Social Roles

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Roles people can receive or take in relation to each other based on gameplay features.

This pattern is a still a stub.

While Bartle's paper "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who suit MUDs"[1] does present categories for gamers that do have aspects of social roles, these describe player preferences. The pattern described here looks at how gameplay features can evoke Social Roles.

Social Roles often


Using the pattern

Having Multiplayer Games is a basic requirement for Social Roles to be possible but Massively Multiplayer Online Games are even better foundations since there players have a large group of other players to take on roles with. Unless players have Unmediated Social Interaction, Chat or Communication Channels are also necessary for Social Roles to function; Limited Communication Abilities works against Social Roles developing (but see the outcast role below). Guilds, Parties, Social Organizations, and Teams are general ways of grouping players together which may further incline Social Roles to emerge but without specifically influencing which roles do so. Functional Roles, or the possibility to develop Competence Areas in Multiplayer Games, link the Social Roles directly to specific gameplay skills.

Roleplaying moves the Social Roles from being based on the players to being based on their Characters but can just as well provide these roles. The use of Internal Rivalry or successfully motivating players to adhere to Thematic Consistency together with Roleplaying further strengthens the likelihood that players while adopt Social Roles for their Characters.

Besides these pattern, what gameplay design patterns hinder or support Social Roles depend heavily on the specifics of individual Social Roles. Examples of possible Social Roles are:

  • Banned – players not allowed to play the game due to Player Kicking.
  • Outcasts – players excluded from social interaction with the other players. Allowing players to set Limited Communication Abilities for other players is one way of achieving this.
  • Recluses – players willingly isolating themselves from social interaction with other players. Spectators offers one way of supporting recluses, and Tiered Participation another.
  • Motivators – players providing or advocating activities and experiences in the game without seeking any in-game benefit. Entitled Players and Game Masters can support this role.
  • Negotiators – players negotiating between two other players. Quite obviously, Negotiation may support this role (if a player can negotiate between two other players that is), but Cooperation and Coordination are also good candidates.
  • Mediators – players performing actions for other players, either through their own actions or by taking over other players' possibilities to influence the game. Just as they can support motivators, the use of Entitled Players can support mediators. A less active form of this is that of facilitators, which may not be seen as players; Game Masters is an example of this.
  • Helpers – players actively helping other players perform actions in the game. An explicit need for helpers can be achieved through using Helplessness but Cooperation and Coordination can do so without necessarily limiting other players.
  • Violators – players trying to affect other players’ gameplay against their will through explicit actions. Conflicts between players are obvious ways of letting players be violators but Stealing and Ninja Looting can have less impact on the other players possibilities to continue playing.
  • Dominators – players trying to influence other players to perform specific actions for the player’s own in-game benefits. Guilting and the possibility of appointing Scapegoats can support this as does opportunities for setting up Betrayals.
  • Exhibitionists – players performing actions in the game to gain the other players’ attention or simply Bragging about previous actions. Tiered Participation can let those that want to have extra attention placed on them receive this and as can the act of Betrayal.

Can Be Instantiated By

Fudged Results, Social Dilemmas, Team Combos

Diegetic Aspects

Allowing Non-Diegetic Communication can make Social Roles easier to maintain as well as negotiate.


Can Instantiate

Downtime, Game-Based Social Statuses, Non-Diegetic Communication, Role Selection, Social Interaction, Togetherness, Varied Gameplay

Potentially Conflicting With

Actor Detachment, Enforced Player Anonymity, Limited Communication Abilities, Possibility of Anonymity


Bidding Bluffing Alliances Temporary Alliances Gameplay Mastery

Player-Decided Distributions Player-Decided Results Secret Alliances

Shared Penalties Shared Resources Shared Rewards Trading


Excluding Groups Cartel Formation Conspiring Indirectly Aggressive Actions Directly Aggressive Actions

Ranking Systems Glory Rewards Referees Proxy Players

Character Classes

Auctions Coaches Extras

character-specific Brokering Match-Making Outcast Traitors

Can Instantiate

Downtime, Game-Based Social Statuses, Non-Diegetic Communication, Role Selection, Social Interaction, Togetherness, Varied Gameplay

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Betrayal, Bragging, Chat Channels, Communication Channels, Conflict, Cooperation, Coordination, Entitled Players, Fudged Results, Functional Roles, Game Masters, Guilds, Guilting, Helplessness, Limited Communication Abilities, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Multiplayer Games, Negotiation, Ninja Looting, Parties, Player Kicking, Roleplaying, Scapegoats, Social Dilemmas, Social Organizations, Spectators, Stealing, Team Combos Teams, Tiered Participation, Unmediated Social Interaction

Competence Areas together with Multiplayer Games

Roleplaying together with Internal Rivalry or Thematic Consistency

Can Be Modulated By

Non-Diegetic Communication

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Actor Detachment, Enforced Player Anonymity, Limited Communication Abilities, Possibility of Anonymity


New pattern created in this wiki. However, the concept was introduced in the paper Socially Adaptable Games that was presented in 2005.[2].


  1. Bartle, R. 1996 Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who suit MUDs.
  2. Eriksson, D., Peitz, J. & Björk, S. 2005. Socially Adaptable Games. Lightning round presentation at Changing Views: Worlds in Play, DiGRA conference 2005.