Critical Gameplay Design

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Game designs where the game system is intended to cause critical reflection.

Games can easily highlight real world aspects with critical perspectives. While this is most easily done through the diegesis and presentation of the game, the dynamics embedded in the game system can also model systems in the real world that designers may wish to make players' aware of. Games with the latter approach have Critical Gameplay Design.

The online exhibition [Critical Gameplay] hosts several games that highlight features of games often overlooked by designing counter-examples. While the pattern described here is broader in context, the examples show how gameplay can be designed to stimulate critical reflection.


Both September 12th and Train make players perform in certain ways as part of their gameplay based on an initial description. However, the designs are intended to make players reconsider their actions when they notice the underlying structure of the game system (in the case of September 12th) or identifying the actual theme of the game (in the case of Train).

Chapter 12 of Game Mechanics[1], focuses upon meaningful mechanics and that description shared much commonality with Critical Gameplay Design (including using September 12th and Train as examples).

Using the pattern

Critical Gameplay Design functions by ensuring that the overall development of game instances and game sessions follow certain structures. The first requirement for achieving this is to have decided upon what type of structure one wants to use (typically based upon the same structure be perceived in a real world phenomena). The second requirement is finding patterns supporting this structure. While the synergy between any types of patterns can provide relevant structures, are defined by how they structure gameplay development over time. Negative and Positive Feedback Loops as well as Entrenching Gameplay and Tragedy of the Commons are that affect the stability of game states over time, while Red Queen Dilemmas let game states change without changing players' ability to dominate the development. Inherent Mistrust and Social Dilemmas are ways in which the game system can affect the perception players have of other agents that can affect the game state.


Critical Gameplay Design is intended to make players' reflect critically on some phenomena in the real world. This means that the pattern gives rise to Changes in Perception of Real World Phenomena due to Gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Changes in Perception of Real World Phenomena due to Gameplay

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Entrenching Gameplay, Inherent Mistrust, Negative Feedback Loops, Positive Feedback Loops, Red Queen Dilemmas, Social Dilemmas, Tragedy of the Commons

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Adams, E. & Dormans, J. (2012). Game Mechanics - Advanced Game Design. New Riders Games.