Player Verb-Actions


Here’s something I’ve been thinking about…

At the heart, games are about solving problems. So my question is – How can we as game designers come up with new and interesting problems for players to solve? Firstly we must understand what a problem means in a game.

As an example a problem could be a deadly pit ahead of a running hero, precise opponent’s troops positions that surround the king, lack of wood blocks for building a house, or simply keeping your headshot streak high in a shooting game. I think you get the point. They are all obstacles in the progress of the game, and players have to deal with them in order to get the desired result.

Now how does the player actually deal with it? That is, what actions are available for execution? For the previous examples, it might be pretty obvious… Wel, you jump over the deadly pit. And in order to save the king you think through it and effectively destroy enemy troops. To build your house out of wood you will have to go into the forest and cut more trees. And finally to keep your headshot streak high you must aim precisely.

Guess what? All of our actions are secretly just verbs – Jump, Think, Destroy, Go, Cut, and Aim.

It might be a fun little practice to pick your favourite game and list all of the verb-actions you can possibly think of doing in it.

All you have to ask yourself is – What can I do in this game?

In fact that’s exactly what I’ll do now.

Verb-Actions 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 verb-actions are tools and ways that allow player to solve specific problems in games.

Verb-Actions Usefulness

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

The real beauty emerges when you think of an individual verb-action acting upon multiple objects. Let’s pretend we like 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 behaviour. 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-action 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 important 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-action.

One Step Further

What if we take the opposite of a verb-action? 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. 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 verb-actions. 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

I would argue that player’s input is the single most important element in games, and the biggest reason why people play them. We must explore further! We must create more problems and empower players to solve them in a creative and unique way.

Thanks for reading.

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