Internal Rivalry

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Being a player or character within one's same social network as an enemy or competitor.

While rivalry can exist in many forms in games, Internal Rivalry is a conflict in which the progress of a conflict is regulated by the norms of a social network due to all the involved participants belonging to that network. This can make the conflict act out in other ways, or through other means, than other types of conflicts which may make it take long time to resolve or be more or less impossible to end. Internal Rivalry can also easily affect the other members of the social network, either by involving them in the conflict in some sense or threatening to destroy the whole network.


In the board game The Republic of Rome players need to collaborate to keep the enemies of Rome from invading their empire, but at the same time compete against each other to become the dominant power in the Eternal City.

Internal Rivalry can exist within guilds in World of Warcraft since several players may need the same equipment for their characters. These rivalries can easily turn into open conflicts in the aftermaths of raids as the desired equipment is bound to the first character that picks it up.

In roleplaying games such as the Dragon Age series there is Internal Rivalry between the NPCs in the player's party. Depending on how the player acts towards them this can lead to the relations developing positively or to characters leaving the party altogether.

Using the pattern

Internal Rivalry can occur both on a player level and on a Character level. A basic requirement in either case is to have some form of game structure that creates a social network. Factions, Guilds, Parties and Teams can all fit this purpose. Once the intended participants of the rivalry have been placed within the social network there needs to exist a conflict of interest. This can be Incompatible Goals or Competitions but these need to be Enforced Goals unless the Internal Rivalry is meant to be optional. Quests can be used to make the goal explicit and draw players into conflicts between the Internal Rivalry of NPCs. Tragedy of the Commons is a specific example of optional Internal Rivalry based on Limited Resources where the rivalry can be kept low by successful Negotiation. For Parties, Internal Rivalry can spontaneously emerge due to members being able to have contradictory personal goals but still being held together by Diegetic Social Norms. One example is games with Teams but where the team members can gain Individual Rewards by rushing ahead in a form of Race and taking control of Game Items such as Loot or Vehicles before others do. In Persistent Game Worlds, Internal Rivalry can evolve as natural effects of player interaction over time and this is more likely when persistent social groupings like Guilds exist.

An possible problem with Internal Rivalry is to ensure that it isn't ended by the removal of the others, e.g. by Combat or Player Elimination. This can be achieved through only allowing Indirectly Aggressive Actions, using Enforced Agent Behavior to provide a Limited Set of Actions, or relying on Diegetic Social Norms. An example of using Enforced Agent Behavior, albeit one that breaks the diegesis, is to disable Friendly Fire in First-Person Shooter games. It should be noted that Friendly Fire can also be a source for the Internal Rivalry, and can support it if no Player Elimination exists. If one does not wish to explicitly limit the actions possible, another way to make it impossible for participants to remove each other is to create Survive goals of keeping the other participants alive into Predefined Goals for all involved participants. Diegetic Social Norms and Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can be used to allow participants to end the Internal Rivalry by fulfilling Eliminate goals but making it into a Trade-Off or Risk/Reward choice. Diegetic Social Norms can also be used to diegetically motivate the inclusion or exclusion of any specific type of game action to create Varied Gameplay, and may be necessary if Roleplaying is part of a game's design.

Internal Rivalry typically provides Overcome goals or use this as a theme in a Predetermined Story Structure but may arise spontaneously in other types of Narration Structures as well. The presence of Gain Information, Gain Ownership, and Race goals are quite likely in Internal Rivalry designs to support this since they can avoid the use of Combat, or at least Eliminate goals. As a consequence, the use of Eavesdropping, Information Passing, Intrigue, and Secret Alliances may be appropriate to games where the gameplay revolves around Internal Rivalry.

Introducing Internal Conflicts in a game design is quite likely to create Internal Rivalry, but it is not as certain that the conclusion of the conflict will remove the rivalry also (this may of course be the wished outcome). In contrast, another potential issue with Internal Rivalry is to make sure one participant does not become dominant before it is suitable for the design. This can be achieved through Negative Feedback Loops in systems where some form of aggressive actions are possible, or, for other systems, through making the development of the Internal Rivalry as part of the Predetermined Story Structures.

Internal Rivalry can exist solely between NPCs. In this situation, players may be presented with Puzzle Solving situations to defuse the rivalry or consider the Trade-Offs of supporting one side or another.

The resolution of an Internal Rivalry suggests certain types of Rewards and Penalties. In addition to any given specific based on the activities involved, the presence of other Characters in the social network can motivate Rewards such as gaining Companions or moving up the power structure of Hierarchical Fractions. In social networks with other humans, the gain of Game-Based Social Statuses can be a meta reward. For penalties, Game Element Removal of Characters is one possibility (which may motivate Player Elimination) while giving the Outcast status and making that participant into a general Enemies is another. It should be noted that all these (except true eliminations) can equally well be applied after smaller incidents.

Narrative Aspects

As mentioned above, the creation, development, and conclusion of Internal Rivalry can be completely controlled through Predetermined Story Structures.


Internal Rivalry instantiates one form of Enemy where the conflict is restricted by some Diegetic Social Norms, although these norms can in time break down. The rivalry typically makes resolutions complicated as players need to take into account the social network. This can lead to both Complex and Varied Gameplay as the consequences of the Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences can vary depending on how the player tries to reach the goal and in what kind of circumstances. In games that have the rivalry being played out through Roleplaying, this creates Social Roles for the players' Characters. This also modifies Roleplaying by requiring less direct approaches to solving problems. Quite naturally, in games where Combat between players are possible, Internal Rivalry can lead to Player Killing and Player Elimination.

For the same reason, Social Interaction typically occurs for Multiplayer Games with Internal Rivalry, as does Negotiation (which can occur with NPCs as well if the game provides actions and sub system modeling this). For Multiplayer Games with Guilds, Internal Rivalry may not be possible to avoid and the consequences easy affects the Game-Based Social Statuses of the participants, especially if changes of Functional Roles are involved.

Internal Rivalry easily leads to Internal Conflicts. This can be enforced through Predetermined Story Structures but can easily occur between participants in Factions, Guilds or any kind of Teams if they engage in Roleplaying or some form of Competition. When Loyalty or Mutual Enemies are present, this typically also creates a Social Dilemma for the participants. Internal Rivalry instantiates Role Reversal when it makes it possible to change the relations between participants or their Functional Roles during a game session.

For games that have other types of conflicts besides Internal Rivalry, overcoming the latter can provide Varied Gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Enemies, Complex Gameplay, Gain Information, Gain Ownership, Internal Conflicts, Negotiation, Player Elimination, Player Killing, Predetermined Story Structures, Race, Varied Gameplay

with Functional Roles

Role Reversal

with Multiplayer games

Game-Based Social Statuses, Negotiation, Social Interaction

with NPCs

Puzzle Solving

with Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences

Risk/Reward, Trade-Offs

with Loyalty or Mutual Enemies

Social Dilemmas

with Roleplaying

Social Roles

Can Modulate

Characters, Companions, Factions, Guilds, Hierarchical Fractions, Loyalty, Narration Structures, NPCs, Overcome, Parties, Roleplaying, Teams

Can Be Instantiated By

Competitions, Enforced Goals, Friendly Fire, Guilds, Incompatible Goals, Internal Conflicts, Loyalty, Parties, Persistent Game Worlds, Tragedy of the Commons

Functional Roles together with Multiplayer Games

Individual Rewards together with Races and Teams

Can Be Modulated By

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Diegetic Social Norms, Eavesdropping, Enforced Agent Behavior, Indirectly Aggressive Actions, Information Passing, Intrigue, Limited Set of Actions, Negative Feedback Loops, Predefined Goals, Quests, Secret Alliances, Survive

Possible Closure Effects

Enemies, Functional Roles, Game Element Removal, Outcast, Penalties, Player Elimination, Rewards

Potentially Conflicting With

Friendly Fire


An updated version of the pattern Internal Rivalry, first introduced in Lankoski 2010[1].


  1. 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.


Karl Bergström, Annika Waern