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Identifiers to recognize players or their efforts in games.

Many types of games need to let players identify themselves to the game and other players for practical reasons or those based on vanity. Handles provide players with means to do so, and these handle may be temporary ones that only are used for one game instance or are used to keep records of all game instances players have in a game, or even on a gaming platform.


Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Gauntlet and many, if not most, other arcade games have high score lists where the players can leave their short nick-names if they perform well enough in the game. The players can enter any kind of (three-character) Handles in these high score lists, but using the same Handle as someone is likely to be considered impolite.

Several online multiplayer First-Person Shooters such as Quake series and the Unreal Tournament series let players enter names for their avatars. Some games, e.g. the later installments of the Battlefield series and Team Fortress series use these Handles as keys to store the performances of the individual players, letting other player view these compare them with each other. The Handles are also used to let players find friends to player together with, something especially important in cooperative games such as the Left 4 Dead series.

Games with persistent game worlds that players can return to, e.g. DragonMud, Kingdoms, Ultima Online, Eve Online, Entropia Universe, and World of Warcraft need Handles and passwords to let players have secure user accounts so they and only they can take up gameplay from where they left it when last played.

Gaming platforms such as Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network require players to create profiles identifiable by their Handles which not only let players coordinate their gaming activities but also let players view each others' achievements and other records of gaming activities.

FarmVille, CityVille, and other Facebook-based games take information from players' profiles, e.g. their names and profile pictures, to create the Handles used in the games.

Using the pattern

One of the two main aspects of designing Handles is how they should be constructed and the other is how they are displayed or used. Handles can be symbols or short free-form pieces of text, but players may either have a limited set of predefined Handles to choose from or be allowed to create them themselves through Naming (which in the case of symbols might in fact be closer to drawing than Naming). The classic limit of three characters per Handle that early Arcade Games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders had is sometimes still used in web-based games. In online games for children, such as Disney's Toontown Online, players may only be allowed to compose their Handles from predefined list of words in order to avoid the possibility of obscene Handles. FarmVille, CityVille, and many other Facebook-based games use the information in players' accounts as Extra-Game Input to create their Handles - showing a case where players only indirectly can affect what Handles they will get in a game.

Regarding their uses in games, Handles are often used to create High Score Lists or User Accounts. Through the latter, they can support Multiplayer Games through Public Player Statistics and ways to identify each other in Game Lobbies and Chat Channels. In the latter, they can also be prefixed to Emotes to ensure that these have a common format so that the Emotes are easily identified as such. Handles can also be used to display with Teams or Guilds players belong to, and this may either be controlled by the game system (or Game Servers) or be informally done by player agreement. When Avatars and Handles exist in games, Handles are quite often used to create Geospatial Game Widgets that provide Game State Indicators of which Avatars is controlled by which players. Alternatively, the Handles can be shown as part of Crosshairs when these are pointed at Avatars (or Enemies).

In games with Persistent Game Worlds or Public Player Statistics, the design of Handles also requires that one considers possibilities of duplicates, temporary Handles, identity thefts, and players trying to gain advantages from having several Handles.


Handles are used to identify different players in cases where differentiation would otherwise be impossible or difficult, e.g. in Asynchronous Gameplay or Mediated Gameplay. For people playing together this can support Cooperation and Coordination in Teams or Parties, partly by providing different identifies but even more so by making it possible to assume future actions, and can help players form more Social Organizations where the players may have different roles and responsibilities. Both in these types of games and others, Handles can provide the starting points for players' to have Identification with entities in the games or the events that take place during gameplay.

Whenever Handles can be noticed by others players or Spectators, they can work to accrue Game-Based Social Statuses since a players' Gameplay Mastery can be noticed. High Score Lists are a prime example of this use of Handles, allowing players to compare the outcomes of their game instances with other players.

Letting players choose or create their Handles gives them a limited form of a Freedom of Choice, but may make Enforced Player Anonymity impossible. However, Handles in games with only Mediated Gameplay can allow for a Possibility of Anonymity.

Having a unique identify is a core feature of being a Character, so showing Handles through Geospatial Game Widgets or HUD Interfaces can be the starting point for having the Characters pattern in a game design.


Can Instantiate

Freedom of Choice, Game State Indicators, High Score Lists, Identification

with Mediated Gameplay

Possibility of Anonymity

with Geospatial Game Widgets or HUD Interfaces


Can Modulate

Asynchronous Gameplay, Avatars, Chat Channels, Cooperation, Coordination, Crosshairs, Emotes, Game Lobbies, Mediated Gameplay, Multiplayer Games, Parties, Public Player Statistics, Teams, User Accounts

Can Be Instantiated By

Extra-Game Input, Naming

Can Be Modulated By

Geospatial Game Widgets

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Enforced Player Anonymity


An updated version of the pattern Handles 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.