Game World Navigation

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Trying to move from one place in a game world to another when the best way is not obviously apparent.

Like in the real world, not all game worlds are easy to move around in. When the problem of moving depends on a difficulty in determining which direction one should be moving to get closer to a specific destination, players need to engage in Game World Navigation.


In Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Basic Roleplaying or GURPS, movement between different areas is often handled abstract, possibly requiring players to make skill rolls to avoid getting lost or losing time. Text-based Adventure Games such as the Zork series can made navigation difficult by having non-symmetric routes between locations: that one can move north from one place to another does not automatically means that one can return by going south, one might instead for example have to go west.

The maze-like levels in the Doom and Quake series required player to navigate within the environments to move efficiently between all parts of the levels. The large sizes of the game worlds in the Assassin's Creed, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout series would make Game World Navigation difficult if the games did not include various navigational aids such as compasses and maps.

Using the pattern

Game World Navigation is the activity of trying to find one's way from one point in a Game World (or Level) to another. This is typically achieved by presenting several alternative Transport Routes or having open areas that through the placement of Obstacles or Inaccessible Areas create the same options. Besides the presence of these environments, this also requires that Movement in possible and that it is possible to get lost or take unnecessarily long routes. For the last requirement, Traverse does not always give rise to Game World Navigation (e.g. completing Levels in Donkey Kong or Frogger requires completing Traverse goals but these is no risk of getting lost) while the opposite is true. This being said, Traverse goals can motivate players to engage in navigation, e.g. to get to Strategic Locations, while requiring Game World Exploration can force players do Game World Navigation although in this can one cannot be sure of the exact location one is trying to get to. Game World Navigation is most common in games with large Game Worlds (e.g. the Grand Theft Auto series and the Just Cause series). However, games relying on text-based descriptions, e.g. the Zork series can have Game World Navigation and make the activity into one of Puzzle Solving by consciously breaking Diegetic Consistency so that moving in one direction and then moving in the opposite direction does not brings one back to the original position.

In games with abstract Game Worlds, e.g. Tabletop Roleplaying Games, Game World Navigation is typically handled as a Skill. In contrast, when the layout of Game Worlds and Levels are present to players as a consistent representation this layout can heavily affect how easy or difficult Game World Navigation is. Obstacles in general makes it more difficult while Big Dumb Objects, Clues, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Landmarks, Point of Interest Indicators, Props, and Traces makes it more easy, especially if players can have Line of Sight to these from great distances. An exception to this is when the latter are used to create Red Herrings. Inaccessible Areas (which may be caused by Movement Limitations) can also cause Red Herrings since players may at first perceive that a certain route is feasible only to later discover it is not. Leaps of Faith can be used to introduce Risk/Reward considerations into navigation. Warp Zones can provide quick ways of getting between places but can also cause confusion since they may not work in both directions and may not even be noticeable (making them into Leaps of Faith). Mini-maps can make Game World Navigation easier by not only indicating where players are and what direction they should be moving, but also when the goal location is (the Mini-maps in both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series are example of this) but this is a somewhat risky design strategy since it can easily become too easy. Game State Overviews can do the same, and some types of Privileged Movement - primarily flying - can effectively give the same functionality to players besides making navigation easier by allowing more forms of Movement. One a general design level, the division of Game Worlds into Levels makes Game World Navigation easier as smaller areas have to be navigated and being able to have Strategic Knowledge about an environment naturally also helps navigation of that environment. All these possibilities provide efficient ways to ensure either Casual Gameplay or Challenging Gameplay regarding Game World Navigation.

Diegetic Aspects

Having to do with finding one's way in Game Worlds, Game World Navigation is both a Diegetic and Level Design Pattern.


Game World Navigation is the activity of trying to succeed with Traverse goals in Game Worlds or Levels, and implies that players have a Freedom of Choice since otherwise there would be not challenge to the act of navigating. In this way, requiring Game World Navigation can affect what skills are required in Races. As mentioned above, Game World Navigation can require Puzzle Solving when Diegetic Consistency is broken but this can occur when players get lost or are unsure of which routes are possible. Through this, Game World Navigation encourages Cognitive Engrossment but can actually lessen Spatial Engrossment as it encourages players to perceive Game Worlds from an abstract perspective rather than through a diegetic perspective. While Game World Exploration may be the reason for engaging in Game World Navigation, the reverse may be true since players may discover new areas while navigating.

While Game State Overviews and Mini-maps may help navigation by providing maps, they may also make it too easy to find where one is in a Game World and in what direction one should be travelling, thereby making the activity of navigating closer to Excise than a gameplay challenge. The same applies to God Views since they can let players move their view of Game Worlds regardless of game elements, making Game World Navigation a trivial problem.

Game World Navigation combined with Real World Gameplay Spaces leads to Physical Navigation.


Can Instantiate

Casual Gameplay, Challenging Gameplay, Cognitive Engrossment, Freedom of Choice, Game World Exploration, Puzzle Solving, Traverse

with Leaps of Faith


with Real World Gameplay Spaces

Physical Navigation

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Game World Exploration, Game Worlds, Levels, Movement, Transport Routes, Traverse

Can Be Modulated By

Big Dumb Objects, Clues, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Game State Overviews, Inaccessible Areas, Landmarks, Leaps of Faith, Levels, Line of Sight, Mini-maps, Movement Limitations, Obstacles, Point of Interest Indicators, Privileged Movement, Props, Races, Red Herrings, Strategic Knowledge, Strategic Locations, Traces, Warp Zones

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Game State Overviews, God Views, Mini-maps, Privileged Movement, Spatial Engrossment


An updated version of the pattern Game World Navigation 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.