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People, possibly former, current, or future players, who observe the actions that players do in a game without being able to affect the game themselves.

Not all people who can observe the development of a game played are players. Those who cannot directly affect the game as a player are Spectators. While these do not experience gameplay directly, they can gain an experience from watching the game and can learn or prepare to play the game.


Players whose avatars are killed in Counter-Strike have to wait until the next game begins before being able to play. Depending on the server, they may be able to watch as Spectators while they are waiting or can only view a scoreboard.

Most tournaments, e.g. within Chess, Go, Soccer, and the Starcraft series, have Spectators to the individual games that are played. This allows people participating in the tournament but not in the individual game to follow the gameplay as well as letting other interested people follow the whole tournament.

Games that take place in public environments, e.g. ConQwest, Insectopia, Momentum , cannot help but be observed by non-players. If these Spectators are aware that they are witnessing gameplay is another issue though. In the case of Day of the Figurines, it is easier to say that people are aware since one part of the game is a public installation at a museum where people can view the positions of all players' characters in the game world.


Many Computer Games that depict Sports or car races, e.g. Wii Sports, and the FIFA and Gran Turismo series, have diegetic Spectators in their games. But since these are not actual people watching the events taking place,

Using the pattern

Spectators can either be people who will not be players at all in a game session at all or be used to give players information about the game while not playing or being able to act within it. In either case, they need to be provided with some form of Public Information in order to be considered Spectators as they otherwise have no information about the game state.

Players currently in a game can temporarily become Spectators by Ultra-Powerful Events or Turn Taking (this is more or less impossible to hinder in games with Hotseating unless the players themselves do not wish it), and making players into Spectators can be used to instantiate Downtime as a form of Penalty. Late Arriving Players can as Spectators be given Game State Overviews for a short period of time before joining the game to let them be aware of the current situation within the game. Games which have Player Elimination, especially Early Elimination but also Permadeath, can use Spectators to allow the eliminated players to continue to follow the gameplay.

There are many ways of supporting non-player Spectators. First, many games inherently support Spectators with some possibility to get an insight to a game in progress. This includes traditional Board, Card, and Miniature Games but typically not Tabletop Roleplaying Games. Most Computer Games also allow Spectators simply by letting them view the display showing the game, but understanding the game situation may be difficult in fast-paced games or games heavily relying on interaction between different players. Games with Alternate Reality, Pervasive, or Ubiquitous Gameplay often cannot help having Spectators but in these cases, the people watching may not be aware that they are seeing gameplay actions. Extra-Game Actions doesn't in itself create Spectators but provide designers with more control of the likelihood of possible Spectators noticing the actions.

Games that specifically want to support Spectators, e.g. Tournaments, can do so in several ways. Gameplay Statistics such as High Score Lists, Public Player Statistics, and Replays can be used let Spectators (and possible future players) gain information about previous gameplay activities while Extra-Game Broadcasting can be used to push such information into other media than the one supporting or mediating the game.

While watching the actions of players may be the naturally most interesting activity of Spectators, any type of Agents be help provide interest to a game since they provide seeming intent to what happens in the games. Further, Multiplayer Games are like to be more interesting since here players are either intentionally competing or cooperating to achieve certain goals. Spectators may by themselves or by encouragement by game facilitators modify their interest in the watch games by making Meta Games, with Betting on the outcome of the game as the most common example of this.

Interface Aspects

Spectators is an Interface Pattern.


Having Spectators that can observe gameplay can be both good and bad for gameplay that requires Performance Uncertainty; Spectators can encourage players to perform better but can also cause Tension related to this performance. The presence of Spectators allows players to show their Gameplay Mastery and from this display gain Game-Based Social Statuses, especially when difficult or complex gameplay actions like Repeat Combos are required. Allowing people to be Spectators, as for example is common in Tournaments, make it possible for these people to gain Strategic Knowledge about the game and players may act as mentors through showing how to perform possible actions. This is possible even if games with no players, i.e. Zero-Player Games, since the Spectators can learn simply from observing what gameplay actions work in given situations.

When Spectators can communicate with the players either through Unmediated Social Interaction or Communication Channels, this allow for Social Interaction between, making it possible to have Social Interaction even in Single-Player Games. This may however also lead the Spectators to willing or not, and knowingly or not, provide Non-Player Help. When the Spectators are aware of the gameplay in progress and try to influence the development of the gameplay by giving advice and commands, this can instead become a case of Backseat Gamers. An alternate to all this is to provide dedicated Communication Channels to the Spectators or support players in doing Extra-Game Actions that can give information to the Spectators.

Spectators is also a Social Role players can have in games. The possibility of being Spectators can help Late Arriving Players to understand the current game state before joining a game. Likewise, being able to observe the states of Mules can help players judge if they need to start playing actively or can let the Mules continue with their automated behavior.

While it can be argued that no game is being played unless somebody is performing gameplay actions, the use of Spectators can question this argument. Specifically, Zero-Player Games or games with No Direct Player Influence can be meaningful if Spectators (which may be players in the sense that they may have set up in advance the actions being done) are allowed to observe the gameplay as it unfolds.

Spectators can be cast as Non-Player Characters in games. While this is most easily conceivable in Alternate Reality Games or Pervasive Games, it can be used in most games to make the Non-Player Characters have more agency or unpredictability that if they are controlled by algorithms.

The use of Spectators allows people that are not players in one game to be players in Meta Games based upon the game, e.g. Betting on the outcome.


Can Instantiate

Backseat Gamers, Betting, Game-Based Social Statuses, Non-Player Help, Social Roles, Strategic Knowledge, Tension

with Extra-Game Actions

Non-Player Help

with Single-Player Games

Social Interaction

with Zero-Player Games

Strategic Knowledge

Can Modulate

Gameplay Mastery, Late Arriving Players, Mules, Non-Player Characters, No Direct Player Influence, Performance Uncertainty, Zero-Player Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Alternate Reality Gameplay, Downtime, Early Elimination, Extra-Game Broadcasting, Game State Overviews, Gameplay Statistics, High Score Lists, Hotseating, Penalties, Permadeath, Pervasive Gameplay, Player Elimination, Public Information, Public Player Statistics, Replays, Tournaments, Turn Taking, Ubiquitous Gameplay, Ultra-Powerful Events

Can Be Modulated By

Agents, Communication Channels, Extra-Game Actions, Meta Games, Multiplayer Games, Unmediated Social Interaction

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Spectators 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.