Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences

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Actions by a person in a game world influences how other people perceive and interact with that person.

Perceived actions influence how a non-player character will act toward the acting character. Different types of actions have different consequences: stealing will trigger hostile behavior while doing a favor friendly behavior.


Stealing in the third installment of the Fallout series makes player characters lose karma, which in turn changes how other characters reach to them.

Most social interaction performed between Sims in the Sims series change their perception of each other, and in Sims 3 not socializing with a friend for some time may turn them into a distant friend.

Using the pattern

A typical prerequisite for Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences is that there are Diegetic Social Norms defined for the Game World, e.g. Either You are with Me or against Me. These norms are typically either considered universal (except by Outcasts) or common for all those belonging to a Faction. A special case is the norms constructed by players belonging to the same Parties in Multiplayer Games. Regardless of this, the actual consequences can be enforced by global rules (as for example by the karma system in the Fallout series), be encoded on an individual level for Algorithmic Agents based on the traits of Characters, or simply result in changed behaviors and attitudes of the other players. The first of these makes it easy to track the consequences, giving Character Defining Actions for player-controlled Characters, but this may be an emergent feature from the latter two. Besides being based on Diegetic Social Norms, a motivation for Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can be emotional responses that make psychological sense. An example of this is Others Fortune affects own Mood, which arguably should create happiness when people one likes has good fortune and should create schadenfreude when people one dislikes has bad luck.

However, Internal Conflicts and Internal Rivalry can be achieved by having Characters belong to several different Factions. This since it provides opportunities for Characters with Diegetic Social Norms from different Factions to clash when they meet in a Faction they have in common. It can also require players to make Trade-Offs on whom to support.

Acting against the Diegetic Social Norms of a Faction or a NPC is associated with negative behavior (it can be seen as an example of the pattern Either You are with Me or against Me) and should relate to a suitable expression of Emotional Attachment; this can be part of the rule set for Algorithmic Agents for Agents that are not controlled by humans. Examples of actions that may trigger this includes Stealing Game Items, using illegal Tools, and engaging in Combat. Acting against Diegetic Social Norms of a Faction may trigger positive social consequences in the members of another Faction. For example, breaking a common Diegetic Social Norm against Stealing from one Faction might be required in order to become a member of a Faction (e.g. a thieves' guild).

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can easily be tied to Penalties (for not following Diegetic Social Norms) and Rewards (for following them). By doing so, game designs can provide both Continuous Goals and ones with clear closures, e.g. passing the requirements of a Social Gatekeepers. By having Player-Designed Characters, games can allow players to make these choices before gameplay starts. Gossip is interesting as examples of Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences as it can both be good to do and tied to Penalties if discovered.

Since Diegetic Social Norms are not only about not doing certain things but also that some actions are expected by others, No-Ops can also have Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences. Another way of framing this is that Diegetic Social Norms can require Diegetic Social Maintenance and failure to keep this up leads to consequences.

Diegetic Aspects

Living up to or breaking Diegetic Social Norms should also be presented diegetically in the reaction of NPCs in order for Thematic Consistency to be maintained when this pattern is used.

Narration Aspects

The presence of Companion Quests in games can provide easy means to show that Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences. This both through giving players the possibility to show interest in the Companions by taking on the Companion Quests but also through the choices they make while performing them. Through having Multiple Endings based upon the outcome of these Quests the consequences can become even more pronounced.


Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences often provided Risk/Reward situations for players since there might be Rewards associated with breaking Diegetic Social Norms, either by doing socially unacceptable actions or failing to do expected actions, but also Penalties if this is detected. Depending on how much information players have received about the possible consequences, this may make the choice to perform the actions Leaps of Faith or not. If players have the choice of which type of Faction (or Diegetic Social Norm) they wish to belong to, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences provides a Freedom of Choice and can support a Selectable Set of Goals or Optional Goals.

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can create a dynamic between the PC and NPCs and can introduce new conflicts or potential threats to the goals. For NPCs which belong to the same Factions as players, this can easily be modeled as cases of Internal Conflicts. For Companions in player-controlled Parties this changes the freedom in what actions are possible, and the same applies for Helpers when they are nearby. In addition, Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences contributes towards the believability of NPCs since the pattern can provide Thematic Consistency when some actions are depicted as being socially unacceptable but still possible to perform. Quite obviously, using Algorithmic Agents to encode that Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences modifies the way the Algorithmic Agents behave during gameplay, and provides means for them to express that they have their Own Agendas.

As mentioned earlier, if Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences are added to actions which are required for Continuous Goals the effect is to create Diegetic Social Maintenance.


Can Instantiate

Continuous Goals, Freedom of Choice, Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, Leaps of Faith, Optional Goals, Own Agenda, Diegetic Social Maintenance, Penalties, Rewards, Risk/Reward, Selectable Set of Goals, Thematic Consistency

with Algorithmic Agents

Emotional Attachment

with Characters

Character Defining Actions

with Internal Rivalry


Can Modulate

Algorithmic Agents, Characters, Companions, Factions, Game Worlds, Helpers, Internal Conflicts, No-Ops, NPCs, Social Gatekeepers

Parties in games with Companions

Can Be Instantiated By

Algorithmic Agents, Combat, Companion Quests, Diegetic Social Norms, Either You are with Me or against Me, Gossip, Others Fortune affects own Mood, Tools

Parties together with Multiplayer Games

Stealing together with Game Items

Can Be Modulated By

Player-Designed Characters

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Actions Have Social Consequences, first introduced by Lankoski & Björk[1] and then expanded in Lankoski 2010[2].


  1. Lankoski & Björk (2007). Gameplay Design Patterns for Social Networks and Conflicts. Proceedings of GDTW 2007.
  2. Lankoski (2010). Character-Driven Game Design - A Design Approach and Its Foundations in Character Engagement. D.A. thesis at Aalto University. Publication Series of the School of Art and Design A 101.