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The management of game resources for its own sake.

Games are often describe as allowing player to engage in playing or gaming 'standing quite consciously outside ”ordinary” life'[1] or, borrowing from the flow concept in Psychology, being autotelic[2]. Even so, games typically provide goals to players so the games as artifacts imposes what players should do. Some games do however let players have a freedom of choosing how and when to interact with them so the purpose of this interaction is to an even greater extent up to the players. Borrowing from the leisure activity, and how it has been imported to design of computer applications[3], this type of game activity can be described as Pottering.


The casual games FarmVille and Ravenwood Fair let players develop garden allotments that, although they can be visited by recognized friends, are fully under their control and can only become damaged by neglect. Single-player versions of Minecraft provide a much greater game world in which players can quite easily create their own safe areas where they can engage in various activities as they desire. The SimCity series only challenges players in creating cities by having economical restrictions, and allows players to create problems for themselves through natural catastrophes.

Complex strategy games such as the Civilization series and the Europa Universalis series can contain periods of intense warfare, but between these have long periods where players mainly set smaller independent goals for themselves and the countries they control.

A certain level of preparatory work is required to play some games, e.g. constructing deck to use in Magic: The Gathering, painting miniatures to participate in official Warhammer Fantasy Battle games, or creating the props to be used in LARPs such as 1942 – Noen å stole på and Dragonbane. Players can however, and do often, put in much more effort than is necessary purely for the value and satisfaction it brings them to do this work.

Using the pattern

Pottering requires that players can find activities in a game - often in the form of Abilities - which they want to perform for their own sake without them being forced on them by the design or other players. This means that Player Defined Goals are required for the pattern to emerge but also often Framed Freedom so that players know what is possible. These goals should however not be Committed Goals or ones that need too much effort before having some types of closures since they otherwise become a pressure that lessen the feeling that one is performing the activity for its own sake. Typical actions or activities that can provide this is Construction when players have Creative Control, but sorting activities as part of Resource Management can also work as can Grinding. Puzzles, either as part of games or as complete games but without Time Limits or Time Pressure, can be seen as an option as well given that they let players take their time and only perform actions when they wish to. In Single-Player Games, Sanctioned Cheating can help players engage in Pottering by removing Resources needs and various threats without disrupting Player Balance in a way that would happen if the pattern was used in Multiplayer Games.

A main component of supporting Pottering is that players do not constantly feel stressed that the activities they are doing can be destroyed or interfered with, making games with Casual Gameplay, Lull Periods, or Private Game Spaces likely types of games in which Pottering can occur. If one wishes to only encourage Pottering in certain areas of the Game World, Safe Havens can be used instead. While Complex Gameplay might seem to work against Pottering because players need to understand or control all aspects of the gameplay, this does actually not need to be stressful in itself and the complexity it allows can let players choose to engage in Pottering in certain parts of the gameplay. In contrast, games with Time Limits or constant Tension or Time Pressure works against the pattern. This does not mean that oppositions or threats cannot exist in the games: Minecraft have monsters appearing during the night but these are no problem if players have constructed Safe Havens for themselves, and players' countries in the Europa Universalis series may be attacked by other countries but this is a rather rare occurrence throughout game instances. Another option is through letting things decay slowly as a result of The Show Must Go On - the withering of crops in FarmVille or the growing of roots and trees in Ravenwood Fair are examples of this.

Pottering can also be supported by games for activities outside the main gameplay. One example of this is to allow Player Created Game Elements since players can choose how much effort they wish to put into these, as for example was possible in creating one's clothes and props for [[Dragonbane] and to a lesser extent is possible when by choosing how to paint ones' miniatures in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Another example is considering which game elements to bring to games using Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership to create game instances, often through the use of Pre-Customized Decks.

Diegetic Aspects

Pottering most often involves manipulating game elements or small parts of the Game Worlds themselves.

Interface Aspects

Clickability can help support Pottering in games by making the routine actions which may otherwise be experienced as Grinding more interesting.

Narrative Aspects

Being an activity with no set overarching goal and typically not resulting in much worthy of note, Pottering does not support Narration Structures. The various actions and smaller goals players set up for themselves when engaging in the activity does however create Never Ending Stories since there is no clear end forced upon them.


Pottering is typically instantiated through players changing Game Worlds (but pure Resource Management shows how this does not always need to be the case). However, in all cases it affects how Resources are handled in a game. In games with small Game Worlds (e.g. FarmVille or Ravenwood Fair) or those were Pottering is done extensively in the regions the players inhabit (e.g. Minecraft), the pattern can give rise to Player-Constructed Worlds.

Games with Pottering provide players with a Freedom of Choice of what to do. This can be used for effect in Expansion and Exploitation phases since these typically are not so time critical as other phases. However, Pottering is likely to also cause Repetitive Gameplay since players are likely to do a significant amount of whatever actions they are doing as Pottering.

Since Pottering lets players slowly but surely affect the game to meet their own voluntary or unconscious goals, the pattern can sneak a Value of Effort onto them.


Can Instantiate

Freedom of Choice, Never Ending Stories, Player-Constructed Worlds, Repetitive Gameplay, Value of Effort

Can Modulate

Expansion, Exploitation, Game Worlds, Resources

Can Be Instantiated By

Abilities, Casual Gameplay, Complex Gameplay, Framed Freedom, Grinding, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Lull Periods, Safe Havens, Player Created Game Elements, Player Defined Goals, Pre-Customized Decks, Private Game Spaces Puzzles, Resource Management

Construction together with Creative Control

Sanctioned Cheating together with Single-Player Games

Can Be Modulated By

Clickability, The Show Must Go On

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Committed Goals, Narration Structures, Tension, Time Limits, Time Pressure


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Huzinga, J. (1971). Homo Ludens. Beacon Press. ISBN 0807046817.
  2. Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092820-4.
  3. Alex S. Taylor, Susan P. Wyche, & Joseph 'Jofish' Kaye. (2008). Pottering by design. In Proceedings of the 5th Nordic conference on Human-computer interaction: building bridges (NordiCHI '08). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 363-372.