I <3 'Unintended Emergence'


Not until I actually typed out the title of this post did I realize the innuendo there.

Before I get into emergent gameplay, do you like stomping dried up pine-cones on cement, like me? The pleasure comes from the blissful sound of the crunch under one’s foot. I’ve gotten two family members hooked on the pleasures of pine-cone stomping so far. The drier and thinner the pine-cone “gills”, the better the crunch. You should try it! 

Now that I have most likely turned you away from any further things I have to say, I do have another little pleasure that I want to share, but this time it’s related to video games. It is somewhat particular as well, and it is in the realm of what is called “emergent gameplay”. What is emergent gameplay? According to  Josh Bycer in this article here (and wikipedia concurs), it’s: “A title where the mechanics afford the player to create new strategies and utility beyond their original intent or utilization.” Personally, I would argue that all games “afford” emergent gameplay.

The above definition is what is referred to as ‘intended emergent gameplay’, with Minecraft being a popular example. These games are usually referred to as “sandbox games”, that is, games that are more like sandboxes, where there isn’t anything particular that the designers want the player to do. They put all of the goal making, challenges, and gameplay objectives etc. in the hands of the player. This is much taking a kid to the beach and giving them a little shovel, some buckets and letting them loose, except in a video game, and with more tools. It is quite fascinating to see the creative stuff that comes out of these kinds of games, like the below example wherein Minecraft players created a Beetlejuice roller-coaster ride video.

Like many a B-movies though, the wackiness is best when the movie-maker did not intend it to be appreciated in such a way. At least for me, it is. This is what is referred to in games as “unintended emergent gameplay”. Kung-fu movies are notorious for being hilarious in this way, but when filmmakers try to do B-movies, it ends up feeling pretty flat.

Nothing like group of friends, a jug of Carlo Rossi and Zaaaaaaaardoozzzz!

Just recently I saw an example some great emergent gameplay in Overwatch. Overwatch is a new game that Blizzard just released, but people are already using it in ways it wasn’t necessarily intended. It is intended as a team-based FPS game where two teams fight against each other, either attacking or defending some goal. Yet, it affords all sorts of alternative gameplay behavior, unintentionally. Instead of playing any objectives that the game was designed for, these South Korean players create and play their own game of Badminton, within the game. Its glorious!

Yes, it tickles me to see this kind of gameplay, but I only enjoy it best when its being done in the “vanilla” version of the game. The game cannot be hacked or modified, it has to be in the version that the developers intend people to be using (i.e. the vanilla version). So exploiting glitches in the vanilla version = good, hacking ≠ good. Also, stomping on soggy pinecones ≠ good.

Now, I want to briefly take you back to a time long long ago, when video games and youtube started making deep long eyes at each other. At this time, all sorts of strange twisted babies were conceived to the ironic resurgence of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up. People started putting their gameplay onto youtube to show off their 1337 skills with 720 noscopes, …and unsurprisingly, people eventually got creative with it. But  I want to say that just putting gamplay videos up was, at the time, itself a form of unintended emergent gameplay. It was at least an unintended use of the game itself. Nowadays designers are trying to figure out games that will be great for online streaming, but before, this just wasn’t an design issue. If you don’t capture the emergent play on video and upload it, did it really make anybody ROFL? OOooooh deep!


As anybody who knows me would… know, I love Dark Souls. Here is one my favorite examples of emergent gameplay in Dark Souls.

Both players get into a very odd game of chicken with hilarious results

So try as you might to design for emergent gameplay, its only truly funny to me when the gameplay being shared is unintended by the designers. The wackier and more creative the better!

Ok, for those who aren’t old fuddy duddies like me, here’s a more recent (and hilarious) example of emergent gameplay from Dark Souls 3




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