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Player actions that perform no change on the game state.

Even if players usually need to perform various actions to reach their goals in games, sometimes the best action may be to do nothing and wait for the environment to change. These actions are called No-Ops (from the instructions from programming with the same name) but do not also be chosen by the players - they can also be forced on them as punishments for other players or as effects of the player's own actions.


Missing one or several turns in turn-based Board Games are examples of No-Ops. This may end a turn prematurely as a penalty, as found in the turnover rules of Bloodbowl but may also refer to the next turn for the player (e.g. the effect of the Chivalric Knight card in Talisman or becoming Arrested or Lost in Time and Space in Arkham Horror). In contrast, powering down in RoboRally to repair damage is a voluntary action chosen by players.

Sneaking in First-Person Shooters requires periods of being still. This can for example be found in the Thief series where one needs to combines silent and careful movement with periods of inactivity to avoid detection.

Using the pattern

The prime design choice for No-Ops is if they are involuntary or not. When they are forced upon players, they are typically done so as Penalties (as in becoming Lost in Time and Space in Arkham Horror) or as Cutscenes unfolding a storyline, but they may also be effects of the actions players chose. Negotiation are examples of voluntary No-Op actions since they do not directly change the game state. For Turn-Based Games, No-Ops used as Penalties are often applied on the next turn but Turnovers show how they can be used to end turns prematurely. Tick-Based Games and Real-Time Games cannot require players to do actions all the time so they per default support voluntary No-Ops. This is however a matter of perspective, in Real-Time Games where the players' Avatars or Units move continuously (e.g. Zaxxon or the Lemmings series) this can also be described as applying The Show Must Go On on players' game elements - this movement can be seen as the default action and players have the choice between doing that action or some other. Extended Actions that do not have an effect on the game state before they are completed can be seen as consisting of an initiating action, several No-Ops, and a finishing action where the game state is updated.

While No-Ops are usually passive actions, they can be Altruistic Actions if part of Limited Set of Actions where all other actions have bad consequences for the other players. A typical case for this can be found in Social Dilemmas.

The possibility of doing No-Ops, or actions with little consequence to the overall game state, is a requirement for Camping and often beneficial for doing Aim & Shoot. Similarly, it is often used to allow the completion of Stealth goals. However, sometimes No-Ops need to be included in games as part of the Limited Set of Actions available simply because players cannot do anything due to lack of the proper resources. One such example can be found in Dominion when one draws a deck consisting entirely of victory point cards since one cannot then play any action card or when one has no legal Captures to make in Othello.

Performing Excise can be a form of enforced No-Ops. Taken to an extreme, enforced No-Ops can be used to create No Direct Player Influence by simply making it the only possible 'action' in a game.

Interface Aspects

Enforced No-Ops are nearly always shown clearly to players through Game State Indicators to avoid players misplacing any frustration on a game's interface.


No-Ops indirectly can provide Abilities since players may used them to wait until the game reaches a game state when they wish to take another more active action. However, No-Ops quite obviously create Downtime for players. When they are voluntary, they widen players' Freedom of Choice and better allow the Timing of actions, for example to wait for other players to do something before acting themselves. If they automatically occur if players do not chose actions, they allow players to do other, non-gameplay related, activities and thereby support a basic level of Interruptibility. The No-Ops that are forced upon players instead work against their Freedom of Choice and any Exaggerated Perception of Influence they might have, and having many of them consecutively may hinder reasonable waiting times.

Forcing players to do No-Ops remove Player Agency and can increase Tension, for example while noticing the action of Enemies but so can doing voluntary No-Ops to wait for Enemies to appear, be in the right position, or until one's Aim has steadied. Having excessive amounts of No-Ops in a game does like any other type activity done too often negatively affect Varied Gameplay as well as Tension.


Can Instantiate

Abilities, Altruistic Actions, Camping, Downtime, Freedom of Choice, No Direct Player Influence, Interruptibility, Penalties, Tension, Timing, Turnovers

with Aim & Shoot or Enemies


Can Modulate

Aim & Shoot, Limited Set of Actions, Social Dilemmas, Stealth

Can Be Instantiated By

Cutscenes, Excise, Negotiation, Real-Time Games, Tick-Based Games

Can Be Modulated By

Game State Indicators

Possible Closure Effects

Potentially Conflicting With

Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Freedom of Choice, Player Agency, Varied Gameplay, Tension


An updated version of the pattern No-Ops 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.