Self-Facilitated Games

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Games that require that the people involved in the gameplay ensure that the rules are being followed and require that these people perform any necessary bookkeeping actions.

All games require effort to setup and update the game state. When there are no other people, or machines, dedicated to this the players themselves need to perform this work. These types of games are Self-Facilitated Games, are requires that at least one of the players learns the rules before or during gameplay. Even if Self-Facilitated Games force players to work, they also allow the players to modify or ignore rules at their discretion.


Tradition board games such as Chess and Go, as well as newer ones such as Cluedo, Monopoly, and RoboRally, require the players themselves to set up and move game pieces and, if they wish to break gameplay into several different play sessions, store the game state safely. The same goes for card games such as Illuminati and Magic: The Gathering. Children's games such as Tag are the same, except they also require the players to judge if players have been caught or not. Even if the board game Space Alert uses an audio track to further gameplay during its first phase, it can be said to be a Self-Facilitated Game during its second and final phase since players then have to resolve the gameplay outcome.

Wargames such as Advanced Squad Leader and Warhammer 40K require their players to move large amounts of units as part of controlling armies and their logistics. The decedents of war and miniature games, tabletop roleplaying games such as Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, do have game masters that take care of responsibility of knowing the game rules and handling most of their inhabitants of the game world. However, players have to do some work as well and the role of game master often rotates, so these games can be considered Self-Facilitated Games.

Early multiplayer online games such as Kingdoms and DragonMud were setup and maintained by their own players. While only experienced and trusted players (called wizards) were allowed to actually change the code controlling the games, this still makes these games Self-Facilitated Games. The development of game rules by the players as they play is the main feature of some board and card games, e.g. Nomic and Bartok.

Using the pattern

In one sense all games can be Self-Facilitated Games since players can add to the game design by adding personal goals to the game but in many cases players can also modify the games as well. Alternatively, one can say that all games offer the starting point for players to create new Self-Facilitated Games based on these. This can sometimes be seen as Sanctioned Cheating, the players breaking some rules with the sanction of the other players to make a more enjoyable experience for all.

Games that are design to be Self-Facilitated Games requires the will of the players to uphold the game state and the game rules, the latter which can be seen as requiring Strategic Knowledge. The Memorizing this demands can be made easier in a number of ways: the rules of the game can be made as explicit and deterministic so that any player can perform them while the others watch; Turn Taking in Turn-Based Games can be used so that only one player at a time performs actions and the others can check the correctness of the actions; and Bookkeeping Tokens such as Current Player Tokens and First Player Tokens can be used to minimize the amount of the game state that has to be remembered by all players.

Another aspect of Self-Facilitated Games is that players may have to do the evaluating of the game state in order to know which events should take place. This is trivial in games with digital game state (such as Chess, Go, and Risk) but for example more difficult in traditional physical Sports. Even so, this may be better than using sensing technologies when these are undependable or have limitations in where they can be used - Self-Reported Positioning is a way to have Self-Facilitated Games that rely on Player-Location Proximity even if one does not have technology that meets the requirements of precision (given that one is willing to sacrifice reliability of accurate values).

Players do not have to do all work involved in facilitating Self-Facilitated Games. Game Servers may support or even handle the main update routines (as for early Massively Multiplayer Online Games, MUDs, such as Kingdoms or DragonMud) but as long as at least some players have Privileged Abilities to modify the game state or change it through Evolving Rule Sets the games can be considered Self-Facilitated Games. Other types of Privileged Abilities are possible, e.g. handling the bank's money in Monopoly or being temporary judges. Game Masters of Roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons or Paranoia are Dedicated Game Facilitators where the facilitators can still be perceived as players with Privileged Abilities since some of their activities are similar to those of players, e.g. controlling Non-Player Characters as players control Player Characters. By doing this, and have the same freedom to introduce, modify, or ignore rules that players of purely Self-Facilitated Games have, the use of human Game Masters show how in this special case Self-Facilitated Games and Dedicated Game Facilitators can be combined. The Privileged Abilities some people of Self-Facilitated Games have, as well as the Investments they do to run Self-Facilitated Games, can give them Game-Based Social Statuses.

Practically any game can be the basis for a Meta Game based on Betting or Tournaments which is facilitated by the players themselves. Handicap Achievements is one of the few patterns which adds an aspect of being a Self-Facilitated Game to one that is not - this since it makes players willingly take upon themselves to behave in a certain restricted way without the game itself penalizing them if they fail with this.

Turn Taking in games can lead to players self-facilitating how long time others take to make their turn, Guilting them to avoid having Downtime.

Diegetic Aspects

Providing Effect Descriptions and Storytelling for Self-Facilitated Games naturally falls on the players (and Game Masters if present). Keeping track of large or detailed Game Worlds are likely to provide proportion amounts of Excise as their size or level of detail.

Narrative Aspects

Self-Facilitated Games, especially if they have human Game Masters, can easily support Never Ending Stories since they have people available to change expand the Narration Structures as gameplay progresses. Although Storytelling can emerge from Self-Facilitated Games, as for example the story-telling game Once Upon a Time, these games have difficulties having supporting Predetermined Story Structures that have Tension or Surprises due to problems of timing. There does not have to be a problem creating Emotional Engrossment though, the creation of narratives through Storytelling in Player Constructed Worlds are often an important reason for wanting to participate in these games, especially if this is combined with using Player Characters.


It is unavoidable that Self-Facilitated Games give players some Excise, especially in games with many game elements like the Units-rich game such as Warhammer 40K or those requiring the players to calculate the actions of AI Players or Game System Player. At the same time they get the Empowerment in the form of Social Adaptability which can be used to control the gameplay, e.g. to create Negotiable Play Sessions as well as Negotiable Game Sessions. This also makes the games have Minimalized Social Weight since players can interrupt gameplay (or Excise) at any time to have Social Interaction. Self-Facilitated Games tend to be designed to have Synchronous Gameplay. This to ease communication regarding the issues just mentioned as well as balancing Excise between players and letting players supervise each other to avoid errors in following rules or cheating.

Since players need to interpret the rules and outcomes together through Negotiation, rule arguments are likely in Self-Facilitated Games. However, it also allows them to have Player Decided Rule Setup and Evolving Rule Sets (especially those with human Game Masters), potentially helping create Player and Team Balance through improvised Handicap Systems in games with PvP and TvT gameplay respectively. Reaching consensus about outcomes in game instances where Extra-Game Consequences such as monetary rewards or Game-Based Social Statuses are at stake can however be difficult. For this reason, many games that are self-facilitated normally have judges in Tournaments of the game or when Betting is involved. Sports are examples of Real-Time Games with Synchronous Gameplay that are Self-Facilitated Games where judges are especially common since rule interpretation depends on physical actions in the real world.

Self-Facilitated Games allow players Free Game Element Manipulation. One aspect of this is the Freedom of Choice to modify rules, and especially the game state. This makes it possible to improvise so that Late Arriving Players or even Drop-In/Drop-Out can work, at least for those not heavily focused on PvP or Competition (it is least problematic for Unwinnable Games or those with Never Ending Stories which typically include Roleplaying games). Another aspect is the possibility to allow inexperienced players to have Extra Chances to redo basic mistakes - this can support Smooth Learning Curves. In contrast, Self-Facilitated Games can enforce Player Kicking of those players that behave socially unacceptable according to the other players.

Games that can be set up in various ways, e.g. Configurable Gameplay Areas for games with Real World Gameplay Spaces, make players of Self-Facilitated Games also have a Freedom of Choice on how the game should be played. This provides such game design with a specific form of Social Adaptability concerning the gameplay space. A specific case of this happens in the Self-Facilitated Games that are Meta Games built upon games with Time Limited Game Instances; here players have Negotiable Game Instance Duration of the Meta Game since a potential stopping point exists after each inner game ends.

Self-Facilitated Games do not make use of Dedicated Game Facilitators with the exception of when one considered human Game Masters as part of the people playing the game. Game Servers can for this reason be problematic to use together with the pattern unless they are created so they simulate an environment for manipulating the game elements of the game rather than implement the rules of the game.

In Self-Facilitated Games, Players may replace any results with Player Decided Results in Self-Facilitated Games and these Fudged Results can make it difficult to enforce Ultra-Powerful Events. Likewise, Time Limits are harder to enforce and especially events based upon The Show Must Go On. For Self-Facilitated Games which needs Effect Descriptions or Storytelling will create Cutscenes when these are done as the players become occupied with the activity. Since the game rules cannot enforce how these are performed, neither Diegetic nor Thematic Consistency from the designers' point of view can be guaranteed.


Can Instantiate

Drop-In/Drop-Out, Evolving Rule Sets, Excise, Extra Chances, Free Game Element Manipulation, Freedom of Choice, Fudged Results, Game-Based Social Statuses, Handicap Systems, Optional Rules, Investments, Minimalized Social Weight, Negotiable Game Sessions, Negotiable Play Sessions, Negotiation, Never Ending Stories, Player Kicking, Sanctioned Cheating, Social Adaptability, Social Interaction, Storytelling, Synchronous Gameplay

with Betting

Meta Games

with Effect Descriptions or Storytelling


with Extra Chances

Smooth Learning Curves

with Never Ending Stories or Unwinnable Games

Late Arriving Players, Player Decided Rule Setup

with Meta Games and Time Limited Game Instances

Negotiable Game Instance Duration

with PvP

Player Balance

with TvT

Team Balance

Can Modulate

Massively Multiplayer Online Games, PvP, TvT

Can Be Instantiated By

Betting, Game Servers, Handicap Achievements, Humans, Self-Reported Positioning, Strategic Knowledge, Tournaments, Turn Taking

Can Be Modulated By

AI Players, Bookkeeping Tokens, Current Player Tokens, First Player Tokens, Game Masters, Game Servers, Game System Player, Memorizing, Privileged Abilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Diegetic Consistency, Game Servers, Predetermined Story Structures, The Show Must Go On, Thematic Consistency, Time Limits, Ultra-Powerful Events


An updated version of the pattern Self-Facilitated Games 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.