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Gameplay goals that need to be worked against under pressure, often but not necessarily in competition against others.

Games have goals for players, but not all games put players under pressure to complete these. Races are goals that create this pressure, either from having to perform better than others or by finishing it before some given time. While the most obvious form of Races are those where one tries to reach a certain location before others do, Races can also be abstract in the form of gaining a certain score before others, discovering important areas before others, or researching technologies before others.


Sprints, today most commonly in distances such as 100 meter or 400 meter, and long-distance competitions such as Marathons are classical examples of Races. The winning conditions for these are easy to describe: the goal is to be the first person to pass a certain distance marker, and this is to be achieved by moving (running) along the prepared course. These competitions are also part of computer-based sport games such as Decathlon and Summer Games, although requiring somewhat different skills from participants.

Elfenland, Formula D, Ludo, RoboRally, and Snakes and Ladders are examples of Board Games that are more or less explicitly Races.

Racing Games such as the F-Zero, Mario Kart, Need for Speed, and Sega Rally series are all Races as well, but here players have options of which vehicles to use and the gameplay may contain possibilities to upgrade these or attack competitors.

Strategy Games such as the Civilization and Europa Universalis series have several types of Races. The perhaps two most important of these are related to technological development and exploring and colonizing the game world before ones' competitors do so. Reaching Alpha Centauri is one of the winning conditions in the Civilization series and is in itself also a Race, as is the goal of building wonders (especially building the Utopia wonder in Civilization V since this is also a winning condition).

Golf can be seen as a kind of Race: the players try to go through the track in as little game time as possible (bearing in mind that game time in Golf is measured by the amount of strokes).

Not many First-Person Shooters are Races, but the Left 4 Dead series is an exception. This because at higher levels it is rarely cost efficient to search levels completely for loot so the best strategy to complete levels is to move as fast as possible.

Using the pattern

Races are high-level goal structures that needs more specific underlying goals to instantiate what game states players are trying to achieve as well as decide how players can act to try to achieve those game states. The races can be used as challenges between players in Multiplayer Games or be pit lone players against system controlled competitors.

The most obvious types of underlying goal for Races is to take the term literally and have Traverse goals that can be achieved through Movement (or Maneuvering) and typically making Connection to some game element or marking in the Game World, and this may be the players themselves in Sports or games with Player-Location Proximity. However, by using Scores most forms of subgoals can be used to form Races (getting Achievements is a more modern and meta form of this) of achieving a certain amount of Resources (or alternatively losing them). In fact, it has been suggested that Score Tracks where the starting points for games that had Races as themes in them[1]. Other general forms of Races include gaining Area Control (one of the many types of Races found in the Civilization series), gaining access to Game Items such as Loot or Vehicles (which create Races within Teams or groups in Borderlands and World of Warcraft for the former and in the Battlefield series for the latter). Gain Competence goals can be Races, because they are either Excluding Goals or Symmetric Goals which gives a temporary advantage to the winner. This last case is an example of how Red Queen Dilemmas are Races. Simply adding Time Limits before something must be completed is in fact a way of creating Races. Many of the examples just given show that Races often can serve as Supporting Goals in games.

Races need some factor that put Tension on players to try and achieve the underlying goals. Letting other players have the same goal, i.e. provide them all with Symmetric Goals, is part of the literal type of Races and serves this purpose. If other players are not available, or not enough of them are available, Non-Player Characters can act as (non-violent) Enemies to provide competition. Less common is the use of Ghosts to let players compete against previous game sessions they or other players have had. The above mentioned Time Limits can also provide the required Tension, and here trying to make Speedruns can be seen as a special case. This being said, the pressure to complete the Races can also be modulated by Time Limits (e.g. making everybody lose if nobody has completed the underlying goal within a certain amount of time) and by providing Imperfect Information about the goals or what is required to complete them. Tiebreakers can be used to ensure than only one competitor can win a Race. Related to this, the appearance of clear leaders may make Races uninteresting. This can be avoided by introducing Balancing Effects during gameplay through having Negative Feedback Loops or providing access to Handicap Systems before gameplay begin, and both these are most typically created in diegetic Races through giving some of the competitors Movement Limitations.

Literal or diegetic Races can be modified in several other ways: Chargers, Pick-Ups, and other Strategic Locations can introduce Risk/Reward elements (see the Super Mario series for examples of the two first and Formula D for an example of the last) and thereby make it less clear what is the most optimal route, Landmarks can help Game World Navigation, and Vehicles can provide variation in the different attributes related to the Races (e.g. acceleration, top speed, stability, etc.). Another variation to these types of Races is of course one where the players themselves try to be the first to reach a finishing line. Sprints and Marathons are examples of games, while Orienteering adds the need for Physical Navigation to the gameplay.

Diegetic Aspects

Many Races are literal ones in Game Worlds, and in this sense the pattern can be seen as a Level Design Pattern, especially if the Races make designers chance the actual layout of the Game Worlds.

Interface Aspects

Some Race, abstract ones especially, can be difficult for players to experience as actual Races due to them not being aware of how well competitors are doing. This can be avoided by introducing Game State Overviews such as Mini-maps which indicate the others' positions (this can be found in e.g. the Mario Kart series and the Need for Speed series). However, the Game State Overviews or even just Game State Indicators of some of other players' gameplay attributes can create Races where players otherwise would not perceive any. Alternatively, Progress Indicators could be used for similar effects.

Narrative Aspects

While all Races can be said to produce narratives of the struggle to reach a goal, this is a narrative produced through gameplay more than a narrative supporting gameplay.


Races of any kind put players under Tension to work against explicit goals, and this thereby provides Anticipation for reaching that goal. They give implicit Time Limits to players unless explicit Time Limits have already been added to the gameplay. If the Races are against others, the pattern gives rise to Competitions. Given that many Races are literal Races, the pattern can be used to modify gameplay in Game Worlds and this may make players tackle Game World Navigation differently and can make certain locations into Strategic Locations. Races are usually Excluding Goals although some Turn-Based Games allow Tied Results for those completing Races on the same turn. Even so, Tiebreakers are often used (even for the Turn-Based Games just mentioned) so that individual winners can be identified. They are also Interferable Goals in that one Agent's position can be directly influenced by the progress of other Agents.

The end conditions of Races often make them into ordinary goals that are completed when a specific game state is reached. However, when Time Limits or some other sort of Limited Resources is the main factor in determining the end of a Race (as is the case in the Out Run and the Sega Rally series), this turns the challenge into one of endurance rather than speed. Unwinnable Games with Scores create the same type of Races. These Races all have Continuous Goals but are also less likely to be perceived as Races since one has to focus continuously on the present situation rather than a possible end.

Races within Teams that lead to Individual Rewards, e.g. gaining control over Loot or Vehicles simply by being first to reach them, can easily create Internal Rivalry.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Continuous Goals, Excluding Goals, Interferable Goals, Strategic Locations, Supporting Goals, Tension, Tied Results, Time Limits

with Chargers, Pick-Ups, or Strategic Locations


with Individual Rewards and Teams

Internal Rivalry

with Movement Limitations

Balancing Effects, Handicap Systems

with Multiplayer Games


Can Modulate

Game World Navigation, Game Worlds, Multiplayer Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Achievements, Area Control, Connection, Game Items, Game State Indicators, Game State Overviews, Ghosts, Imperfect Information, Loot, Maneuvering, Movement, Player-Location Proximity, Progress Indicators, Red Queen Dilemmas, Resources, Score Tracks, Scores, Speedruns, Time Limits, Traverse, Vehicles

Enemies together with Non-Player Characters

Gain Competence together with Excluding Goals or Symmetric Goals

Can Be Modulated By

Balancing Effects, Chargers, Game State Overviews, Handicap Systems, Landmarks, Limited Resources, Mini-maps, Movement Limitations, Negative Feedback Loops, Physical Navigation, Progress Indicators, Strategic Locations, Tiebreakers, Time Limits, Vehicles

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Race that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].


  1. Parlett, D. (1999). Oxford History of Board Games, p. 35. ISBN-10: 0192129988.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.