Thematic Consistency

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That the characters and objects depicted in a game world are thematically consistent, as is their behavior.

The theme of a game can not only be what makes players initially interested in playing it, but can also help them understand what will be encountered as gameplay elements and challenges. This however requires that the design has a Thematic Consistency; that is, it complies to conventions and other previously established features recognized as a specific theme. This is not only requirements for the presentation of things in any given moment, but how events unfold over time and what actions are plausible.


The Sims series shows how taking the features of suburban life and modeling them with Thematic Consistency can result in popular games or toys. Even though not all aspects are realistic, e.g. aliens and ghosts exist, the sims reactions to these are realistic and thereby thematically consistent on a social level.

Besides the value of being exotic, it is very common for games to make use of themes including magic or science fiction elements since they allow a wider range of possible actions and game elements while still maintaining Thematic Consistency. To take just two examples, Dungeons & Dragons has created a setting combining magic and personal development to support and explain the leveling of characters done in it and the designers of the Fallout series makes use of a paradoxical futuristic-but-50ies setting to allow themselves to include both aliens and serious sub-themes into the gameplay.

Examples of games that deliberately mix themes to create crossover themes include Super Smash Bros. series and the Kingdom Hearts series. While these may break the original themes they can still feel as consistent games regarding gameplay and can become themes in their own right.

Using the pattern

A primary design choice that affects Thematic Consistency is what diegetic theme the game has, and this not only affects how things should be presented in games but also how they should behave. For example, while Early Elimination is often not seen as a desirable pattern to have in a game the diegetic theme of a game together with the wish to have Thematic Consistency might require its presence. For games that do not strive to be (initially) historical, this means that the pattern is modulated by Alternative Realities. Examples of games that avoid Alternative Realities are Wargames, both such as Advanced Squad Leader and Rommel in the Desert that focus upon squads or smaller units and grand strategy games such as Diplomacy and the Hearts of Iron series, and for the types of games it may be necessary to have Asymmetric Starting Conditions in order to have Thematic Consistency. Another issue is to what level of detail the theme should be implemented and this can make it impossible to satisfy all players that a game has Thematic Consistency - having believable behaviors from Non-Player Characters, or Player Characters for that fact, is one area where expectations can vary wildly between players. For Self-Facilitated Games it is impossible to guarantee Thematic Consistency since players can add their own descriptions, but they can be encouraged by being provided with a thematically consistent set of game content to begin with. Providing Optional Rules is a way to let players set the rules to fit their opinions of the theme as well as possible, and thereby modulate how well the game has a Thematic Consistency. Evolving Rule Sets do the same but can be applied during gameplay to make the rules better comply with the theme.

The theme of a game can not only influence how game elements should be presented but also more or less require their presence in some cases. Game elements that can help create Thematic Consistency but are also restricted in how they can be realized by the theme include Alarms, Avatars, Boss Monsters, Clues (but not those created as Non-Diegetic Features), Companions, Enemies, Environmental Effects, Game Items, Landmarks, Tools, Traces, and Units. Controllers may also be inserted because they are implied by themes, but they also provide possibilities of having gameplay effects be dislocated from players' Focus Loci, and working on other power levels, without breaking the Thematic Consistency. Big Dumb Objects and Props may in contrast to the previous examples be inserted mainly to instantiate Thematic Consistency given facts related to history or an Alternative Reality; Feelies do this but through using a physical medium. Alien Space Bats do the same but strain players suspension of disbelief more and when this breaks works against the pattern instead. Power-Ups also strain players suspension of disbelief but in this case since they quite obviously are present to present gameplay effects. The theme can motivate several of the ways these can be modulated, e.g. by being Destructible Objects, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, or making use of Inventories (although the latter can easily work against Thematic Consistency depending on the physical considerations made in the system). Construction can be used to motivate how they are introduced to the games while the contents of Loot need to comply to themes to maintain Thematic Consistency. Sets are interesting in that they are nearly always thematically consistent with each other even when the game which contains them is not, and here the Thematic Consistency between them helps define them. While MacGuffins are less restricted in their appearance by Thematic Consistency (in fact, for them to fit some themes they should only be indirectly referred to), their presence can be required by the same theme that specifically does not care about how they are represented. Geospatial Game Widgets, e.g. Ghosts, are objects positioned within Game Worlds that break not only Thematic Consistency but also Diegetic Consistency in not being diegetically present in those Game Worlds. Invulnerabilities of diegetic individuals and items can easily work against Thematic Consistency unless given thematic explanations - this can be a problem for game designs because the Invulnerabilities may exist implicitly due to the fact that no rules (and representations) may have been created for this purpose or because they are vital to Predetermined Story Structures and have for this reason been given explicit Invulnerabilities.

Many themes imply large Game Worlds, and Illusion of Open Space or Procedurally Generated Game Worlds can help support Thematic Consistency concerning this. Worth noting is that Invisible Walls is a common way to create Illusion of Open Space and can in this way support Thematic Consistency but it is a volatile solution since the pattern works against the consistency if noticed. Related to having large Game Worlds is the question of having sufficient amount of game objects within these to be believable environments. Props and Red Herrings can help populate the Game Worlds to the right density but for large Game Worlds it may be necessary to do this through having Procedurally Generated Game Worlds that also generate the game objects within them.

One aspect of game element design that is required for Thematic Consistency to be maintained is that there are no contradictions or irregularities in the functioning of the game. For example, if players can blow up one crate in a game, then players should also be able to blow up all other crates that look similar. Not being able to do so breaks the consistency by making some game elements function according to the theme while making others by Props (for a more detailed discussion, see Linderoth 2007[1]). Friendly Fire, that attacks can hurt team members and not only Enemies, is a pattern that supports the thematic consistency that weapons affect targets equally but is uncommon enough that it merits as a design option. Similarly, Variable Accuracy can be used to simulate the difficulties in hitting targets due to wind, fatigue, stress, and other factors that affect real world shooting. A more general issue with Thematic Consistency occurs when there is a need or wish to use Regenerating Resources since few real world Resources can be replenished at the speed with gameplay might dictate; the use of fictional worlds can remove this issue.

Thematic Consistency does not only concern game elements. Providing players with the actions they should thematically be able to do is needed, as is making the inhabitants of the Alternative Realities look and act plausible. In fact, one aspect of Thematic Consistency which may be more difficult for games than other mediums are to make the behavior of Agents believable. This since it requires some form of Enforced Agent Behavior while they should still be interactive. For Non-Player Characters and other Agents run either by Algorithmic Agents or Dedicated Game Facilitators such as Game Masters it is easy to enforce the behaviors but trying to capture enough nuances of human behavior can require a host of other patterns, including Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Awareness of Surroundings, Character Development, Emotional Attachment, Goal-Driven Personal Development, Initiative, Open Destiny, Own Agenda, Player/Character Skill Composites, Sense of Self, Thematically Consistent Dialogues, and Unpredictable Behavior. Ephemeral Goals can play a role here in that they can help give the impression that Agents have their Own Agenda even if this is not implemented on a game system level. Crafting is somewhat of a special case here since it is a behavior of Agents but one whose effect can be used to explain how Game Items are created. Looking more generally on this aspect, Façade, and to a lesser degree the Sims series, are examples of games that have put significant resources into designing support for this kind of social Thematic Consistency. In fact, making Characters seem to be Agents and not Self-Service Kiosks can be an issue for Thematic Consistency. For example, providing Chat Channels to be able to have dialogues with Characters instead of Canned Text Responses allows for the highest level of nuances and Enactment but at the same time opens up for abuse by players, especially if Emotes are available.

It can be especially difficult to guarantee that gameplay follows a predefined thematic setup when players engage in Roleplaying but here Game Masters can act as moderators, and banning improvisation from Roleplaying undercuts Thematic Consistency since the small details these add are important for the social believability of a game. The problem can be especially apparent in Multiplayer Games since players can feedback on each other to spin off events that they feel are thematically consistency but which is not necessarily shared by others. When the behavior of Agents or how game rules can simulate physics are not sufficient to maintain Thematic Consistency, this can be solved by replacing some diegetic game events through Cutscenes. Mules are a special case of Agents that are likely to break Thematic Consistency - this since they are likely to not behave consistency with the behavior of players that sometimes take control of them.

Diegetic Consistency is closely related to Thematic Consistency since having Non-Diegetic Features, Non-Diegetic Communication, Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Information (which may include some types of Clues or Indirect Information), or otherwise breaking the Diegetic Consistency also disrupts the Thematic Consistency since the features that do fit cannot fit the given diegetic themes. For this reason, having Diegetic Communication is often a goal when wanting to have Thematic Consistency. Invisible Walls are interesting game elements in relation to Thematic Consistency since they often do not conflict with Diegetic Consistency as they are invisible but can still break Thematic Consistency if noticed. Likewise, Inaccessible Areas, diegetic Private Game Spaces, and Safe Havens do not need to break Diegetic Consistency but if there does not exist good thematic explanations why they cannot be reached they break Thematic Consistency. Temporal Consistency is also related to how players experience Game Worlds and can for this reason be worth reflecting on while considering Thematic Consistency.

With the exception of Construction, patterns that introduce new game elements and game events can have problematic relations to Thematic Consistency. While making Events Timed to the Real World can ensure Temporal Consistency, the common use of this pattern to link real world holidays and special events to a game is quite likely to break its Thematic Consistency if the game depicts an Alternative Reality. Late Arriving Players in contrast need to place new Avatars or Units as important as already existing ones into gameplay, and this may be difficult to combine with Thematic Consistency. This, and the need to reuse Instances and Quests makes it difficult to have high levels of Thematic Consistency in Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Persistent Game Worlds since they cause Non-Consistent Narration by having story structured told several times to players. Generally, any type of Spawning and assoicated Spawn Points can be problematic if the appearance of the game elements clearly appear from nowhere, and this also make patterns building on Spawning, e.g. many Grind Achievements based upon Collecting, problematic as well. Non-Player Help do not have to introduce new game elements but can also cause problems with Thematic Consistency since they introduce events that may break the consistency instead. In contrast, Minigames can introduce not only new game elements but new gameplay activities without breaking Thematic Consistency as long as they share themes with the main game. One example when this is not the case is when they are provided as Easter Eggs - and Easter Eggs in general break Thematic Consistency.

Even if they are part of many game genres, some other patterns can conflict with Thematic Consistency since they are primarily gameplay patterns that do not easily fit within a diegetic theme. Examples of such patterns include Lives and Scores. Likewise, Penalties and Rewards modifying parts of game states which either are not also part of Game Worlds or cannot easily be explained as effects of events within these Game Worlds are likely to break Thematic Consistency if they are presented in any relation to the Game Worlds.

Thematic Consistency is somewhat easier to maintain in Single-Player Games since the game can control everything but the players actions and control which actions are possible. This is however not a sure way since players can break the consistency by not trying to achieve the goals of the games (which are typically tied to the theme).

Role Fulfillment can both help maintain Thematic Consistency (as it can motivate players to play their roles according to the theme) and be suggested as goals by the described theme. In this way, the patterns can instantiate each other.

Diegetic Aspects

Most aspects of Thematic Consistency is related to diegetic aspects.

Interface Aspects

HUD Interfaces are interesting in relation to Thematic Consistency in that they can either be made to fit them given the right theme or be considered to be outside the presentation of the Game Worlds.

Narrative Aspects

Thematic Consistency is considered a basic requirement for having quality in most types of narration, and most aspects of designing it can therefore be said to affect Narration Structures in general. Even if Instances and Quests are expressed through diegetic elements, they may work against Thematic Consistency when their Rewards become too mechanical or when they can be repeated (as they usually can in Massively Multiplayer Online Games). Clues that follow the Thematic Consistency can modulate a game's Detective Structure since it allow players to make use of their whole knowledge of the genre used; these can in this case also help create Predetermined Story Structures.

Workshopping techniques can help players that have to engage in Roleplaying or Enactment to do so better, and through this Workshopping can help Thematic Consistency being maintained.


Thematic Consistency not only affects how players perceive any given instances in Game Worlds or Levels, but also how they will develop and what have happened in them previously. The prime reason why Thematic Consistency may be striven for in games is to help players have Emotional Engrossment, and this can be done without having realistic audiovisual representations of game elements; it has been argued that it is better with less realistic presentations of people in comics in order for players to be able to empathize with them[2].

Thematic Consistency can also helps players get started with a game since if it complies with a theme that they are familiar with they already have some Strategic Knowledge of the game. If by this the actions, events, rules, and especially the Penalties of games can be guessed, they can provide players with Smooth Learning Curves as well as Predictable Consequences.

Thematic Consistency can be difficulty to guarantee due to many reason. The presences of Alien Space Bats, Non-Diegetic Features, Lives, Extra-Game Consequences, and Extra-Game Information are all examples mentioned above of patterns that are difficult to combine with Thematic Consistency. Other patterns, e.g. Illusion of Open Space and Invisible Walls, offer fragile ways of creating Thematic Consistency since if they are noticed they work against it rather than supporting it. Another reason when Thematic Consistency can be difficult to guarantee is when players have Creative Control, e.g. through Chat Channels. Naming is also a potential problem since this allows players to introduce inconsistencies at their own whim.

Thematic Consistency is combined with Roleplaying, it often suggests Social Roles for players due to social obligations Characters have according to the game setting.


Can Instantiate

Emotional Engrossment, Predictable Consequences, Role Fulfillment, Sets, Smooth Learning Curves, Strategic Knowledge

with Roleplaying

Social Roles

with Clues

Predetermined Story Structures

Can Modulate

Agents, Alarms, Algorithmic Agents, Avatars, Boss Monsters, Clues, Companions, Enemies, Environmental Effects, Game Items, Game Worlds Landmarks, Levels, Loot, Narration Structures, Traces, Units

Detective Structures when used together with Clues

Can Be Instantiated By

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Alarms, Alien Space Bats, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Avatars, Awareness of Surroundings, Big Dumb Objects, Boss Monsters, Canned Text Responses, Character Development, Characters, Chat Channels, Clues, Companions, Construction, Controllers, Cutscenes, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Destructible Objects, Diegetic Communication, Diegetic Consistency, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Early Elimination, Emotional Attachment, Ephemeral Goals, Enemies, Enforced Agent Behavior, Environmental Effects, Evolving Rule Sets, Feelies, Friendly Fire, Game Items, Game Masters, Goal-Driven Personal Development, HUD Interfaces, Illusion of Open Space, Initiative, Inventories, Invisible Walls, Landmarks, MacGuffins, Non-Player Characters, Open Destiny, Own Agenda, Player/Character Skill Composites, Power-Ups, Procedurally Generated Game Worlds, Props, Red Herrings, Role Fulfillment, Roleplaying, Sense of Self, Thematically Consistent Dialogues, Traces, Units, Unpredictable Behavior, Variable Accuracy, Workshopping

Can Be Modulated By

Alternative Realities, Optional Rules, Minigames, Single-Player Games

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Alien Space Bats, Chat Channels, Creative Control, Easter Eggs, Emotes, Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Information, Geospatial Game Widgets, Ghosts, Grind Achievements, Illusion of Open Space, Inaccessible Areas, Instances, Inventories, Invisible Walls, Invulnerabilities, Late Arriving Players, Lives, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Minigames, Mules, Multiplayer Games, Naming, Non-Consistent Narration, Non-Diegetic Communication, Non-Diegetic Features, Persistent Game Worlds, Penalties, Private Game Spaces, Props, Quests, Regenerating Resources, Rewards, Roleplaying, Safe Havens, Scores, Self-Facilitated Games, Spawn Points, Spawning

Events Timed to the Real World if Alternative Realities is also used


A new pattern created in this wiki. It has however inherited parts of the pattern Consistent Reality Logic that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[3].


  1. Linderoth, J. & Bennerstedt, U. (2007). This is not a door: An ecological approach to computer games. In A. Baba (Ed.), Proceedings of DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) Conference 2007 (Tokyo, September 2007), pp. 25-30.
  2. Mccloud, S. (1993). Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Tundra Publishing.
  3. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.