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Game elements specifically used to drive the narration in games.

Like movies, many games include storylines that drive the characters actions. One common design structure for both cases are to make use of game elements or characters that all agents goals resolve around, be it to rescue, destroy or protect. Such narrative devices are called MacGuffins and do not themselves need to be active or even present in games for them to function.

See also the Wikipedia entry[1] for the concept.


Princess Peach Toadstool is kidnapped in many of the Super Mario series of games, and players main goal as Mario is to rescue her. There are however exceptions to this structure, e.g. Super Mario Bros. 2 and the Mario Kart series, and in Super Princess Peach the roles are reversed.

Capture the Flag game modes are examples of using MacGuffins in games very close to the original usage in movies. This can quite easily be noticed from the flags in the Quake series having no effect on gameplay except where they are, and the content of the briefcases that teams fights over in the Team Fortress series are never revealed.

Using the pattern

The exact nature and attributes of MacGuffins are not the most important parts of creating them. In fact, MacGuffins do not need to exist even as game elements, they can be shown only through Cutscenes or only be referred to and never be shown (and these two can be combined). When they do exist, they may be Game Items, Props, Weapons, or Characters, and their importance can be pointed out through Cutscenes.

More important is what goals the MacGuffins help define; this may be the primary goal of the game or more localized Quests. Specific examples of goals suitable for use with MacGuffins since they require game elements but not any specific characteristics include Capture, Delivery, Eliminate, and simply Gain Ownership.

Diegetic Aspects

MacGuffins need to comply with Alternative Realities of a game, that is not break Thematic Consistency, it they are not to become Alien Space Bats. This does not however need to make it difficult to combine MacGuffins with Diegetically Outstanding Features - in fact this may make sense since they often are diegetically special.

Narrative Aspects

MacGuffins are devices for creating Narration Structures, and as such primarily narrative in aspect.


The main purpose of MacGuffins is to provide Predetermined Story Structures and thereby Narration Structures in games. While their appearance are usually not restricted by needs to maintain Thematic Consistency, their presence may be required for the same reason. However, they do not have to predetermine how a story unfolds in a game but can instead work by providing the goals for the gameplay, examples of how they can do this is by being the focal game elements in Capture, Delivery, and Eliminate goals. In these cases, unlike most other, MacGuffins tend to be Game Items.


Can Instantiate

Alien Space Bats, Capture, Delivery, Eliminate, Game Items, Gain Ownership, Narration Structures, Predetermined Story Structures, Quests, Thematic Consistency

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Cutscenes, Game Items, Props, Weapons

Can Be Modulated By

Cutscenes, Diegetically Outstanding Features

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Wikipedia entry for MacGuffins.