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Game elements that players can use to activate events or actions in game worlds.


Buttons and levers on the walls are Switches used to open doors, walls, and sections of the floor in the early first-person Computer Roleplaying game Dungeon Master. The early installments in the Doom series had Switches that temporarily opened secret doors that could only be reached by quickly moving some distances within the games. Both the Elder Scrolls and makes use of Switches in the form of pressure plates to activate physics-based "swing object" traps. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas uses pressure plates in the same fashion, although some of them are linked to "grenade bouquets".

The activation of various types of machinery in the Left 4 Dead series let players proceed in the levels of the game, but also attract the attention of infected humans wanting to kill the players.

The puzzles in the Portal series often consist of accessible boxes than can then be put on Switches to activate various elements on levels. In the co-op mode of Portal 2 one player can sometimes fill this role while the other player performs some necessary action.

Using the pattern

Creating Switches mainly consist of considering what happens when they are activated and what their appearances and positions are like. Switches may be stateless in that activating them has an immediate effect but they can then be activated again but it is quite common Switches two states, e.g. on/off or pressed/released, or cycle through a series of states. Activating Switches can easily be made into Irreversible Events but not allowing them to change states again afterwards; stateless Switches can also cause Irreversible Events if the effects of them can only occur once. An additional option for Switches with states is to have Time Limits after which the Switches change to another state.

Two common reasons for having Switches in Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels are to let players modify Environmental Effects or Obstacles, which in both cases may make Conditional Passageways accessible. Opening new gameplay areas may through this reveal Secret Areas and make normally Inaccessible Areas possible to enter. Other reasons for providing Switches is to allow players to be able to activate Varying Rule Sets (typically only in Levels), to end Levels, or to initiate Quick Travel. Alarms can simply be Switches activated by Agents when they detect certain events or presences.

Diegetic Aspects

An option for Switches that have states is to make their visual presentations "sticky", i.e. they change appearance depending on their state. When used like this, they make the use of Game State Indicators related to them unnecessary and can thereby help maintain Diegetic Consistency.

Narrative Aspects

Switches can game designer precise ways of knowing when players perform specific actions in games, especially when they can only be used once. This can be used to know when to forward Predetermined Story Structures through initiating Cutscenes or Dialogues, changing Game Boards or Levels, opening Conditional Passageways, etc.


Switches are simple Controllers that allow for a limited range of actions, most often turning on or off an effect in the game. Being located at specific points in Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels, they modulate these. Their use is often trivial to understand, although the effect of activating them can activate new rules, thereby instantiating Varying Rule Sets, or may have complex and have long-term consequences on gameplay. Depending on how the Switches handle states or have repeatable effect, they can instantiate Irreversible Events or Reversibility. Regardless, the actual development of the events started by activating specific Switches can be Ultra-Powerful Events or cause Persistent Game World Changes.

Their mere presence create Clickability in games but when players know what effect activating Switches have; this not only gives Anticipation but also promotes Stimulated Planning. Those have Time Limits associated to certain states add Time Pressure to players' gameplay experiences. When players can notice that the state of Switches have changed from since last they saw them, or from what should be their normal state, this provides them with Traces of previous gameplay events.

Switches often affect Environmental Effects, by causing them to exist or disappear, or Inaccessible Areas, by making them accessible or not.


Can Instantiate

Alarms, Anticipation, Clickability, Controllers, Diegetic Consistency, Irreversible Events, Persistent Game World Changes, Predetermined Story Structures, Reversibility, Stimulated Planning, Traces, Ultra-Powerful Events, Varying Rule Sets

with Obstacles

Quick Returns

with Time Limits

Time Pressure

Environmental Effects or Obstacles

Conditional Passageways

Can Modulate

Environmental Effects, Game Boards, Game Worlds, Levels, Quick Travel

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Buttons 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.