Focus Loci

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

Games that have game worlds need to have ways of letting players perform actions within these worlds. Focus Loci are the game elements that provide such actions and let players chose how to use these in order to achieve whatever types of goals they do have.


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

Avatars are players' Focus Loci in First-Person Shooters such as America's Army, Dead Space, and the various installments of the Quake, Crysis, and Uncharted series.

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. In these games, as in the Sims series, players are also equipped with a cursor that not only lets them select with units (or Sims) to control but also lets them directly interface with some other parts of the game environment.

Using the pattern

Focus Loci are ways to locate players' abilities to affect gameplay in Game Worlds. The four main options for this are Avatars, Characters, Units, and God Fingers (primarily Player Characters in the case of Characters). 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 Worlds.

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 Hearts of Iron series. This solution is however unlikely to remove Attention Swapping completely from games since those that have this type of gameplay are likely to create situations where the various Focus Loci cannot effectively be used by making them all perform the same actions.

Although not as common as the four options mention above, Cards can, especially in Collectible Card Games, be Focus Loci either when being played or by being in play and giving a player New Abilities. This of course assumes that Game Worlds that can be affected are at least implied, but examples of games that do this include Magic: The Gathering, Dominion, and Race for the Galaxy. Bookkeeping 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 a way of determining how actions are to be performed.

While different Focus Loci can of course affect Game Worlds is vastly different ways, one way that most Focus Loci can affect Game Worlds is to give Area Control by being present in specific part of them (God Fingers are the typical exception). In contrast, Line of Sight is a general way in which Focus Loci powers of affecting Game Worlds can be changed. Clickability is a way of changing how affecting Game Worlds through Focus Loci is perceived and can be applied to most Focus Loci but works most easily with God Fingers.

While the main types of Focus Loci can be modified by giving them New Abilities, Cards and Bookkeeping tokens can as mentioned above be used to give players New Abilities.

Diegetic Aspects

The diegetic aspects of Focus Loci depend primarily on what type of Focus Loci they are, so refer to the patterns that instantiate Focus Loci for more details.

Interface Aspects

Focus Loci is an Interface Pattern. The various Focus Loci do have relations to what views players are given in Computer-Based Games, e.g. God Fingers not being possible to combine with First-Person Views. For this reason, considering various Focus Loci should be done in conjunction with First-Person, Third-Person, and God Views.

Geospatial Game Widgets are Game State Indicators that can be used to provide players with abstract information pertaining to their Focus Loci (e.g. Health or presenting their Handle) but can also be used to show which Focus Loci is or are selected when several are available. One example of this is the signature green icon above selected Sims in the Sims series. Mini-Maps in contrast can be used to show where players' Focus Loci are located in the Game Worlds.

Narrative Aspects

The specific choice of Focus Loci used in a game can affect which types 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, and when present in the Game Worlds represent Agents in these.

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.

The choice of Focus Loci in games dictate which game elements players have direct control over and which they have Indirect Control over.


Can Instantiate

Agents, Attention Demanding, Attention Swapping, Engrossment, Identification, Indirect Control, Spatial Engrossment

Can Modulate

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

Can Be Instantiated By

Avatars, Bookkeeping Tokens, Cards, 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.