Player Verbs

Games are about solving problems. How can we come up with interesting problems?

But wait, what is a problem?

Some examples of problems within games:

  • A bottomless pit.
  • A charging monster.
  • Insufficient wood to construct a house.

For a game to be playful there must always be a solution to any problem. Players solve problems with actions, and actions are just verbs.

So to overcome the bottomless pit you will jump over it. A charging monster can be avoided or deflected. And to construct a house wood must be gathered from the forest.

It’s a fun exercise to list the verbs from your favorite games. The question you have to ask is – “What am I allowed to do?”

Verbs in Games
Team Fortress 2  StarCraft II  Minecraft
Navigate Navigate Navigate
Jump Command Jump
Aim Build Climb
Shoot Gather Dig
Disguise Produce Cut
Stab Defend Collect
Heal Attack Build
Ubercharge Proxy Destroy
Scope Scan Light
Build Deceive Ignite
Teleport Upgrade Flood
Ignite Ground Kill
Explode Air Nurture
Capture Drop Cooperate
Taunt Saturate Compete

Some of these might seem less like immediate actions and more of a play style, but they still work because they allow for alternative solutions. So let’s remember that verbs are tools that allow the player to solve problems.

Verb Usefulness

It’s really easy to come up with verbs for a new game, in fact, it’s almost as easy as picking a random verb from the dictionary.

The real beauty emerges when you think of an individual verbs acting upon multiple objects. As an example let’s look at the word Gather, and let’s ask ourselves – How many other objects in the game world can we gather? Actually the more the better! This will greatly increase game’s emergent behavior. As in Minecraft you can gather every type of block and then you can also place it anywhere. Each one having a slightly different property. Another verb would be Shoot – Can you shoot the car, glass, mushrooms? Or Walk – Can you walk on the walls, ceiling, or the moon? It get’s pretty crazy fast, but most importantly it forces you to think.

Another important question to ask is – How many different ways can we Gather, Walk, Shoot? Multiply the number of objects by the number of ways and you will know exactly what value you’re getting from a single verb.

One Step Further

What if we take the opposite of a verb? What about its neutral state? That’s an interesting question. Opposites could be used against you by the opposition or a penalty to hinder your progress. The opposite is basically the negative effect of what you’re trying to do. You can think of a medic healing a heavy, who is taking constant damage. Or collecting and spending resources in StarCraft. It’s a problem and needs to be handled with care using appropriate actions.

Neutral and Opposite
Verb+ Neautral~ Opposite-
Cooperate Bystand Compete
Heal Stable Damage
Build Bystand Destroy
Provide Self-Sufficient Demand
Think Unconscious Neglect
Obey Autonomous Rebel
Visible Exist Obscure
Attract Rest Repel
Grow Stagnate Shrink

Have a go and make your own list of interesting and creative verbs. Once you do you will know exactly what is in player’s control, and you are now building problems appropriately for the players abilities.

Last Words

There are many reasons why people play games, but I believe one of the biggest ones is having the ability to change the state by coming up with solutions to the constant flow of problems that the game throws at them.

Go make great games!

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