Gameplay Mastery

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Mastery of performing actions and reaching goals in a game.

Games challenges players in reaching goals and performing gameplay actions. Those games which allow players to become skillful in repeatedly succeeding with these allow players to develop Gameplay Mastery in them.


Chess and Go are classical examples of games in which Gameplay Mastery consists of knowing sequences of actions, being able to think many steps ahead, and knowing how one's opponent thinks. Being good at Guts, Poker, and Texas Hold'em also rely on the latter of these but combined with an understanding of the probabilities of possible outcomes together with a skill in bluffing. In contrast, games such as the Left 4 Dead series, Street Fighter series, and Quake series require fast reactions and good hand-eye coordination; although knowing how one's enemies behave is also important especially in games against other players MOBA Games such as Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends similarly requires both manual dexterity and outthinking one's opponents.


As a game with no gameplay, Gameplay Mastery is impossible to achieve Progress Quest. Story-driven games, e.g. Adventure Games, e.g. Day of the Tentacle, Fahrenheit, Grim Fandango, and the Walking Dead series, have little or no gameplay that allows specific skills or knowledge to develop that can be re-used so claiming Gameplay Mastery in these are difficult to do. The exception may be in general puzzle solving based on the types of puzzle that exist in a particular genre or that a particular game designer creates.

Using the pattern

Given that Gameplay Mastery is mastering the specific gameplay of a game, there are as many ways of supporting Gameplay Mastery as there are gameplay which involve some type of skill or knowledge. Perhaps the clearest way of offering Gameplay Mastery is to provide Dominant Strategies but if this is a viable design solution depends on if a game is a Multiplayer Game (since its presence will make Player Balance impossible) and to which extent the game should provide Replayability. It can also be questionable since knowing the best way to play can lessen players' Freedom of Choice since there are typically only one or a few choices that are the best. Still on a general level, Complex Gameplay makes knowing the rules of a game part of reaching Gameplay Mastery while Challenging Gameplay guarantees that there is something to train at getting good at (or makes it more difficult to achieve Gameplay Mastery). However, being able to fully master a game can undo the challenging aspect of the gameplay so the patterns can work against each other, especially if Dominant Strategies exists.

One aspect of Gameplay Mastery concerns being able to plan what to do in a game. This makes Predictable Consequences, Risk/Reward, Stimulated Planning, Strategic Knowledge, Tactical Planning, and Trade-Offs ways of allowing Gameplay Mastery to develop among players. More specific design features that support this are Deck Building, Puzzle Solving, and Resource Management. While the two latter of these taken place during gameplay, Deck Building can also occur before gameplay proper begins. Knowing when to do Construction/Scoring Phase Shifts or Speedending are specific examples, and players that know this will affect the Middlegame of games. Planning and creating Flip-Flop Events is another specific aspect of Gameplay Mastery which is possible in games with mutable Turn Taking. Games with Construction that can be used to create Combos or lead to Emergent Gameplay can also allow for Gameplay Mastery. On a general level, knowing how and when to perform Extended Actions in games which have them is also a source for Gameplay Mastery. Another, related, aspect of Gameplay Mastery is having the information or knowledge needed to perform gameplay actions. Games with Paper-Rock-Scissors or Sidegrades require players to keep track of the game state to know when different actions should be made, and having this awareness is a common part of Gameplay Mastery. Knowing which Excluding Goals to choose depending on the game situation can also be a sign of Gameplay Mastery although the mere presence of Excluding Goals does not guarantee the possibility to have Gameplay Mastery in a game. Having Real World Knowledge Advantages, e.g. about detailed pertaining to Seamful Gameplay, or keeping track of Trans-Game Information can allow for Gameplay Mastery before gameplay begin, while Memorizing allows it to take place during gameplay.

Being able to perform gameplay actions is also often a part of having Gameplay Mastery. The numerous ways this can be tested include Betting and Bluffing (in games such as Poker), building Pre-Customized Decks, performing Dexterity-Based Actions, Enactment, handling Limited Resources, Negotiation, Player Physical Prowess, Rhythm-Based Actions, Social Skills, Storytelling, Timing, and controlling Vehicles. More contextual examples include being able to Roleplay that one is not the one that performed certain Anonymous Actions or performing Combos in games with Challenging Gameplay or Complex Gameplay. Slightly more general, avoiding Obstacles or Overcoming enemies require gameplay actions that performing well signals Gameplay Mastery. Competence Areas is an overarching way to provide Gameplay Mastery since any game with Competence Areas by definition has areas in which players can become proficient. In Multiplayer Games, Gameplay Mastery can both consist of being able to do Collaborative Actions and presenting Player Unpredictability to other players.

Gameplay Mastery also requires that players have sufficiently difficult goals to try and complete. Predefined Goals naturally provides such goals but only if they are difficult enough to challenge players. On a general level, Further Player Improvement Potential provides this and games that encourage players to have FUBAR Enjoyment at least place players in difficult situations. Perceivable Margins gives players information on how they could have performed better and thereby supports players with improving their potential. Skill-based Multiplayer Games let players have Further Player Improvement Potential as long as more skilled players can be found and is for this reason a very common design features that supports the presence of Gameplay Mastery. Smooth Learning Curves guide players so they don't start with too difficult challenges but may require players to play through too easy before getting to parts which match their skill levels. Difficulty Levels in contrast let players set an appropriate level for themselves (potentially with AI Players of varying difficulties); the danger to this solution being that players can satisfy themselves with being able to complete a game at a certain Difficulty Level and not push themselves to their full potential. Another danger is that Gameplay Mastery may make the Difficulty Levels meaningless since all of them may be too easy for an expert player. Achievements and the possibility of Speedruns encourage players to play in ways that typically are more difficult and thereby motivate players to fully develop a Gameplay Mastery as long as the Achievements and the challenges of Speedruns match the gameplay challenges of the game. Goal Achievements and Handicap Achievements specifically can modify how players try to reach Gameplay Mastery by pointing out certain goals or ways a game can be played which makes it harder (the former can for example be based upon showing that one can perform Repeat Combos). While having Experimenting as part of gameplay does not necessarily in itself provide skills that allow Gameplay Mastery but can allow players to try different types of actions and therefore promote players to reach Gameplay Mastery.

While maybe not allowing for Gameplay Mastery in themselves, several design features can motivate players more to try and achieve the mastery which is possible. Symmetry can ensure that Gameplay Mastery is foregrounded in gameplay rather than luck in starting positions. In contrast, Uncertainty of Outcome can make Gameplay Mastery less likely to guarantee winning or dominance in gameplay while still allowing those with Gameplay Mastery the possibility of displaying it and having advantages of having it. Repetitive Gameplay puts focus on a specific type of gameplay and requires players to show a skill in it (if a skill for it exists) as well as lets players train at being good at it. [Player Balance]] and Red Queen Dilemmas can require display of Gameplay Mastery to be important throughout a game instance although they do make skillful gaming in the beginning of a game instance less important. High Score Lists, Multiplayer Games, Public Player Statistics, and Spectators appeal to players' wishes to show themselves as good players (e.g. showing Spectators that they can achieve Repeat Combos). Tournaments and Meta Games that allow players to perceive each other's skills can provide the same kind of display of game mastery. Asymmetric Abilities and Varied Gameplay can make people have different types of Gameplay Mastery in a game as well as make Gameplay Mastery of the game as a whole require many different types of competences. Levels can accomplish the same thing by having varying types of challenges between Levels and also through supporting Smooth Learning Curves. Rewards is a way for a game to explicitly show that a player has displayed some type of Gameplay Mastery while handling Penalties well can be a type of Gameplay Mastery. Illusionary Rewards can work like Rewards in this sense, supporting or motivating players to develop their gameplay, while giving players Engrossment simply makes players more likely to become better at a game because they are more likely to playing it more.

Several design features in a game can work against Gameplay Mastery. Many of them do this by limiting the effects of player skills, e.g. Auto-Aim, Balancing Effects, and Randomness (and thereby Luck). This category of design features also includes ways of easing player challenges by making the game itself help, e.g. through Player Augmentations, Vision Modes, and Player/Character Skill Composites when Characters have Character Development. Purchasable Game Advantages also works against Gameplay Mastery since one player can get the same progress, Game Items, etc. through paying as another can through his or her Gameplay Mastery. Clickability removes explorative aspects of gameplay which may work against a certain type of Gameplay Mastery in a game but can also focus what is the actual skills needed in a game by removing the exploratory aspect.

Narration Aspects

A part of having Gameplay Mastery often requires players to have a systemic understanding of a game. This makes it difficult to not reduce diegetic representations of people to their functions and mechanical behaviors. Due to this, players may have difficulties getting Emotional Engrossment with Algorithmic Agents if they have Gameplay Mastery.


Allowing players to feel Gameplay Mastery or at least see that they can have it in the future can have several consequences for a game. It can give players Emotional Engrossment and a sense of Empowerment and Player Agency, and provide Value of Effort when players experience having it. In general, it provides Replayability to a game since players may wish to play the game many times to reach Gameplay Mastery. A negative effect of Gameplay Mastery is that players that have it can lead to games having a Predictable Winner.

Having Gameplay Mastery can be a Social Reward if others can notice it and can support Actor Detachment. For games with Cooperation and different possible roles for players to take, Gameplay Mastery can lead to Role Fulfillment and through this fulfilling Social Roles and making Team Development happen. In all games with other players, the presence of Gameplay Mastery affects the Performance Uncertainty of skilled players and can ruin an Exaggerated Perception of Influence among those not skilled that observe them.

The ability of players to have Gameplay Mastery affects Player/Character Skill Composites, so games with this patterns need to take into consideration how Gameplay Mastery will affect it as at an extreme it may make the Character aspect unimportant and may make it difficult to have mechanics that create Player Balance.


Can Instantiate

Actor Detachment, Emotional Engrossment, Empowerment, Player Agency, Predictable Winner, Social Roles, Replayability, Role Fulfillment, Social Rewards, Team Development, Value of Effort

Can Modulate

Middlegame, Performance Uncertainty, Player/Character Skill Composites

Can Be Instantiated By

Achievements, Betting, Bluffing, Challenging Gameplay, Competence Areas, Complex Gameplay, Construction/Scoring Phase Shift, Collaborative Actions, Deck Building, Dexterity-Based Actions, Difficulty Levels, Dominant Strategies, Enactment, Experimenting, Extended Actions, Flip-Flop Events, FUBAR Enjoyment, Further Player Improvement Potential, Limited Resources, Memorizing, Multiplayer Games, Negotiation, Obstacles, Overcome, Paper-Rock-Scissors, Penalties, Perceivable Margins, Player Physical Prowess, Player Unpredictability, Pre-Customized Decks, Predefined Goals, Predictable Consequences, Puzzle Solving, Real World Knowledge Advantages, Resource Management, Rhythm-Based Actions, Risk/Reward, Seamful Gameplay, Sidegrades, Smooth Learning Curves, Social Skills, Speedending, Speedruns, Stimulated Planning, Storytelling, Strategic Knowledge, Tactical Planning, Timing, Trade-Offs, Trans-Game Information, Vehicles

AI Players together with Difficulty Levels

Anonymous Actions together with Roleplaying

Combos together with Challenging Gameplay or Complex Gameplay

Construction together with with Combos or Emergent Gameplay

Can Be Modulated By

Asymmetric Abilities, Clickability, Engrossment, Excluding Goals, Goal Achievements, Handicap Achievements, High Score Lists, Illusionary Rewards, Levels, Meta Games, Multiplayer Games, Player Balance, Public Player Statistics, Red Queen Dilemmas, Repetitive Gameplay, Rewards, Spectators, Symmetry, Tournaments, Uncertainty of Outcome, Varied Gameplay

Repeat Combos together with Goal Achievements or Spectators

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Auto-Aim, Balancing Effects, Challenging Gameplay, Difficulty Levels, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Freedom of Choice, Luck, Player Augmentations, Player/Character Skill Composites, Purchasable Game Advantages, Randomness, Vision Modes

Emotional Engrossment in games with Algorithmic Agents

Player/Character Skill Composites together with Character Development or Player Balance

Player Balance in Multiplayer Games


An updated version of the pattern Gameplay Mastery 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.