic Consistency is to make communication into Diegetic Communication, at least the communication that is in the diegesis. Related to this is the issue of Non-Diegetic Communication: these may disrupt Diegetic Consistency but the risk of this may be mitigated by Game Masters or by introducing Communication Channels, especially in the form of Chat Channels or Emotes. Other options for avoiding Non-Diegetic Communication include providing Prompting Techniques so players can communicate intentions about starting and stopping Scenes through diegetically consistent actions. Substitute Actions is a technique to let players allegorically perform actions that would not be permissible otherwise and can thereby support Diegetic Consistency to a certain degree. Meta-Postures do the same thing but by introducing gestures or postures; these may not be consistency with the diegesis but can still make the break less obvious unless they are used to often.

While Transport Routes can provide Diegetic Consistency by making it possible to access areas that should be able to access diegetically, one of the problems with providing Diegetic Consistency in Game Worlds or Levels is related to size since thematically these should often be larger than is practically possible to design and implement. One solution, which risks breaking Thematic Consistency instead, is to make use of Inaccessible Areas and Invisible Walls since these can allow games to present an Illusion of Open Space and thereby larger Game Worlds than are actually possible to visit. The use of Levels can be used separately or together with these since the Levels can by having different themes and styles imply that not only intermediate areas exist but also others not yet seen. Warp Zones can be used to provide Diegetic Consistency when Game Worlds do not have the same spatial characteristics as the medium in which they are presented in (a common example, found for example in the Civilization and Hearts of Iron series, is to show spheres such as the Earth on 2-dimensional surfaces such as computer screens). However, they may also break Diegetic Consistency if the zones themselves are not part of the Game Worlds or if they point of other areas that are not part of the Game Worlds.

While Diegetic Consistency is primarily about removing the presence of Non-Diegetic Features, not all parts of Game Worlds should actually be directly perceivable. This fact makes the use of Abstract Player Constructs, Characters, and Inventories help maintain Diegetic Consistency. "Sticky" Switches are related to this since they provide diegetic ways of showing states that otherwise should be hidden to maintain Diegetic Consistency.

All Multiplayer Games can offer challenges to Diegetic Consistency because of Early Leaving Players, but this becomes especially likely when they have Interruptibility or Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay and the same applies to games with Seamful Gameplay. In these cases the diegesis may need to be able to explain quick removals and/or returns of Characters, Units, etc. under players' control. Similar problems exist in games with Entitled Players since here the players themselves may disrupt the Diegetic Consistency through how they use their abilities.

All games that have Dialogues need to consider the Diegetic Consistency in these as well if the game as a whole is supposed to have Diegetic Consistency.

Phasing is a pattern which by its definition breaks Diegetic Consistency but does so between players, i.e. individual players do not experience an inconsistency but may notice inconsistencies between their own diegesis and others if the player compare their gameplay experiences.

Diegetic Consistency and Role Fulfillment can create each other. This since a presented Diegetic Consistency suggests Role Fulfillment goals to players in not breaking this consistency, and part of having Role Fulfillment experiences may be based on upholding this consistency.

While considering Diegetic Consistency, it may be worthwhile to also consider Thematic and Temporal Consistency since these also relate to the aesthetic experiences games can provide. It may for example be more important that the diegetic elements that exist in Game Worlds behave thematically consistent to each other than that everything in the game environment is diegetically present. One area where Diegetic Consistency and Thematic Consistency affect each other is creation of game objects in large worlds; the common diegetic requirement of game worlds be large creates thematic requirements of populating Game Worlds with many game objects.

Diegetic Aspects

Diegetic Consistency is a completely diegetic pattern.

Interface Aspects

The choice of Focus Loci easily affects Diegetic Consistency - Avatars and Units can may maintain it while God Fingers break them. Controllable Cameras can break Diegetic Consistency even it they cannot be seen (an exception to this is found in Super Mario 64 where the player's camera is diegetically presented and carried by the character Lakitu) since moving into corner etc. can make the presence of these non-diegetic entities noticeable. Similarly, being able to invoke Game Pauses work against Diegetic Consistency when they make players enter Secondary Interface Screens (any Secondary Interface Screens can have problems with Diegetic Consistency as they often provide Non-Diegetic Features).

Narrative Aspects

Due to the Freedom of Choice they give players, the possibility for them to engage in Enactment, Roleplaying, and Storytelling can make Diegetic Consistency break if non-diegetic elements are introduced; this is often mainly a potential problem in Multiplayer Games. In some games, this can be countered by letting players participate in Workshopping technique before the game proper begins. As a more subtle issue, generic or repeated actions can be spotted by players as design elements more concerned with gameplay structures or game states, so modifying Agents so their action are Context Dependent Reactions can be necessary to maintain Diegetic Consistency over time.

Consequences

Having or not having Diegetic Consistency quite naturally affects how players perceive Game Worlds and Levels. Having Diegetic Consistency is a requirement to be able to have Thematic Consistency since any Non-Diegetic Features automatically also break a theme in the presentation of Game Worlds or Levels. Even if both Chat and Communication Channels may be motivated by Thematic Consistency (Characters should be able to talk to each other), the presentations of messages may disrupt the Diegetic Consistency.

Since Live Action Roleplaying often tried to create complete and plausible physical environments in which gameplay can take place (especially in the Nordic tradition of LARPs, Diegetic Consistency is often more important to these game than other to the point that the pattern modulate the possibilities of the Live Action Roleplaying. For games with Alternate Reality Gameplay, this is more or less a requirement since breakdowns in the diegesis reveal the game as a game; this is complicated by the fact that the game diegesis needs to be able to fit into the real world.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Alternate Reality Gameplay, Role Fulfillment, Thematic Consistency

Can Modulate

Game Worlds, Levels, Live Action Roleplaying

Can Be Instantiated By

Avatars, Abstract Player Constructs, Characters, Chat Channels, Communication Channels, Context Dependent Reactions, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Diegetic Communication, Enactment, Feelies, Game Masters, Inaccessible Areas, Inventories, Illusion of Open Space, Invisible Walls, Levels, Meta-Postures, Physical Enactment, Prompting Techniques, Role Fulfillment, Substitute Actions, Switches, Tiles, Transport Routes, Units, Warp Zones, Workshopping

Can Be Modulated By

-

Possible Closure Effects

-

Potentially Conflicting With

Cameras, Chat Channels, Check Points, Communication Channels, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Early Leaving Players, Emotes, Enactment, Entitled Players, Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Information, Extra-Game Input, Game State Indicators, Game State Overviews, Geospatial Game Widgets, Ghosts, God Fingers, HUD Interfaces, Non-Diegetic Features, Lives, Meta-Postures, Non-Diegetic Communication, Phasing, Power-Ups, Reward Widgets, Roleplaying, Scores, Seamful Gameplay, Secondary Interface Screens, Self-Facilitated Games, Setback Penalties, Storytelling, Tooltips, Warp Zones

Interruptibility or Drop-In/Drop-Out in Multiplayer Games

Games with Game Pauses and Secondary Interface Screens

History

A rewrite of the pattern Consistent Reality Logic that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2]. Significant parts of the original pattern is however now part of the pattern Thematic Consistency.

References

  1. Waern, A., Montola, M. & Stenros, J. (2009). The three-sixty illusion: designing for immersion in pervasive games. Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '09).
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.