Developing a design methodology to represent paradoxes in gameplay systems

  • Vedant Sansare

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMasters by Research


This thesis aims to provide a preliminary framework for developers aiming to utilize paradoxes as part of their game design. Research has shown that games do not follow the laws of paradoxes while integrating paradoxes as part of their design. As such, these games misinterpret paradoxes with two different concepts: Contradiction and Subversion of Expectations, which individually and combined form the definition of paradoxes. Consequently, a structured framework differentiating paradoxical and non-paradoxical design would alleviate this misinterpretation and simultaneously allow designers to develop truly paradoxical games. To achieve this, the primary attribute from the three concepts was extracted, based on their interaction with the game layer and through permutations of the presence and absence of these attributes, a framework composed of four paradoxical and four non-paradoxical principles was devised.

Correspondingly, to verify the feasibility of the framework, a comparative analysis of nineteen existing games was conducted to observe their paradoxicality. Consequently, the results indicated that a game cannot be paradoxical, as it would produce an inconclusive outcome and be non-progressable. Although, the results also suggested that a game can act as a container for paradoxical gameplay systems within it. To explore this phenomenon, the framework was applied to four existing gameplay systems through practice-based research in game design. This application resulted in the emergence of four non-paradoxical and four-paradoxical counterparts of each existing system. Among these, the modular systems which could perform independently were categorised as ‘event-based’ systems and the ones which could function as games themselves were term as ‘scenario-based’ systems.

The results indicated that games with a commercial focus, due to the risk of potential revenue loss, are more dependent on a hybrid approach of utilising both non-paradoxical and paradoxical gameplay system, with non-paradoxical systems composing the majority of the design. On the other hand, experimental games, which afford higher creative freedom, utilised a greater frequency of paradoxical system within their design. As such, further research in this area would allow paradoxes to reach a wider acceptance among the players as well as the developers.
Date of AwardJan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorRobin J. S. Sloan (Supervisor) & Andrew Reid (Supervisor)


  • Game design
  • Paradoxes
  • Experimental games

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