Real-Time Games

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The progression of game time during play is tied to the progress of real time.

Most traditional games require the players or some game facilitator to update game states based upon what the players do. This meant that, unlike early sports like wrestling and sprints, the speed by which the gameplay for the games unfolded was not tied to how time passed. However, with the invention of mechanical games, pinball machines and early arcade games, the update of the game state was no longer enforced by humans or laws of nature but by designed systems. These, and the computer games that followed them, thus became Real-Time Games in the sense that the game system updates automatically without player involvement.


Early arcade games and computer games, e.g. Pac-Man and Space Invaders, have enemies constantly acting against the players and requiring them to continuously have the attention on the games.

Team-based First-Person Shooters such as Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Unreal Tournament pitch teams of players against each other in real-time virtual battles.

Real-time strategy games, such as those in the WarCraft and StarCraft series, modify the usually slow pace of strategy games by making the game system continue without player interaction.

Using the pattern

The design of Real-Time Games is typically achieved through the use of computers or mechanical systems but isolated parts of a game's gameplay can become real time through simply means such as the use of hour glasses or letting the laws of physics has their course of game components. Cue Sports is an example of the latter, in that the consequences of each strike is played out through the physical movements of the balls but otherwise the games are not strictly tied to the progress of time.

If the players are provided with Communication Channels for Social Interaction and the gameplay itself would benefit from communication between the players, it is important to consider the characteristics of the Communication Channels to appropriately map the pace of required Social Interaction to the pace of the game itself. For example, text chatting in fast team-oriented first-person shooters is not necessarily the preferred communication method for the players.

The available player actions must also fit the pace of the game itself. Simple Maneuvering combined with Aim & Shoot is a classical example of basic actions available in Real-Time Games. Maneuvering in a Game World, even in simple two-dimensional Game Worlds, enhances the feeling of Spatial Immersion. The most often used actions are, quite naturally, Rhythm-Based Actions and Dexterity-Based Actions. These cases of Timing require that the players match their actions, including No-Ops, to the game time, and Rhythm-Based Actions in particular can give rise to Sensory-Motoric Immersion.Combat or Capture in Real-Time Games is also often based on correct Timing of different actions, although in real-time strategy games, the Combat between Units typically resembles the Combat in Turn-Based Games and Tick-Based Games.

An interesting case of Budgeted Action Points can be created in Real-Time Games, where the players can save up action points for performing future actions by doing No-Ops. This is more often used in Real-Time Games, which require more complex actions and planning from the players and the players' strategies require proper Timing of the use of the action points.

The progression of game time is often handled by a Dedicated Game Facilitator, such as a computer program, unless the game is more or less physical in nature, such as when the game time maps one to one to real time. For example, Tag is a Self-Facilitated Game where the game time is the same as the real time and, obviously, does not require Dedicated Game Facilitators to progress the game time.

Disruption of Focused Attention can be used in Real-Time Games to modify the Right Level of Difficulty and to provide more Varied Gameplay. The UFO in Asteroids is a good example of this kind of gameplay modification, and many other games use rapid Attention Swapping as one of the basic challenges of the game.

Some games offer players the possibility to pause them or otherwise modify their update pace.

are based on the players being bombarded by hectic and constant challenges from the game system. The gameplay requires constant attention to what is happening in the game. Space Invaders and other shoot-'em-ups challenge the players with ever-increasing waves of attacking enemies, which the players have to destroy.

Diegetic Aspects


Irreversible Events Interruptible Actions

Real-Time Games do not require player actions to change the game state, as the game system can make these changes based on real time. In one sense, all Real-Time Games are self-running simulations in which the players may participate. Somewhat paradoxical to this, Real-Time Games almost always Attention Demanding which make it difficult for players to maintain Analysis Paralysis.

As humans have difficulties in keeping focus on several things needing attention at the same time,

As the game time goes on regardless of the players' actions, this in most cases will lead to Limited Planning Ability for the players, of course, depending on the pace of the game time and the complexity of the actions required from the players. Real-Time Games naturally give rise to The Show Must Go On, even in cases where the players can use Game Pauses or other methods of suspending game time, such as Save-Load Cycles. The game time is also of a different nature when the gameplay itself is paused during Cut Scenes.

Games can have modes of play where the real-time modes are switched between the players by Turn Taking. For example, in Bowling, the players take turns, but the actual play is in real-time. During these real-time modes of play, there is obviously no Downtime for the players. Synchronous Games are well suited for Real-Time Games, while it is also possible that parts of Asynchronous Games have characteristics of Real-Time Games.



Aim & Shoot, Spatial Immersion, No-Ops, Maneuvering, Sensory-Motoric Immersion, The Show Must Go On


Tick-Based Games, Turn-Based Games, Capture, Limited Planning Ability, Disruption of Focused Attention, Combat, Synchronous Games, Asynchronous Games, Social Interaction

Instantiated By

Modulated By

Attention Swapping, Self-Facilitated Games, Rhythm-Based Actions, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Timing, Dexterity-Based Actions, Save-Load Cycles, Cut Scenes, Game Pauses, Communication Channels, The Show Must Go On, Budgeted Action Points

Potentially Conflicting With

Analysis Paralysis, Turn Taking, Turn-Based Games, Downtime


An rewrite of the original pattern named Real-Time Games in the book 'Patterns in Game Design' (Björk & Holopainen, 2004).


Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Wikipedia entry on cue sports