Game Pauses

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The suspense of progress of game time.

Games typically progress through a series of gameplay events, and in many games these events progress automatically. Game Pauses are intentional breaks in this flow of progress of gameplay events.


Turn-based games such as Chess, Ghost Stories, Go, and Lords of Waterdeep easily support Game Pauses since players need to update the game state manually and effectively can cause Game Pauses simply by not doing this. Similarly, game masters in Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons or Ars Magica can interrupt gameplay from progressing whenever they wish (players can't necessarily do this since the game masters can decide what player characters do if their players don't themselves say what their characters do).

Several Sports, e.g. Basketball, Ice Hockey, and Volleyball allow for players or coaches to call out "Time-Outs" which effectively start Game Pauses.

Most single-player Computer Games support Game Pauses. Some examples include Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Spec Ops: The Line, the Fallout series, and the Witcher series.


Physical Pinball Games such as Star Trek: The Next Generation don't allow Game Pauses simply because they make use of physical balls being affected by gravity. Arcade Games, e.g. Asteroids, Centipede, Frogger, and the Donkey Kong series, don't allow Game Pauses due to wanting players to minimize their time at the machine for economic reasons; the computer-based version of these games do typically allow Game Pauses.

Using the pattern

Game Pauses are introduced in games to interrupt the otherwise progress of game events occurring. This means that Game Pauses are typically introduced into games where this would automatically occur otherwise, i.e. Real-Time Games and Tick-Based Games. It can also be used to let players create their own natural break points in Unwinnable Games.

While Game Pauses in their most basic form simply is the halting of updates to a game state, some other patterns cause it. Cutscenes stops the game state from being updated while showing information to players while Save-Load Cycles not only stops updates to game states but replace the current game state with another. Turn-Based Games are often more easy to introduce Game Pauses in since it can be very clear between which turns a pause is done (and all players that did not have a turn just before the pause were likely to have some form of Downtime already). One way of modulating Game Pauses is to limit how long they can be, that is, connect Time Limits to them. Another, very common, option is to make it possible to save the current game state during a pause in Save Files; this allows for extensive pauses since the game can be turned off or set down while still making it possible to recreate the game state at a later point in time.

Entering Inventories often cause games to pause regarding everything but the actual manipulation of Game Items in the Inventories. This is basically a Game Pause applied to most of the game state, so the pattern can be seen as a way to modify how Inventories work.

The examples of Save Files and Inventories causing Game Pauses show how Secondary Interface Screens in general can cause Game Pauses. This is however a choice, Minecraft and Torchlight do not to this for example.

Interfaces Aspects

Game Pauses work against Diegetic Consistency when they causes a game to enter Secondary Interface Screens.


Game Pauses creates Downtime for players and provides time for them to engage in Stimulated Planning, e.g. by observing Game State Overviews without stress. This can provide Interruptibility but only strongly as long as it doesn't cause unwanted Downtime for other players; Game Pauses in Single-Player Games creates Drop-In/Drop-Out. The pattern also creates a simple (and weak) form of Game Time Manipulation.

When players themselves can trigger these Game Pauses, it provides them with Extra-Game Actions that give them the Freedom of Choice when to play (especially so for Single-Player Games). This opens up for Casual Gameplay, Negotiable Play Sessions, Social Adaptability, and Ubiquitous Gameplay. Game Pauses can help players not feel stressed by having to choose between different game actions, so the pattern can help promote Framed Freedom. Further, Game Pauses let players engage in Social Interaction if this is possible already and they wish to do so.

Game Pauses work against several other patterns. Its purpose is to interrupt The Show Must Go On and since pauses may let players take their focus away from gameplay it also works against Attention Demanding Gameplay and Tension. From this perspective it also works against Always Vulnerable and Time Limits but this is only true in that it lets players interrupt their experience of the gameplay these patterns cause (as they may have to begin dealing with them against when gameplay begins again).


Can Instantiate

Casual Gameplay, Downtime, Extra-Game Actions, Freedom of Choice, Game Time Manipulation, Negotiable Play Sessions, Interruptibility, Social Adaptability, Stimulated Planning, Ubiquitous Gameplay

with Single-Player Games

Drop-In/Drop-Out, Freedom of Choice

Can Modulate

Framed Freedom, Game State Overviews, Inventories, Real-Time Games, Social Interaction, Tick-Based Games, Unwinnable Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Cutscenes, Save-Load Cycles, Secondary Interface Screens

Can Be Modulated By

Save Files, Time Limits, Turn-Based Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Always Vulnerable, Attention Demanding Gameplay, Tension, The Show Must Go On, Time Limits

Diegetic Consistency in games with Secondary Interface Screens


An updated version of the pattern Game Pauses 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.