Symmetric Goals

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Goals that from a systemic perspective are symmetric to each other.

Goals in games are defined by what players or other agents need to accomplish for the goals to be completed. The goals that are symmetric to each other in terms of these needs, as well as the rewards completing them provides, are Symmetric Goals.


An archetypical Symmetric Goal is that of a simple race. The goal each player has is symmetric to the others since each player needs to get to the end of the race (be it a spatial race or otherwise) before other players do. Another typical example of Symmetric Goals can be found in the Japanese version of Go where each player has the goal to surround the highest number of empty spaces (other versions of Go also have Symmetric Goals). While this can be described as an abstract race since the number of spaces are limited, the Symmetric Goals in Chess of trying to checkmate each other's kings show an example of Symmetric Goals which are not a race.

Using the pattern

Symmetric Goals are often used to modify Conflicts and Competitions. One reason for this is to provide Player Balance (this assumes that all players have the same Symmetric Goals).

Some game structures naturally provide Symmetric Goals. Races (most clearly in Multiplayer Games) create symmetry since all participants strive to be first, as for example in the Mario Kart series. Similarly, King of the Hill provides several players with having an exclusive position and hindering other players from taking that position from them. As Overcome goals provides targets with a goal to avoid being Overcome, games with this pattern create Symmetric Goals as long as the opponent has some actions which can be used offensively to avoid being Overcome, i.e. the avoidance goal can be fulfilled by overcoming the one with the Overcome goal. While it may be easy to simply consider all Symmetric Goals as being based upon some form of Conflict, players sharing Mutual Goals have Symmetric Goals also since these goals are the same goals. Symmetric Goals are often also Interferable Goals, and this can be how they become symmetric as the Overcome goal shows an example of.

Gain Competence goals can affect Symmetric Goals when the competence gained is related to what actions players need to perform to succeed with the Symmetric Goals. This tends to create Red Queen Dilemmas, e.g. if players have Symmetric Goals of winning a Race and they can improve their speed all players need to strive for this simply even if this can average out and mean that the gain speed doesn't improve the chances of winning. However, if the Gain Competence are Excluding Goals also (for example if there is only one Power-Up to increase speed in the previous example) this combination creates a Race on a higher level of abstraction.

By definition, Symmetric Goals are incompatible with Asymmetric Goals. It is typically also problematic or pointless to combine with Unknown Goals. The former since players may easily become suspicious that other players have the same type of goal from the other players' behavior (unless the intention is to have an initial gameplay based around Gain Information). The latter if players cannot detect each other's goals.


While Symmetric Goals typically are used to support Player Balance in a game, they also tend to support Stimulated Planning since players can readily understand other players' goals since they are similar. However, the presence of Symmetric Goals can work against Varied Gameplay in a game. This since replaying the game as another role which has Symmetric Goals with a previous role means that the replay is less varied than if the goals were Asymmetric Goals.

Symmetric Goals based upon, or affected by, Eliminate goals tend to create Last Man Standing goals since removing the competition is likely to make it easier to complete the goal even if eliminating the other players doesn't mean completing the goal automatically.


Can Instantiate

Player Balance, Stimulated Planning

with Eliminate

Last Man Standing

with Gain Competence

Red Queen Dilemmas

with Gain Competence and Excluding Goals


Can Modulate

Conflicts, Competition

Can Be Instantiated By

King of the Hill, Mutual Goals, Overcome

Multiplayer Games together with Races

Can Be Modulated By

Gain Competence, Interferable Goals

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Asymmetric Goals, Unknown Goals, Varied Gameplay


An updated version of the pattern Symmetric Goals 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.