Focus Loci

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Game elements that allow players to perform actions in game worlds.

This pattern is a still a stub.

Focus Loci, the locations of thefocus, are the game elements through which players can affect the game state. The most obvious Focus Loci are the game elements that can be moved by the player, and the actions they provide are the possibility of moving them.


Example: Each piece in Chess acts as a Focus Loci for the players by providing a number of potential actions.

Example: The stones used in Go are only Focus Loci when they are being placed on the board, since players cannot perform any other actions through them later.

Example: The Avatar that a player controls in a first-person shooter is the Focus Loci they have in the game.

Example: Various types of mouse cursors used in real-time strategy games and Sims games are Focus Loci that allow players to move between units and characters, which in their turn are also Focus Loci.

The units under players command in Warhammer 40K, the Starcraft series, and the Hearts of Iron series are all examples of Focus Loci for players.

Using the pattern

Focus Loci are ways to locate players' abilities to affect gameplay in Game Worlds. The four main options for this is Avatars, Characters, Units, and God Fingers. The first three can maintain a Diegetic Consistency, but only as long as the actions they provide are restricted by the Alternative Realities of the games in question. While Characters may be unnecessary in Game Worlds that have consistent representations, they can provide Focus Loci in the mainly implied Game Worlds of Tabletop Roleplaying Games and provide support for actions that are smaller than the granularity of explicit action presentation in Game World.

Units naturally provide players with several Focus Loci but this can also be supported by allowing players to switch between different Avatars or Characters. God Fingers are quite often combined with these other types of Focus Loci in these situations since God Fingers provide a way easily switching between the other Focus Loci; they may also allow actions otherwise not possible (e.g. activating production of Units in buildings in Real-Time Strategy Games such as the Starcraft series). Such use of several Focus Loci can allows single players to control Parties or Teams at high levels of granularity but requires Attention Swapping. This type of Attention Swapping can be removed by allowing players to activate actions for several Focus Loci at once - something present in both Real-Time Strategy Games such the Starcraft series and other computer-based Strategy Games such as the Heart of Iron series. This solution is however unlikely to remove Attention Swapping since games with this type of gameplay are likely to create situations where the various Focus Loci cannot effectively be used by making them all do the same thing.

As the swapping between Units is often done by explicit actions performed from a Third-Person View, this Third-Person View can actually be seen as a form of Focus Loci. God's Fingers are most often used to allow players to have Game State Overview and to let them do Attention Swapping between other Focus Loci but can be used to provide the god-like actions found in god games.

Although not as common as the three main options, Cards can, especially in collectable card games, be Focus Loci either when being played or by being in play and giving a player New Abilities. Book-Keeping Tokens whose presences indicate that a player has New Abilities are another form of more unusual Focus Loci. Dice are seldom Focus Loci except in pure dice games, since using them is not usually an activity affecting the game directly but rather determining how actions are to be performed.

The choice of Focus Loci and the actions they support dictate which game elements players have Indirect Control over.

Can Be Instantiated By

Agents, Bookkeeping Tokens, Player Characters,

Can Be Modulated By

Clickability, Game State Indicators, Geospatial Game Widgets, Line of Sight, Mini-maps, New Abilities

Focus Loci] can affect the Game World usually by affecting themselves, other game elements, or the environment in their immediate vicinity, for example, to gain Area Control in the latter case.

Can Modulate

Area Control

Diegetic Aspects

Interface Aspects

Focus Loci is an Interface Pattern.

Games allowing several different Focus Loci to be selected from

and Status Indicators to show where the Focus Loci are in the Game World

Narrative Aspects

The specific choice of Focus Loci used in a game can affect which type of Narration Structures are suitable. For example, Detective Structures is difficult to use with God Fingers or Units since they allow players information from a non-diegetic perspective or from several different diegetic individuals.


Focus Loci are game elements that provide methods for players to affect Game Worlds, and are in many cases diegetically present in the Game Worlds themselves. These Focus Loci can support Engrossment in various ways depending on their specific characteristics, but very often Spatial Engrossment since they make players focus to specific parts of Game Worlds at a time and quite likely Movement or relations between parts of Game Worlds. They also create natural elements within games for players to Identify their gameplay experiences and efforts with.

Providing multiple Focus Loci can support Attention Swapping but may also create it by the individual Focus Loci being Attention Demanding. This may also affects Risk/Reward trade-offs that have to be made when initiating Extended Actions.


Can Instantiate

Attention Demanding, Attention Swapping, Engrossment, Identification, Spatial Engrossment

Can Modulate

Area Control, Attention Swapping, Game Worlds, Parties, Teams

Can Be Instantiated By

Agents, Avatars, Bookkeeping Tokens, Characters, God Fingers, Player Characters, Units

Can Be Modulated By

Clickability, Game State Indicators, Geospatial Game Widgets, Line of Sight, Mini-maps, New Abilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Focus Loci 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.