Geospatial Game Widgets

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Game elements that are located in the diegetic world but are not diegetically present.

Not all game elements shown in relation to the game world of a game are actually part of that game world. They may instead be information about the game state but for various reasons placed in relation to things in the game world. Such game elements are called Geospatial Game Widgets.


Games that include racing portions or modes, e.g. the Grand Theft Auto series and Mirror's Edge, use Geospatial Game Widgets for the way points that players need to pass in order to follow the assign routes. Heavy Rain gives players game interface placed in the environment to show which parts of it can be examined for clues, while Dead Space points out the present of items that can be picked up by showing information about them as diegetic holograms in the items' immediate vicinity. While these can only be seen if the actual items can be seen, the Left 4 Dead Series puts glowing outlines around players' avatars and important items in the environment that can be seen through solid object so they can be located even if they are not directly in a player's line of sight. Portal 2 does the same for the portals that player can place in the game.

Splinter Cell: Conviction in the Splinter Cell series projects information about the current mission a player has on walls in the game world, but does so without diegetically explain why.

The computer-based Civilization series can show how much food, gold, and productivity each area produces it worked.

World of Warcraft use mobile Geospatial Game Widgets to presents the name of players as free floating text above their avatars that follow the avatars as they move. The games also shows the health of various entities are bars floating above characters and monster; the Warcraft series and the Command and Conquer series do the same. The two latter also use Geospatial Game Widgets in the form of circles or outlines to show which units have been selected, and the Sims series and Zombie Lane does the same to show which character is controlled. Besides the Geospatial Game Widgets already mentioned, World of Warcraft lets players places a set of different marker on enemies to coordinate their actions with other players (see Bennerstedt 2008[1] for a detailed study of how players do this). Team members in the Age of Empires series can coordinate themselves in a similar fashion by pointing out areas in mini-maps to each other through markings or graphical "pings"; commanders in Battlefield 2 can direct their entire teams by indicating targets on all team members' mini-maps.

Geospatial Game Widgets can exist in Board Games as well. Examples of games that make use of these to show goal destinations include Ricochet Robots and RoboRally. The Wargame Advanced Squad Leader uses many token that are place on top of units to show specific statuses they may have, including being pinned down, stunned, demoralized, or having prepared for firing or having first fire advantage.

Using the pattern

Geospatial Game Widgets are used to provide information to players at specific locations in Game Worlds and Levels, so using them consist of choosing what information is to be shown and where to show it. A weak version of the pattern, found for example in the Age of Empires series, is to place Geospatial Game Widgets on Mini-maps which spatially locates them in the Game Worlds even if it is not in the primary representation of them. God Fingers are a special case of Geospatial Game Widgets that provide Focus Loci to players rather than provide information at specific locations, but do the latter indirectly since placing one's God Finger at any given location in a Game World reveals information about it (unless hidden due to Fog of War or other similar effects).

Showing Territories or Check Points are common examples of what Geospatial Game Widgets are used for, this since there may not be plausible ways to include this in the game's diegesis. Also common are using them to provide Traces such as check point in Racing Games, which can also work as series of Check Points. Clues may also make use of them to ensure that they are unlikely to be missed, potentially modifying games using a Detective Structure. Geospatial Game Widgets can also be used to locate messages from Chat Channels in proximity of the Characters that said them (or to locate utterances from players near their Focus Loci).

Geospatial Game Widgets do not have to be their own independent game elements but can be closely tied to other game elements. One such example is to show the Health of Units directly above them or, as World of Warcraft does, show players' Handles hovering above their Avatars. The Left 4 Dead series has another version of tying Geospatial Game Widgets to Avatars - in these games the outlines of Avatars become glowing so that survivor players can notice each other through walls and other solid objects. More generally, Geospatial Game Widgets can show information related to the abstract attributes of Characters in direct proximity to Avatars. A common use of Geospatial Game Widgets in games with Units is to have an indicator that indicates which Unit the player is currently controlling, i.e. indicate where the player's Focus Loci is located; examples of this can be found in the marker used in the Sims series (and Zombie Lane) and in the outlines used to indicate selects Units in real-time strategy games such as the Warcraft series and the Command and Conquer series. Besides Avatars and Units, Pick-Ups and Power-Ups are likely candidates to be augmented with Geospatial Game Widgets (shown for example in Dead Space) to lessen the risk that players miss noticing their locations. In fact, given that Power-Ups are only weakly present in Game Worlds and that they may not fit in the diegesis, Geospatial Game Widgets can instantiate Power-Ups.

There are some more specific types of Geospatial Game Widgets. Ghosts are Geospatial Game Widgets that show the gameplay of players in earlier game sessions while for Board Games, Bookkeeping Tokens can easily be used simply by placing them on the board. Warp Zones that are not Installations but rather ways for players to navigate Game Worlds are also examples of Geospatial Game Widgets. Reward Widgets are Geospatial Game Widgets created by making Rewards located in Game Worlds or Levels but without making them diegetically present.

Diegetic Aspects

Diegetic and Thematic Consistency is impossible to fully maintain in games with Geospatial Game Widgets since these are non-diegetic in their nature. This is especially true when they are no occluded by diegetic elements, as is the case for the outlines of Avatars and specific Pick-Ups in the Left 4 Dead Series. They can in some cases be diegetically explained if this includes explaining their insubstantiality, Dead Space does this by explaining the Geospatial Game Widgets as holograms.

Interface Aspects

As information providers, Geospatial Game Widgets are interface components. As such they are sometimes added as elements in conjunction to Props to allow a limited amount of interaction with these.


Geospatial Game Widgets are Game State Indicators that, as mentioned above, break both Diegetic and Thematic Consistency in games by introducing Non-Diegetic Features into Game Worlds or Levels. By being Game State Indicators they can also create Game State Overviews when used in numbers. They can provide Spatial Engrossment better compared to other ways of providing information to players, e.g. HUD Interfaces and Secondary Interface Screens, since locating the information in the Game Worlds does make players shift between spatial thinking and non-spatial thinking. Since they do provide players with information that can make gameplay easier, they can be considered working against both Challenging Gameplay and Experimenting - games can easily become more challenging by removing the Geospatial Game Widgets.

Geospatial Game Widgets are Landmarks or markers on game elements such as Enemies or Units. By being this, Geospatial Game Widgets can support Coordination in games with Parties or Teams that try to Cooperate, especially when the widgets bluntly ignore Diegetic Consistency to be visible through diegetic elements. The can be used in this fashion even better when players can actively create the widgets - as can be done by markers in World of Warcraft or by "pings" in the Age of Empires series or the Battlefield series.

When the Geospatial Game Widgets show Handles, this can be the beginning of providing Avatars or Units with the abstract qualities of Characters.


Can Instantiate

Chat Channels, Check Points, Clues, Game State Indicators, Game State Overviews, Landmarks, Non-Diegetic Features, Power-Ups, Spatial Engrossment, Traces

with Cooperation or Teams


with Handles


with Rewards

Reward Widgets

Can Modulate

Avatars, Characters, Detective Structures, Focus Loci, Game Worlds, Handles, Health, Levels, Mini-maps, Pick-Ups, Power-Ups, Props, Teams, Territories, Units

Parties in Multiplayer Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Bookkeeping Tokens, Ghosts, God Fingers, Reward Widgets, Warp Zones

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Challenging Gameplay, Diegetic Consistency, Experimenting, Thematic Consistency


New pattern created in this wiki, based on the concept of Geometric elements in Fagerholt & Lorentzon[2].


  1. Bennerstedt, U. (2008). Sheeping, sapping and avatars-in-action: An in-screen perspective on online gameplay. Proceedings of The [Player] Conference (pp. 28-52). Denmark, Copenhagen.
  2. Fagerholt, E. & Lorentzon, M. (2009). Beyond the HUD - User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games. Master of Science Thesis, Department of Computer Science and Engineering Division of Interaction Design, Chalmers University of Technology.


Erik Fagerholt, Magnus Lorentzon