Shrinking Game Worlds

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Game worlds that become smaller as gameplay progresses.

Some games, primarily those where player compete against each other, decrease the size of the game world as game play progresses. These Shrinking Game Worlds make sure that player will eventually encounter each other.


Most of the stones placed while playing Go are not removed, leading to players having an effectively Shrinking Game World. The same is true in Hey! That's My Fish!, but in this case it is due to players removing ice tiles each time it is their turn. Building harvesters are required in Greed Corp to get new resources but each time these are activated they remove a layer of the tile they are on and those surrounding it which eventually leads to the tiles disappearing.

The gameplay area shrinks in the Bomberman series if players fail to eliminate each other within a certain period of time. One of the multiplayer levels in [Half-Life]], Crossfire allows players to activate air strikes. Players not in a bunker when these arrive are killed, in effect reducing the gameplay area to the bunker for periods of the matches.

Using the pattern

Shrinking Game Worlds have two prime characteristics: in what way Game Worlds shrink and in what way the shrinkage is activated. It is however important that each shrinkage is an Irreversible Event since otherwise the game effect instead becomes that of a Reconfigurable Game World (one could theoretically conceive of games where sometimes reductions are countered by growths in other areas but overall Game Worlds become smaller with time). Having Tiles as Destructible Objects even if the "destruction" can simply be its removal, it one way of creating Shrinking Game Worlds and can do this with clear units for the shrinkage (e.g. Greed Corp).

The reduction of Game World size can simply be a matter of Time Limits (as in multiplayer games in the Bomberman series) or be required action by players during their turn in Turn-Based Games.


Shrinking Game Worlds are Ultra-Powerful Events that instantiate The Show Must Go On but successively making Game Worlds smaller as gameplay takes place. They increase Tension by creating Movement Limitations which in turn can limit players' Freedom of Choice. That Game Worlds shrink can be seen as an Environmental Effect in these worlds, and these can effectively become Traps for players - especially if other players can affect which parts of Game Worlds are removed (as in Hey! That's My Fish!). By definition, Game Worlds that are to shrink need to be Reconfigurable Game Worlds and the actual shrinkage is a reconfiguration. If players can control the shrinkage this allows Player Defined Goals and a form of Player Constructed Worlds.

As the actual shrinking are Irreversible Events, Shrinking Game Worlds can both guarantee Time Limited Game Instances and Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses since players are force to share a more limited space and outcomes of struggles become more and more vital for the final outcome of the game instances.


Can Instantiate

Environmental Effects, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Movement Limitations, Player Constructed Worlds, Player Defined Goals, Reconfigurable Game Worlds, Tension, The Show Must Go On, Time Limited Game Instances, Traps, Ultra-Powerful Events

Can Modulate

Game Worlds

Can Be Instantiated By

Irreversible Events

Destructible Objects together with Tiles

Can Be Modulated By

Irreversible Events, Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Freedom of Choice


An updated version of the pattern Shrinking Game World 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.