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Diegetic elements of game worlds that have no gameplay enabled through them.

Games with Game Worlds rarely can let players interact in all conceivably possible ways with all objects they logically should contain, both for production reasons and for wanting to focus the gameplay towards certain activities. To still let the objects be present, this can be solved by having Props, objects that cannot be interacted with or only have non-vital information connected to them.


Trees are a common example of Props found for example in the Super Mario series, the Elder Scrolls series, and the Dragon Age series (Minecraft, the Crysis series, the Just Cause series, and the Warcraft series are examples of games where the trees provide gameplay functionality).

Buildings that players cannot enter are another common type of Props, often outnumbering the ones that can be entered for game worlds that include cities. Besides the games mentioned above regarding trees, games with this type of Props include the Grand Theft Auto series and the Assassin's Creed series (here the Just Cause series used Props).

Backgrounds that provide the farthest one can see in game worlds can be seen as a type of Prop. These are very common in 3D games (called skyboxes[1]), found for example in Minecraft, World of Warcraft, the Crysis series, the Deus Ex series, the Dragon Age series, the Quake series, and the Halo series.

Using the pattern

As a pattern mostly related to diegetic and narration aspects, the most important design choices for Props relate to these areas. While Props do not have to exist inside Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels, those that do naturally need to be given a location. Big Dumb Objects are Props and can therefore be used to instantiate the pattern in a game.

Even if Props have no gameplay directly facilitated through them, they can affect gameplay in a couple of ways. They can affect Movement and Maneuvering by being designed to provide Clues, Traces, and Landmarks, or be Red Herrings that appear to be any of the former. They can of course also be Obstacles that block Movement and can be crashed into if diegetically plausible. The use of them as large Obstacles provides an alternative to using Invisible Walls. The can also be targets for Gain Ownership and Landscaping goals, as for example done in certain Quests in Ravenwood Fair or what is required for animals to be satisfied in the Zoo Tycoon series.

Unlike their use in theater and movies, Props are rarely Game Items that can be picked up or moved. This since this is gameplay activities and may affect gameplay-related aspects such as Inventories. It is however quite common to place temporary Props where Destructible Objects used to be recently to provide a smoother transition between their being and their not-being.

The Props discussed so far exist only in computer-based Game Worlds, but Props can also be physical. This is the common case in games with Live Action Roleplaying, but can also be found in Tabletop Roleplaying Games in the form of Player Aids, for example Maps. While Miniatures may share several characteristics with these game components, they are not Props since they have clear gameplay rules related to them in games. Feelies is the term used for physical Props released together with some games, e.g. the map and booklet that came with later editions of Zork I and the syringe-looking pen that was part of the "Zombrex Edition" of Dead Rising 2.

Diegetic Aspects

Props are often necessary for a game to be able to have Diegetic Consistency, the exception being Game Worlds which are very sparsely populated with any type of objects. Props may however easily ruin Diegetic Consistency if they look similar to game elements with gameplay functionality. This since in one case being able to use an object in a Game World and in the second case not being able to use a similar object clearly points out an inconsistency in the game (See Linderoth & Bennerstedt 2007[2] for an example of crates and doors as both Props and functional game elements). Even just becoming interested in a Prop due to its appearance and then noticing that one cannot interact with in case produce the same problem. This makes using Props a balancing act for game designers, one needs to have sufficient amounts of Props in a game but they should draw attention to themselves. Even so, Props can be designed to be Diegetically Outstanding Features through their size, shape, or texture and this may be appropriate if they are supposed to function as Clues, Traces, and Landmarks.

Depending exactly on what they represent, Props may need to be Diegetically Tangible Game Items in order to maintain Diegetic Consistency.

Interface Aspects

Props typically have no interface aspects besides that they help define Game Worlds, and are rather defined as elements that do not provide interaction possibilities. The exception to this is when players can gain information by interacting with them, often through a simple click. In these cases the possibility is often indicated through presenting Geospatial Game Widgets in conjunction with them, and so is often the information they provide as well.

In Live Action Roleplaying games, Props can need to be very detailed to fit the Diegetic Consistency and thereby very time consuming to construct.

Narrative Aspects

Props can be used to create Environmental Storytelling and add details and flavor to Predetermined Story Structures. Props can also work well as MacGuffins since these do not need to have any functionality and in fact, little information needs to be revealed about them. Like MacGuffins, they do actually not need to exist as physical entities in the parts of the Game Worlds players can act within - they can be present in games solely through Cutscenes.


Props are ways of adding detail to Game Boards, Game Worlds, and Levels and thereby modulating them and possibly adding Thematic Consistency through having more details as well as provide support for Roleplaying. They do however instead break Thematic Consistency when they are visually similar or identical to other Game Items. When Props are designed so they provide Clues, Traces, and Landmarks, they help Game World Navigation (when they are Red Herrings they can of course instead make this harder).

While Props cannot individually enable Predetermined Story Structures, they can modulate them or create them through being part of Environmental Storytelling. Props can make Game World Exploration more interesting by providing variety, and when Props exist as Red Herrings to things players wish to find they make Game World Exploration necessary.


Can Instantiate

Clues, Environmental Storytelling, Game World Exploration, Diegetic Consistency, Gain Ownership, Landmarks, Landscaping. MacGuffins, Obstacles, Player Aids, Red Herrings, Thematic Consistency, Traces

Can Modulate

Game Boards, Game World Exploration, Game Worlds, Game World Navigation, Levels, Predetermined Story Structures, Roleplaying

Can Be Instantiated By

Cutscenes, Feelies, Maps

Can Be Modulated By

Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Geospatial Game Widgets, Live Action Roleplaying

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Thematic Consistency, Diegetic Consistency


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Wikipedia entry for skybox.
  2. Linderoth, J. & Bennerstedt, U. (2007). This is not a door: An ecological approach to computer games. In A. Baba (Ed.), Proceedings of DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) Conference 2007 (Tokyo, September 2007), pp. 25-30.