Extra-Game Actions

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Actions that are motivated by a game state or a game design but that do not affect any ongoing game instance.

Nearly all games are designed to let players be able to strive towards goals by performing actions that influence a game state. However, games also frequently support other types of actions which do not directly affect a game state. Such actions are called Extra-Game Actions.

Note: Actions that aren't part of gameplay but needed for gameplay to be able to be performed is discussed under Excise.


Betting on the outcome of a game is a typical form of Extra-Game Actions that creates a meta game based upon a game. Note that games such as Poker do not have betting as Extra-Game Actions since the action of folding in the game affects the game state.

Saving and loading in computer games are Extra-Game Actions that save or restores the entire game state of a game instance. As the whole game state is affected these actions are not considered parts of gameplay but rather ways of setting up play sessions.

Using the pattern

There are several reasons why games may have Extra-Game Actions. One is to make it possible to plan or prepare for gameplay before play sessions have begun. Another is to let players document or otherwise make use of the game state and game events that have taken place after a play session is finished. A third is to provide Extra-Game Consequences. In addition, they may support Meta Games with the actions that those Meta Games need from inside the inner games (Minigames are examples of this). For games that Sanctioned Cheating, the actions they are used to cheat need to be Extra-Game Actions so motivate that they are actually cheating actions; they for this reason also need to be do as part of Conceal goals so these two patterns are needed together to support Sanctioned Cheating. Extra-Game Actions are especially common in Multiplayer Games as players may need to do Negotiation or perform Collaborative Actions. Self-Facilitated Rules requires players to do Extra-Game Actions to run the game. In the case of games with Persistent Game Worlds these actions are Investments but typically give players large amounts of Creative Control.

Games can promote players to perform Extra-Game Actions before play sessions begin by making it possible to do Stimulated and Strategic Planning by making Strategic Knowledge useful. One example of this is to let players know their Privileged Abilities well in advance while another is to let players communicate about Combos when these are not explicitly described through the game (i.e. when they are part of a game's Hidden Rules). These preparatory actions often let players have Creative Control over Characters or game elements used. This Creative Control is especially common in roleplaying games where players can engage in Extra-Game Actions to design their own characters or, in the case of live action roleplaying games, design the physical clothes and props used in the games. Thus, Extra-Game Actions can give rise to Player-Planned Development. In Multiplayer Games with Teams, Extra-Game Actions can provide or support Team Development since the Teams may be able to use the actions to discuss or reflect on how they have played previously before starting to play again. Collectible Card Games and Pre-Customized Decks allows players to create their own Decks by adding or removing Cards as well as simulating gameplay to test the Decks. Game Element Trading allow players to exchange game elements with each other before gameplay starts (and is quite common with games that have Pre-Customized Decks). Generalizing from trading, Purchasable Game Advantages are Extra-Game Actions that players can engage in before specific game instances in order to better their chances in those instances. Crafting is quite often Extra-Game Actions for Live Action Roleplaying Games since players may want or need specific Game Items for their Characters (without the Game Items necessarily having an effect on gameplay).

Some games have Extra-Game Actions before gameplay begins because there is no actions for players to do during gameplay. Such games, which are either Zero-Player Games or ones with No Direct Player Influence need Extra-Game Actions so that "players" can initiate them or have interesting choices connected to them.

There are a number of more specific types of Extra-Game Actions. Manipulating Bookkeeping Tokens are Extra-Game Actions that likely change players' perception of the game state since the actions change the game state. Changing how players are informed about the game state can either be done directly through manipulating Cameras or by changing the set-up of an user interface, but in both cases modify the Game State Overview players have. Save Files allow for the Extra-Game Actions of saving and loading game states, and thereby make Save-Load Cycles (including Save Scumming) and Reversability to previous game states possible. Player initiated Game Pauses are other simple cases of Extra-Game Actions. Storytelling based upon how gameplay unfolds in a type of Extra-Game Action that can occur in any game since players can describe the story of them playing a game. However, games can encourage the Storytelling through supporting specific Extra-Game Actions (e.g. communicating to others through Communication Channels or documenting the events) as well as by having Characters that let players have describe the stories from the point of view of these Characters instead of their own.

One special form of Extra-Game Actions is those that allow for Non-Player Help. This typically requires Spectators (and thereby some form of Public Information), for example when Spectators should be able to provide information about the game state or other information relevant to succeed in goals. Generally, Spectators also modifies the use of Extra-Game Actions since players know they somebody could be observing these actions (as well as ordinary game actions).

Another special form of Extra-Game Actions relates to how players can affect when a game is played and how plays it. Several aspects of Negotiation are included in this, namely Negotiable Game Instance Duration, Negotiable Game Sessions, and Negotiable Play Sessions. Invites and Player Kicking are examples of patterns that causes the existence of Extra-Game Actions related to who plays the game.

The actions supported by Communication Channels are typically not game actions but Extra-Game Actions, and these actions can support many of the aspects of Extra-Game Actions discussed above. For example, they can support players in communicating with each other (e.g. for Team Development), let them tell their gameplay experience as part of Storytelling, and can let Spectators provide Non-Player Help. While not all Replays are Extra-Game Actions, the games that allow players to make, send, or manipulate Replays do provide Extra-Game Actions and they can be used in similar ways as Communication Channels (this does not even require that the Replays can be transmitted to others since Spectators can view the Replays locally at a future point in time).

Finally, the presence of Extra-Game Input in a game is likely to promote Extra-Game Actions. This since players can be able to see that performing certain Extra-Game Actions will influence the Extra-Game Input and thereby allow them additional ways of affecting the game state. If such possible influence means that the scope of what is considered the game should be enlarged or not may primarily depend on how the game is presented to players (designers may have considered this but may present the game as a smaller part to let players discover the additional ways of influencing the game states).

By definition, Extra-Game Actions are not Excise and vice versa.


Extra-Game Actions provide players with an additional level of Freedom of Choice in games which can be done without necessarily affecting the development of the game. Except for Storytelling, Extra-Game Actions typically causes players to lose Engrossment since they force players to consider the mechanical or formal structure of the game. Cognitive Engrossment is the form of Engrossment least affected, since both saving and restoring game states and manipulating information presentation may be motivated by players' interpretations of the game state. However, Extra-Game Actions that let players develop attachments to the game, be it to future strategies, Characters in the game, or the thematic aspects, can give players Emotional Engrossment. Storytelling, and especially Game Instance Stories, is an example of how both Characters and thematic aspects can be developed by players and thereby let them feel they are theirs. This is one example of how performing Extra-Game Actions can be considered Investments in games although they do not need to be parts of specific game instances or explicitly related to changes in the game state. Another is supporting Player Created Game Elements, which also similarly can allow players to have Emotional Engrossment. Games which allow much Extra-Game Actions can create Grinding.

Games with Teams can make use of Extra-Game Actions to communicate. By enabling Teams to improve how they play this can support Team Development, especially if the Extra-Game Actions can be performed (also) before or after actual game instances.

Some games with Extra-Game Actions encourage players to perform Extra-Game Actions that affect things outside the game due to the game state of a game instance. This may make players have Changes in Perception of Real World Phenomena due to Gameplay (especially when a game also has Extra-Game Input.


Can Instantiate

Changes in Perception of Real World Phenomena due to Gameplay, Creative Control, Emotional Engrossment, Extra-Game Consequences, Freedom of Choice, Game Instance Stories, Grinding, No Direct Player Influence, Player Created Game Elements, Investments, Meta Games, Reversibility, Save-Load Cycles, Zero-Player Games

with Conceal

Sanctioned Cheating

with Spectators

Non-Player Help

with Teams

Team Development

Can Modulate

Cognitive Engrossment

Can Be Instantiated By

Bookkeeping Tokens, Cameras, Collaborative Actions, Collectible Card Games, Communication Channels, Crafting, Extra-Game Input, Game Element Trading, Game Pauses, Invites, Minigames, Multiplayer Games, Negotiation, Negotiable Game Instance Duration, Negotiable Game Sessions, Negotiable Play Sessions, Persistent Game Worlds, Player Kicking, Player-Planned Development, Pre-Customized Decks, Purchasable Game Advantages, Replays, Save Files, Save Scumming, Self-Facilitated Rules, Stimulated Planning, Storytelling, Strategic Knowledge, Strategic Planning

Combos together with Hidden Rules

Can Be Modulated By

Game State Overviews, Public Information, Spectators

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Engrossment, Excise


An updated version of the pattern Extra-Game 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.