Non-Player Help

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The designed possibility for people not playing the game to help players.

Some games allow people not playing the game to provide information or perform actions that can support players pursuits in them. When this is intentional planned for by the game design, this Non-Player Help can provide unexpected support and open up for social interaction beyond that contained in the gameplay itself.


Contestants in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? have several lifelines to help them during the game, one such was Phone-A-Friend which allows a non-player to suggest an answer (it has been removed in some cases due to the possibility of people using search engines to find answers). Players of FarmVille and Mafia Wars can broadcast requests for help to players and non-player alike, and by thus support a form of Non-Player Help in that new people can start playing the game with the initial goal of aiding the inviting player.

People meeting those participating in a Scavenger Hunt game can help by giving items to them. Related, Alternate Reality games[1] such as Prosopopeia can put players in situations where they interact with other people without being sure if they are performing roles in the games or are simply random people caught up in the gameplay. Although difficult to know in advance, the interaction they provide can be interesting experience, red herrings, or Non-Player Help.

Using the pattern

The primary need for Non-Player Help to be possible is that other people are aware than they can help. This can be done by Extra-Game Broadcasting. Beyond that, implementing support for Non-Player Help consists to a large degree on controlling access to the game in general. This since making it possible for non-players to modify the game state to easily can skew Player Balance, make it impossible for players' to feel a Value of Effort for their own actions, and hinder them to have an Exaggerated Perception of Influence. For these reasons, Non-Player Help often needs to restricted to providing people with Limited Set of Actions which are also Privileged (although also not as powerful as the players' actions). To avoid them to be used to often, their usefulness can be limited further by having Cooldown periods. Another case may be that the help that can have an inherent Uncertainty of Information, as for example the answers provided from using the Phone-A-Friend lifelines in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, since this makes the Non-Player Help have Risk/Reward qualities.

Non-Player Help provides a way to affect players' Private Game Spaces, and where the action can be its own Reward requiring no further gameplay. This is one way players intentionally can affect each other in Massively Single-Player Online Games.

Game Masters and other types of Dedicated Game Facilitators that are people can be considered a form of Non-Player Help, typically to judge rule disagreements, lessen Excise, present Storytelling eloquently, or support Never Ending Stories. Invites support a type of one-time Non-Player Help in that they can make people start playing a game as Late Arriving Players for the reason of helping the people already playing. Spectators is maybe the most common form of Non-Player Help but the help is only indirectly related to game states. This since the Spectators can provide moral support to motivate players to feel an increased sense of Value of Effort for their actions (although it should be noted that they can also cause Tension). Extra-Game Actions that allow players to signal things to Spectators can increase the likelihood or quality of the Non-Player Help Spectators can provide.

Diegetic Aspects

Unless a game design has a solution for explaining the appearances of events of non-players, and quite possibly also the non-player themselves, in the Game World this is likely to break its Thematic Consistency. Games with Alternate Reality Gameplay solve this by their inherent merger with other activities but other games may have to have Dedicated Game Facilitators adding context representing the Non-Player Help.

Interface Aspects

Given that the non-players typically are not willing to spend much time understanding how to perform their help, they typically need dedicated and simplified ones that allow the to do their Non-Player Help without accessing the whole game interface or Game World.


Non-Player Help is a form of Altruistic Actions as well as a type of Extra-Game Input. By helping players with various actions, they may counter the need of players to engage in Excise or Grinding. When the Non-Player Help either come unsuspectingly or at an unsuspected time they may be pleasant Surprises. Non-Player Help also create Cooperation and Social Interaction between people, independent of if it is just a particular game event or a long more open-ended encounter.

Since requesting Non-Player Help reveals aspects of how well (or bad) one has played, the use of the pattern gives a form of Public Player Statistics.


Can Instantiate

Altruistic Actions, Cooperation, Extra-Game Broadcasting, Extra-Game Input, Never Ending Stories, Public Player Statistics, Social Interaction, Storytelling, Surprises, Uncertainty of Information

Can Modulate

Massively Single-Player Online Games

with Altruistic Actions

Private Game Spaces

Can Be Instantiated By

Alternate Reality Gameplay, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Masters, Invites, Late Arriving Players, Spectators

Extra-Game Actions in games that support Spectators

Can Be Modulated By

Cooldown, Limited Set of Actions, Privileged Actions

Possible Closure Effects

Late Arriving Players

Potentially Conflicting With

Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Excise, Grinding, Player Balance, Thematic Consistency, Value of Effort


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Wikipedia entry for Alternate Reality Games.


Erik Fagerholt, Martin Hjulström, Sus Lundgren