Safe Havens

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Locations in game worlds where game elements are safe from harmful game events.

Many games put players' game elements are risk. To allow players rest these risks, games can be design so that some parts of the game environment provide protection from the threats that create these. This makes them into Safe Havens.


Pieces on castle squares in Pachisi are safe for capture are thereby provide Safe Havens. In addition, a player's home column is effectively a Safe Haven also since no other pieces can enter it (the same applies for the simpler Ludo).

The Super Mario series have Safe Havens between the levels where players are safe from threats and have time to consider what to do next, and which part of the game world travel to next.

Many first-person shooters have Safe Havens. Each teams home base in the Team Fortress series cannot be entered by the other side and thereby allow players respite after having being killed and respawned - eliminating the risk of being killed immediately after having been being brought back into the game. The Left 4 Dead series provides safe rooms that join levels together (and sometimes intersects individual levels as well) and provide players the chance to resupply on weapons, ammunition, and medical equipment.

Minecraft does not provide any Safe Havens to begin with, but players can quite easily construct their own through manipulating the game environment.

Using the pattern

There are two requirements for a place to be a Safe Haven: first, there should be no Environmental Effects, such as Traps, that can negatively affect players. Second, no hostile Agents or players should be able to affect the area. This can be done by having Private Game Spaces, or, in cases where Units or Avatars can perform hostile actions, limiting access by requiring a form of Privileged Movement to enter them (or Privileged Abilities to make access possible). The latter can be achieved through the use of Conditional Passageways where passage is not allowed to Enemies. Hiding Places can become Safe Havens for the reason of Enemies not being able to reach players there, but Safe Havens can also be modified to be Hiding Places.

Of course, Safe Havens may be the result of players' actions in games with Construction using Diegetically Tangible Game Items, as for example possible in Minecraft. Some Safe Havens make it impossible for players to have negative consequences of their own actions. These forms of Safe Havens support Experimenting. Safe Havens do not have to be permanent, they may for example stop granting sanctuary after a certain Time Limit has run out or after players have perform certain actions. In games that use Save Points, these tend to be Safe Havens although not all Safe Havens need to be so and for this reason Save Points can be seen as a way of modifying Safe Havens.

One way to hinder hostile activities within Safe Havens is to allow hostile Agents or players into them but make hostile actions impossible through locally enforcing Ability Losses, i.e. having the losses as a form Location-Fixed Abilities. Sometimes these kinds of Safe Havens are safe only for the lower ranking players. For example, the home cities in Dark Age of Camelot are safe only for low level characters. As an alternative, Safe Havens can be constructed by providing Avatars and Units with Invulnerabilities to Environmental Effects that others do not have. When created in this way, it is often linked to Time Limits, for example for a short period of time after Spawning. This approach is typically used in multiplayer games with no teams.

Finally, a weaker form of Safe Havens can be constructed from threatening those attacking others with stiff Penalties, e.g. city guards or police intervening if players disturb the peace. While this may not stop players from being attacked, it makes it less likely since attackers need to consider the associated Risks and Rewards.

While Combat is not possible in Safe Havens, the pattern modulate rather than is in conflict with Combat since the havens are defined in contrast to the rest of Game Worlds. Safe Havens are often combined with Spawn Points to ensure that the Spawning of Avatars or Units in Game Worlds cannot immediately result in attacks by other players or Enemies. In games with Teams, this allows the Teams to at least have a minimal area they always control. Placing Resource Generators inside such Safe Havens can further enhance the Balancing Effects of them.

Diegetic Aspects

For Thematic Consistency to be maintained, Safe Havens can need diegetic explanations, e.g. the Left 4 Dead series does this by only making players able to open the doors to safe rooms (an example of a Privileged Ability).

Diegetically Outstanding Features can be useful to ensure that players are aware of where the Safe Havens are in games.


Since Safe Havens can hinder players or other Agents from attacking each other on Game Boards or in Game Worlds or Levels, they provide Location-Fixed Abilities and modify how Capture and Eliminate actions function in games. Enforcing neutral areas where players cannot attack each others, Safe Havens increase the likelihood for Negotiation and Trading to occur. Quite often, the way Safe Havens are created make them into Inaccessible Areas for some Avatars or Units in the games that contain them. For games with Pervasive Gameplay, Safe Havens can make it possible to avoid disturbing specific other location-based activities while allowing the gameplay to take place in other locations.

Safe Havens naturally create Check Points for Traverse goals, and thereby create Strategic Locations which can promote Stimulated Planning and Strategic Planning. It can also lessen Tension, or modulate gameplay so that it shifts between stressful periods and calmer periods.

For games where players have meaningful actions to perform within the Safe Havens, this can encourage both Camping and Pottering. However, when other actions are possible outside the Safe Havens, players need to make Risk/Reward assessments when to leave them. Safe Havens can however also work against players Camping to attack other players in an area.


Can Instantiate

Balancing Effects, Camping, Check Points, Experimenting, Location-Fixed Abilities, Negotiation, Pottering, Risk/Reward, Stimulated Planning, Strategic Locations, Trading

Can Modulate

Avatars, Capture, Combat, Eliminate, Game Boards, Game Worlds, Levels, Pervasive Gameplay, Resource Generators, Spawn Points, Traverse, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Conditional Passageways, Construction, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Hiding Places, Penalties, Privileged Abilities, Private Game Spaces

Ability Losses together with Location-Fixed Abilities

Environmental Effects together with Invulnerabilities

Inaccessible Areas together with Privileged Movement

Can Be Modulated By

Diegetically Outstanding Features, Hiding Places, Save Points, Spawn Points, Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Camping, Traps, Thematic Consistency, Tension


An updated version of the pattern Safe Havens 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.