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Game Elements or game events that kill or damage avatars and units.

Traps are hidden dangers in game environments that can damage people and items, potentially killing or destroying them. Some are diegetically explained as being constructed with the intention of being traps while others are simply dangerous environments. Examples of Traps include pits, falling blocks, lava, fire, acid, steam, machinery, crushing presses, fast-moving vehicles, and collapsing bridges, but many more are possible.


The adventure game Another World forces players to explore a dangerous alien world where any wrong movement can lead to the triggering of some sort of Trap.

Games which consist of exploring dungeons, e.g. Dungeons & Dragons, NetHack, Oblivion, and Torchlight all have Traps. Examples include pits, collapsing roofs, and chests that do not contain loot but instead are "Mimics" that attack the players' characters. The "Grimtooth" line of systemless roleplaying supplements[1] consist entirely of traps.

Platform games such as Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are filled with a wide variety of deadly Traps.

The tracks in the Super Monkey Ball series are hovering high above the ground, effectively surrounding the tracks with a deadly Trap. The survivors played in the Left 4 Dead series are not always high above ground, but when they are there are no rails preventing wrong steps to cause them to end up hanging helpless from ledges until saved by others.

Ghost Stories is an example of where players can place Traps, in this case Buddha figurines kill most types of ghosts that encounter the figurines.

Using the pattern

Traps can be divided into three categories: those that are visible and whose effects are clear, those that can be found by noticing differences from the surrounding environment of the trap, and those that cannot be noticed before they are activated. The first type, exemplified by game elements such as crushers, flame dischargers, and so on that follow a certain pattern in activation, allows players to bypass or deactivate them as long as they successful with Timing or Rhythm-Based Actions. The second type, which can be exemplified by (badly) camouflaged pits, require players to be observant of Diegetically Outstanding Features in Game Worlds. The last type, often Red Herrings and which can be exemplified by false Power-Ups or Traps activated by counter-weights when picking up Diegetically Tangible Game Items, creates Surprises but also promotes Memorizing to remember the location of the trap. Triggering the Traps typically lead to Ability Losses, Decreased Abilities, or Damage and can also lead to instant deaths, e.g. losses of Lives or Units. While instantly killing players with Traps not possible to notice before they are sprung may seem harsh, this has been under in games, e.g. Another World, to require players to combine Leaps of Faith with Memorize in order to solve problems. The negative effects can of course be limited to specific type of game elements: those belonging to players, those representing Enemies, or more complex combinations.

Either Game Items or Environmental Effects can be used to all of the categories, but Diegetically Tangible Game Items are noteworthy in that they can allow players to construct Traps during gameplay using a game's rules for physics. Obstacles are not Traps in themselves, but they can works as such if they are placed so they become Surprises for those moving too fast. Destructible Objects are also interesting since they can be Traps because they are destructible, e.g. Game Items hiding pits, but also be other types of Game Items that happen to be Destructible Objects and in the latter case this can be used to spring the traps on others.

Traps can be modulated in several ways, for example by being triggered by interrupting Line of Sight between the Traps and other objects, or having Delayed Effects to let players have a chance of Evading them. Note that this does not always have to be through Movement, some games (e.g. the fourth installment in the Resident Evil series) have Quick Time Events to avoid Traps. Traps with Delayed Effects can also have the activation be a form of Interruptible Action to allow players Time Limits to disarm the Traps before they have effect. Clues in their appearance, and the Traces their effects have had on their surroundings, can give players forewarning of the danger the Traps represent.

Traps can be used to limit the players' accessible area, i.e. create Inaccessible Areas, either by acting as a barrier to an area or by being Environmental Effects that affect the whole area, e.g. by being a lake of acid. Accessible routes can be hidden this types of Traps which can be navigated by combinations of Leap of Faith actions and Memorizing. Shrinking Game Worlds can take the form of Traps, which either seals off game areas, e.g., collapsing bridges or cave-ins, or kill those unfortunate to be in the areas removed. Less commonly, Traps can be used to open up game areas, e.g., a fallen rock exposes a tunnel. This can be used to enforce the Predetermined Story Structures of games and to create or open up Inaccessible Areas.

Traps can be used to help Guard goals and can make it possible to achieve Eliminate goals without directly attacking opponents.

Diegetic Aspects

It is important to note that the pattern Traps relates to gameplay and not narration, so Traps do not have to be constructions made purposely to be traps, they can also be natural environments that are disturbed such as rock falls or setup by hostile Agents.

While some Traps require Rhythm-Based Actions to avoid, games built around Rhythm-Based Actions sometimes instead explain failures of performing these actions as the triggering of Traps.

Narration Aspects

Since Traps can cause Surprises, this can be used as part of Predetermined Story Structures and especially to enact Betrayal. Scripted Information Sequences can be used to create dramatic Traps, e.g. huge stones rolling towards the players' Avatars.


Traps add game elements to Game Worlds that threaten players with Penalties of Ability Losses, Decreased Abilities, or Damage, but they can also threaten to directly lead to losses of Lives and Units. By doing so, they provide PvE gameplay unless the placement of the Traps can be traced to other players.

Common objects of Evade goals, Traps give players restricted Movement Limitations within their immediate surrounding and can require players into more careful or complex Maneuvering or Movement, or make parts of Game Worlds into Inaccessible Areas. This quite naturally can make both Game World Exploration and Rescue goals more dangerous. Traps that can be activated again and again introduce game elements that are Consumers into Game Worlds and promotes Memorizing of their locations. Those seemingly Inaccessible Areas that can be in fact be navigated give rise to Leaps of Faith in order to provide information to Memorize.

Depending on whether the trap is known to the player, Traps can cause Tension or Surprises in the form of Surprise Attacks, and those that are triggered but have Delayed Effects can cause Anticipation. Traps that mask themselves as useful Game Items or beneficial Environmental Effects are Red Herrings. Triggered Traps are examples of Ultra-Powerful Events when the activation of the effect is not an Interruptible Action nor is it possible to Evade their effects.

When Diegetically Tangible Game Items can be used to construct Traps, this provides Creative Control for players. Traps that are Destructible Objects may not provide as much Creative Control but can offer gameplay options to those engaging in Tactical Planning. When Traps can be used in these ways by players, or simply moved safely in some fashion, they can be used to help solve Eliminate and Guard goals. The Traps that take time to unfold, e.g. by being Scripted Information Sequences or having Time Limits, are Attention Demanding Gameplay.

Safe Havens cannot be combined with Traps, since the presence of the Traps would make the locations unsafe.


Can Instantiate

Betrayal, Consumers, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Evade, Freedom of Choice, Inaccessible Areas, Leaps of Faith, Memorizing, Movement Limitations, Penalties, Predetermined Story Structures, PvE, Red Herrings, Stimulated Planning, Surprise Attacks, Surprises, Tension, Time Limits, Ultra-Powerful Events

with Delayed Effects


with Destructible Objects

Tactical Planning

with Diegetically Tangible Game Items

Creative Control

with Scripted Information Sequences or Time Limits

Attention Demanding Gameplay

Can Modulate

Eliminate, Enemies, Game World Exploration, Game Worlds, Guard, Inaccessible Areas, Lives, Maneuvering, Movement, Power-Ups, Rescue, Rhythm-Based Actions, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Damage, Decreased Abilities, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Destructible Objects, Environmental Effects, Game Items, Scripted Information Sequences, Shrinking Game Worlds

Obstacles together with Surprises

Can Be Modulated By

Clues, Delayed Effects, Destructible Objects, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Interruptible Actions, Line of Sight, Quick Time Events, Rhythm-Based Actions, Time Limits, Timing, Traces

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Safe Havens


An updated version of the pattern Deadly Traps that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].


  1. Flying Buffalo's page for their Catalyst series of products, including the "Grimtooth" line.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.