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Asymmetric Gameplay: Types and Perspectives

Part of the Springer Series in Design and Innovation book series (SSDI,volume 27)


Asymmetric gameplay allows players to engage with a game in different ways, resulting in unique experiences for each player. From slight variations to completely distinct experiences, asymmetric mechanics create fertile ground for interesting gameplay to occur. Asymmetric gameplay is prevalent in modern games, and yet there has been little discussion about it, the mechanics that generate it, and its repercussions. In this paper, we analyse six types of asymmetry described in the literature: Ability, Challenge, Goal, Responsibility, Information, and Interface. We examine how different games employ gameplay mechanics in order to create unique experiences by framing our discussion on a definition of asymmetry in games. Furthermore, we define six other types of asymmetry: Operation, Location, Time Frame, Interdependence, Outcomes, and Feedback; and how they exist or may exist in games. We conclude by hinting that asymmetry is not solely generated by a game’s mechanics but also by differences in the players themselves, be they human or non-human.


  • Asymmetric gameplay
  • Gameplay mechanics
  • Games
  • Game design
  • Multiplayer

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  1. 1.

    This is evidenced by the commercial success of games such as League of Legends (2009), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012), and Dead by Daylight (2016).

  2. 2.

    We are resorting to Upton’s definition of horizon of action: “the set of all states attainable by the player within the near future”. This horizon is determined by the game’s current active set of constraints on player action [7].

  3. 3.

    The terminology used to describe these challenges is the one delineated in Adams [8].

  4. 4.

    E.g. two players competing at Pong (1972), each one trying to score points by shooting the ball across their opponent’s goal.

  5. 5.

    The asymmetry is minimal and not inexistent due to the fact that some of the weapons each team has access to are team exclusive. For instance, only members of the attacking team may purchase an AK-47.

  6. 6.

    In the literature, this type of asymmetry was originally bundled together with asymmetry of goal, as “asymmetry of goal/responsibility”. However, we believe these to be sufficiently different types of asymmetry to warrant separate discussions.

  7. 7.

    The party composition in question, despite not being rigidly enforced by the game, was common before this particular version of the game. However, during this expansion, patch 3.3.0 introduced the Dungeon Finder, a feature that allowed players to select a role and get grouped with other players in a party composed of one Tank, one Healer and three DPS.

  8. 8.

    The acronym stands for Damage per Second, and is commonly used to refer to the role of damage dealer.

  9. 9.

    An example of this occurs in Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010), in which players must send scouting units to explore the map, find enemy units, and even to attempt to discern the strategy the opponent is intending to employ.

  10. 10.

    An example where this relationship is bidirectional is We Were Here (2017), in which the two players are separated and must communicate information regarding their surroundings to one another in order to solve puzzles and advance.

  11. 11.

    Some games, such as Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (2018), even allow players to customize how the game’s systems function, from enabling/disabling the game’s Injury System, to altering how the game processes random number generation for combat resolution.

  12. 12.

    These categories are based on Jesper Juul’s 3D space, screen space, and player space [11]. However, the term game space is agnostic of whether the game is two- or three-dimensional, or whether it is viewed through a large or small screen, or even if is entirely represented through the use of audio. Game space is “where the game actually happens” [9].

  13. 13.

    A dialectical relationship is one of conflict, whether that conflict is between players or between the player and the challenging activities presented by the game system [9].

  14. 14.

    We are resorting to Hunicke et al.’s MDA framework’s understanding of the terms dynamics and aesthetics [15].


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Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Abel Neto .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations



  • Acron: Attack of the Squirrels!. 2019. Resolution Games.

  • Battlefield 4. 2013. DICE.

  • Black Hat Cooperative. 2016. Team Future.

  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. 2012. Valve.

  • Dead By Daylight. 2016. Behaviour Interactive.

  • Death Stranding. 2019. Kojima Productions.

  • Dungeons and Dragons. 1974. Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson.

  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. 2018. 6 Eyes Studio.

  • Immortal Redneck. 2017. Crema.

  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. 2015. Steel Crate Games.

  • League of Legends. 2009. Riot Games.

  • Nyctophobia. 2018. Catherine Stippell.

  • Panoptic. 2020. Team Panoptes.

  • Pokémon GO. 2016. Niantic.

  • Pong. 1972. Atari.

  • Reiko’s Fragments. 2019. Pixel Canvas Studios.

  • Resident Evil Resistance. 2020. NeoBards Entertainment.

  • Spyfall. 2014. Alexandr Ushan.

  • Starcraft. 1998. Blizzard Entertainment.

  • Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. 2010. Blizzard Entertainment.

  • Street Fighter V. 2016. Capcom.

  • Super Smash Bros. Melee. 2001. HAL Laboratory.

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. 2011. Bethesda Game Studios.

  • The Isle. 2015. Afterthought LLC.

  • Valorant. 2020. Riot Games.

  • Vast: The Crystal Caverns. 2016. Patrick Leder, David Somerville.

  • We Were Here. 2017. TMG Studios B.V.

  • World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. 2008. Blizzard Entertainment.

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Neto, A., Cardoso, P., Carvalhais, M. (2023). Asymmetric Gameplay: Types and Perspectives. In: Martins, N., Brandão, D. (eds) Advances in Design and Digital Communication III. DIGICOM 2022. Springer Series in Design and Innovation , vol 27. Springer, Cham.

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