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The use of actions from earlier game sessions in a game session to let players have challenges against other people's earlier attempts, including their own.

One of the more exciting types of challenges one can have in games is that which human opponents can provide. Ghosts is a game mechanic that allows players to get such challenges without requiring that other players are taking part in the game instances. Instead, the recordings of players' actions - including the current player - in earlier game sessions can be used as the basis for the actions of an entity in the current game session. These Ghosts are naturally only feasible in some types of games, more specifically those where players' actions cannot directly interfere with each other.


Racing Games such as the Gran Turismo series and the Mario Kart series make use of Ghosts to let players compare their current play session with earlier ones, or to practice against the optimal path.

Cursor*10 is a Puzzle Game where players have ten time-limited lives, and later lives need to play "together" with the actions of the previous ones. In the ESP Game, players cooperate with unknown other players in describing images under pressure of time. However, the restricted communication abilities available and the task at hand make it possible for the game to use Ghosts of other players without them realizing this.

Using the pattern

Ghosts are mainly used in Races or other games where the player has a limited overview of the game world. Here the Ghosts are immaterial entities which provide variations of the normal gameplay in the form of Speedruns with diegetically embodied Time Limits. However, Ghosts can also be used where players' cannot directly influence others players' performance. The ESP Game does this through limiting their possibilities of communicating and having gameplay only consisting of providing descriptive words for images. Cursor*10 does this by having previous "cursors" actions be Ultra-Powerful Events.

These examples show one design choice available when designing Ghosts: are the actions of Ghosts and players unable to affect each other or are the actions of Ghosts instead Ultra-Powerful Events. Another design choice regarding the pattern is if players should be allowed to select which game sessions are saved and used as Ghosts or if this is determined by the game mechanically, i.e. by Score. Further, the use of Ghosts can be chosen to only be possible within the same save file or physical console, or be shared to others as Trans-Game Information (Racing Games typically do the first, as does Cursor*10 while the ESP Game is an example of the latter).

Diegetic Aspects

Ghosts is likely to break Diegetic or Thematic Consistency since not many game settings have immaterial agents or agents whose actions are impossible to affect.


Ghosts are Replays of the actions of players in earlier game sessions. They are often shown as Geospatial Game Widgets but may be considered Avatars as well. Even if they have no possibility to react to players' actions, they can be seen as a very limited form of AI Players since it is the game system that reenacts the recorded actions. Ghosts do modulate Game Worlds by introducing more game elements and series of actions into them.

Some types of Ghosts can be seen as a form of High Score Lists that contains whole game sessions instead of only the Score. This typically introduces Time Limits in games, which in turn often creates Races and Speedruns. As such, Ghosts can be used to make Single-Player Games into a form of mixture of Asynchronous Gameplay and Multiplayer Games where whole play sessions are played before comparing results (alternatively, this can be seen as a form of Massively Single-Player Online Games). These types of games naturally have Competition although only one player is likely to be competing.


Can Instantiate

AI Players, Asynchronous Gameplay, Avatars, Competition, Geospatial Game Widgets, High Score Lists, Massively Single-Player Online Games, Multiplayer Games, Races, Replays, Speedruns, Time Limits,

Can Modulate

Game Worlds

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Ultra-Powerful Events

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Diegetic Consistency, Thematic Consistency


An updated version of the pattern Ghosts 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.


Johan Wingård