Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Autonomy is the state in which a person's actions are in congruence with their goals, desires or aspirations. The larger the number of the options a person has in terms of action, the greater the chance they can experience autonomy, but a person can still experience a high level of autonomy with very limited options. This is important because video games can facilitate a feeling of autonomy in their players using a variety of strategies. Some players experience higher autonomy in a sandbox-style game that evoke a feeling of freedom by providing multiple actions to take and multiple ways to play. Other offer few or even a single path to pursue, but entice the player by evoking curiosity through aesthetics or narrative. Either way, it is essential that the opportunities for play provided are appropriate for the context of the game.

Lens of Autonomy

Video games that aim to facilitate a feeling of autonomy must ensure that actions a player can take are in congruence with the goals that the player adopts/creates in reaction to the game. Furthermore the actions whilst congruent with the player's goals, must also be meaningful.

Autonomy can be thought of as giving the player a multitude of meaningful choices.

Focusing Questions

  • What kind of meaningful opportunities are presented to the player?
  • Is the player aware of the choices they can make?
  • Are there any times when the player is forced to act against their beliefs?
  • Which elements of the game give the player choices?

Can be Instantiated by


The Grand Theft Auto Series

The Grand Theft Auto series gives it's players one of the best sandbox experiences. It gives the players a multitude of storyline missions along with a large number of side missions. It allows the player to complete these missions in an order of their choosing. In addition the player can also explore his environments while not on a mission. The game also gives the player a range of guns, vehicles and apparel for his/her in game character. These aspects make the player feel autonomous as they are in control at all times. The player is able to pace the game to his/her liking.

Dota 2

Dota 2 offers its players a choice of over 100 heroes (characters) to choose from. Each of them differing from the next one. The player is given a choice as to which hero he/she wants to play. This in turn will have a major effect on how the game turns out. Essentially the player has the ability to control a part of the games outcome.

Sid Meier's Civilization V

Sid Meier's Civilization V allows the player to win the game in a variety of ways, depending on their play style. Players that enjoy destroying their opponents can opt for the standard domination victory, while others may choose a less violent solution, such as diplomacy or science. By having these multiple win conditions, players needn't feel like they are being punished if they prefer to play a certain way.


Prevention of Loss

It is important for video games to support autonomy, because when it is thwarted, people can become demotivated and disengage with the game. This is not to say that a game cannot thwart player autonomy for creative purposes, but it must be handled carefully and intentionally. Autonomy loss hinders with the player's motivation to want to move ahead in the game.

Limited Autonomy

This is important for games, as often designers and developers are working with limited resources and may not be able to craft a large number of mechanics or narrative branches for their game. Alternatively designers may be interested in creating a more strictly defined experience, but still have the player experience autonomy. By leveraging the strengths of various genres, designers can facilitate this feeling of autonomy. In such situations it is also advisable to be make sure the goals offered to the player concur with the experience the player is expected to have. Even without choice or much freedom a game can be highly autonomous.


It is very important to identify the reason why you want to make your game autonomous. Autonomy must be kept at a limit and too much of it can actually disrupt a player's experience. The choices given to a player must be meaningful and must not be cumbersome to choose. In Mass Effect, which is considered to be a autonomous game be many, many a people found the conversation trees extremely tiring to navigate through. Hence autonomy is a motivation that is best used when it's not extreme.


  • Make sure your game has a lot for the player to do.
  • Make sure various activities for the player are actually meaningful and not mundane.
  • Make sure the player's actions make a difference within the game.
  • If your game is streamlined, make sure the goals of the game are in congruence with what the player is expected to experience.


This lens is an industry standard and is empirically validated.


Motivations :- Autonomy

Components :- Meaningful Choices, Important Actions



motivations/autonomy.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/18 01:11 by araman