Social Roles

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

Playing games is often a social activity. While players may take their social relations with them to a game, many games put different players in different social positions primarily due to different abilities to affect the gameplay. These positions make players take new Social Roles which are based upon the gameplay structures of the game.

Note: 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.


Classical Board Games such as Chess and Go put players in the role of each others enemies. Other Board Games, and some Card Games, are mainly cooperative but make some players traitors. Examples include Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Shadows over Camelot, and The Resistance.

Many Roleplaying Games require players to choose classes. These give players specific abilities but these abilities also make certain Social Roles more natural, e.g. clerics in Dungeons & Dragons have abilities to help other characters. Examples of other Roleplaying Games that do this include Apocalypse World, Mutant: År Noll, the Everquest series, and World of Warcraft. Similarly, class-based online FPS Games such as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and the Team Fortress series provide players with different functional roles which also infer Social Roles.

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. 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. Roleplaying also opens up for some more specific patterns based on the Characters roles, e.g. Brokering, Match-Making, and Outcast.

Just as Communication Channels may be necessary for Social Roles, Limited Communication Abilities may work against the pattern. (but see the outcast role below). Player Anonymity may make Social Roles less present or more difficult to take, so both Enforced Player Anonymity and Possibility of Anonymity work against Social Roles.

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 and Directly Aggressive Actions 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 Traitors to set up Betrayals. Dominators may also arise from games that have Bluffing or Conspiring. Indirectly Aggressive Actions may also work since dominators can be uses them to influence players without directly confronting them; Bidding is an example of this and can make players into low intensity dominators.
  • 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

Alliances Temporary Alliances Gameplay Mastery

Player-Decided Distributions Player-Decided Results Secret Alliances

Shared Penalties Shared Resources Shared Rewards Trading


Excluding Groups Cartel Formation

Ranking Systems Glory Rewards Referees Proxy Players

Character Classes

Auctions Coaches Extras

Diegetic Aspects

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


Social Roles provides a structure and often encouragement for Social Interaction and thereby support for a sense of Togetherness. When players have freedom of which Social Roles they should have, this is a type of Role Selection and can provide Varied Gameplay. Fitting Social Roles well can provide Game-Based Social Statuses.

There are some potentially negative aspects of Social Roles. Besides the ones associated with typically "negative" roles, e.g. banned, some roles may have less to do during gameplay, causing Downtime, unless the frequency of the importance of these are especially promoted. Further, Social Roles are likely to let players known more about each other making Actor Detachment problematic.

Players' wish to discuss Social Roles and the subjects they relate to can increase the level of Non-Diegetic Communication in a game.


Can Instantiate

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

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Alliances, Auctions, Betrayal, Bidding, Bluffing, Bragging, Cartel Formation, Character Classes, Chat Channels, Coaches, Communication Channels, Conflict, Conspiring, Cooperation, Coordination, Directly Aggressive Actions, Enactment, Entitled Players, Excluding Groups, Extras, Fudged Results, Functional Roles, Game Masters, Gameplay Mastery, Glory Rewards, Guilds, Guilting, Helplessness, Indirectly Aggressive Actions, Limited Communication Abilities, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Multiplayer Games, Negotiation, Ninja Looting, Parties, Player Kicking, Player-Decided Distributions, Player-Decided Results, Proxy Players, Ranking Systems, Referees, Roleplaying, Scapegoats, Secret Alliances, Shared Penalties, Shared Resources, Shared Rewards, Social Dilemmas, Social Organizations, Spectators, Stealing, Team Combos, Teams, Temporary Alliances, Tiered Participation, Trading, Unmediated Social Interaction

Competence Areas together with Multiplayer Games

Roleplaying together with Brokering, Internal Rivalry, Match-Making, Outcast, Thematic Consistency, or Traitors

Can Be Modulated By

Non-Diegetic Communication

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Actor Detachment, Enforced Player Anonymity, Limited Communication Abilities, Player Anonymity, 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.