Player Killing

From gdp3
Jump to: navigation, search

The removal of players from active gameplay through active actions.

Many games let players or the system take aggressive actions or cause negative effects on other players, and this can result in the affected players not being able to play temporarily or permanently. This is called Player Killing because the actions leading to it is often diegetically represent as killing their avatars or characters.


Chess can be seen as an archetypical Player Killing game - the winning condition is to check mate the other player which in principle is the same as showing that one can kill the king. Although not necessary to win, players of Diplomacy and Risk greatly increase their chances of doing so by eliminating other players. In contrast, Monopoly does not have Player Killing even if player can be eliminated from the game. This since the elimination is caused indirectly by other players' actions and they have no way of distinguishing between which other players may be affected by their actions.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS have Player Killing as soon as it is possible for players to die in them since game masters can be seen as responsible for the deaths in nearly all cases. The exception is when players kill each other which of course is another instance of Player Killing. In Live Action Roleplaying Games all killings tend to be Player Killings since all being that can be killed in these games are played by humans (the rare exception are mechatronic monsters such as the dragon in Dragonbane).

Deathmatch games in First-Person Shooters, found for example in Counter-Strike, Quake III, and the Unreal Tournament series, have Player Killing as the main goal. The more other players that a player manages to take out, the more points or "frags" he or she is rewarded. Players who are killed usually lose any special items and abilities gained and are transferred back to spawn points. Frag is an example of a Board Game built around the same core gameplay. In the Defense of the Ancients series, players can be killed online with negative consequences for their team but the deaths are temporary. Although not as common in Massively Multiplayer Online Games, some early examples such as Ultima Online and Genocide allow or even focus exclusively on Player Killing.

Using the pattern

That players can have their avatars or characters killed is always an explicit design choice, as is incorporating other design aspects that can effectively hinder them from participating in gameplay. This does however not always translate into Player Killing since those noticing players subject to these events must also perceive that somebody is actively trying to make this happen. This makes it central to the pattern that some form of Agent can be linked to actions causing the events. This said, making Player Killing possible in games consist of deciding what actions and events can cause it, who can cause it, and what the effects of the killing is.

Combat is probably the most obvious action that can lead to Player Killing, but any way of directly causing Ability Losses or Damage can be used. If the use of Traps causes Player Killing is less clear - it depends on if those observing the trap being sprung perceive it as actively having placed there by Agents and that they can at least suspect who did this. Related to the question of what actions can kill is the question of what can be killed. Avatars and Characters are apparent choices here, used for example in the Unreal Tournament series and Dungeons & Dragons, but losing all Units in Risk shows that Player Killing does not need to be localized to specific Focus Loci. Diplomacy goes one step further - players are not eliminated due to lack of army Units but due to lack of supply centers.

Making it possible for other players to perform the actions that can lead to "player" deaths (i.e. having Player Killing in a Multiplayer Game) is a guaranteed way to ensure that players can identify the actions as ones coming from Agents. Enemies controlled by Dedicated Game Facilitators may or may not work depending on how much players perceive the individual Enemies as being Agents in their own right; for the same reason AI Players can work but is less likely to do so than human players. Game Masters are more likely than other types of Dedicated Game Facilitators to support Player Killing since players can fall back on seeing the Game Master as the source of the killing if the Enemies are not seen as being Agents. Games with Teams sometimes allow players to kill their own team members by Friendly Fire. This pattern can support Thematic Consistency and make for more Challenging Gameplay, it can also instantiate that create Internal Rivalry between the killers and their victims regardless if the killing was on purpose or not. To regulate any type of Player Killing, certain parts of Game Worlds can be made into Safe Havens.

Player Killing can lead directly to Player Elimination if Permadeath is used in a game, and will do this eventually if Lives are used. An alternative perspective is that the use of Spawning makes it possible to have Player Killing without Player Elimination. However, Player Killing need to triggers Death Consequences with some Penalties or the pattern ceases to have negative consequences for those affected - if this is not done then the pattern may not even be noticed by those dying. Usually the Penalties are Individual Penalties even in games with Teams, but they do affect the Teams anyway since these Penalties can affect Team Balance. Independently of other Penalties, Player Killing can indirectly give Penalties to players by awarding Rewards to those who kill them. Given that all these design choices in some way provide negative consequences to the targets of Player Killing, the pattern basically always gives rise to Penalties. This makes Player Killing easily cause disruptions in Player Balance (and Team Balance in games with TvT gameplay and Team members consisting of players) and to avoid this, Repeated Domination, Player Killings are associated with Killcams more often than other types of killings are.

A rather paradoxical way of having Player Killing is to have unique Quick Time Events injected into some other type of gameplay. Although Quick Time Events do not easily give player impressions that anybody with agency is trying to kill them, the specificity with which the events themselves were designed can make player feel that the game designers are actively trying to kill them at that point in the games.

Quite obviously, Invulnerabilities can make Player Killing more difficult or impossible to do.


Since Player Killing removes players from gameplay it gives them Downtime but can also lead to Player Elimination if combine with Permadeath or the loss of one's last Life. The possibility of Player Killing naturally gives rise to Tension to players, although how intensely this is experienced depends on the actual Penalties of the Death Consequences and the Rewards given for killing. The Tension is usually not as drastic if the Player Killing does not lead to Player Elimination.

In Multiplayer Games, the possibility of Player Killing leads to reciprocal Risk/Reward situations for the players since they are potential or real threats to each other.


Can Instantiate


with Lives or Permadeath

Player Elimination

with Multiplayer Games


with Teams

Friendly Fire

Can Modulate

Multiplayer Games, Parties, Teams

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Agents, AI Players, Combat, Damage, Game Masters, Quick Time Events

Can Be Modulated By

Death Consequences, Invulnerabilities, Killcams, Lives, Permadeath, Penalties, Rewards, Safe Havens, Spawning

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Invulnerabilities, Player Balance

Team Balance in games with TvT gameplay


An updated version of the pattern Player Killing 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.


Karl Bergström