Functional Roles

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Gameplay where responsibility for different types of game actions can be divided between participants.

Games where not all actions can be done by one game entity have Functional Roles - a division of who can do what according to their functional capabilities. These Functional Roles can be present from the beginning of game instances or develop over time, and can be voluntary or forced upon players.


Sports such as Ice Hockey and Soccer have Functional Roles defined both by rules - goalies - and by tactics, e.g. forwards and defense players.

Class-based Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons provide different sets of abilities for each class and thereby have Functional Roles. This has carried over to computer-based version such as the Dragon Age, Neverwinter Nights series, and the World of Warcraft. Similarly, class-based First-Person Shooters such as the Battlefield and Team Fortress series force teams into various classes so all needed Functional Roles are filled; the First-Person Shooter in the Left 4 Dead series accomplishes Functional Roles by only letting players have one type of main weapon so the four-player teams need to diversify themselves to have a good mix of firepower.

Using the pattern

Supporting Functional Roles requires both that entities can or need to specialize into different roles, and that several entities exist to fill these roles. In practice this means making entities have different Competence Areas and having to engage in Cooperation. Privileged Abilities is the simplest solution to provide different Competence Areas but these can also emerge organically through games that have provide New or Improved Abilities during gameplay. Privileged Abilities can also enforce Cooperation but Teams is another options. Beyond that, specific ways of allowing Competence Areas include Sidegrades, Skills, Tools, and Weapons while Equipment Slots can force specialization since each entity cannot carry Tools or Weapons for each situation (the Left 4 Dead series is an example where Equipment Slots has this consequence). Crossmedia Gameplay in Multiplayer Games can force players to specialize into different roles simply because they have access to different gameplay devices or mediums. Similarly, Asynchronous Collaborative Actions can force players to specialize into different roles based on when they need to play.

Functional Roles are typically split between players and in this fashion motivates the existence of for example Parties, but this can be complemented by use of Companions and the pattern can be used in Single-Player Games if the player has control over many Characters or Units. Beyond all other ways of supporting Coordination that exist, one way appropriate in conjunction with Functional Roles is to let players distinguish themselves with Cosmetic Game Items according to their roles.


Role Selection is a typical consequence Functional Roles and besides the gameplay possibilities offered by Functional Roles, they typically also give or suggest Social Roles. Novice players can ease into a game when Functional Roles require different levels of expertise in Teams, so the pattern can support Actor Detachment and Smooth Learning Curves in these types of games; an example of this is playing engineers or medics in Team Fortress 2. The pattern can create Tiered Participation when the requirements on engagement in the gameplay differs considerably between the different roles.

In Multiplayer Games, Functional Roles let players have Varied Gameplay and thereby provides Replayability in that players can have different gameplay experiences by testing different roles. When number of players that can have specific roles are limited, this can lead to Internal Rivalry between the players - especially in games with persistent social organizations such as Guilds. These Internal Rivalries can in turn lead to Role Reversals during gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Actor Detachment, Social Roles, Role Selection, Tiered Participation

with Teams

Smooth Learning Curves

with Cosmetic Game Items


with Internal Rivalry

Role Reversal

with Multiplayer Games

Internal Rivalry, Replayability, Varied Gameplay

Can Modulate

Multiplayer Games, Parties, Teams

Can Be Instantiated By

Asynchronous Collaborative Actions, Companions

Competence Areas together with Cooperation

Crossmedia Gameplay together with Multiplayer Games

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki. However, it was first introduced as a concept to support socially adaptable games by Björk et al (2004)[1].


  1. Björk, S., Eriksson, D., Holopainen, J. & Peitz, J. (2004). Guidelines for Socially Adaptable Games, Deliverable D9.1 of the EU project "Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming" (FP6 - 004457).