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Emergent gameplay is a game design term that refers to video game mechanics that change according to the player's actions. Emergent gameplay includes a number of relatively simple decisions that a player must make, the sum of which lead to more complex outcomes. Emergent gameplay can also be created by adding multiple players to the same game environment and having their individual actions impact the overall game narrative. Similarly, more complex artificial intelligence capable of impacting the storyline in unpredictable ways can be used in lieu of additional players.
Emergent gameplay was originally limited to allowing gamers to choose between branching paths within a progressive game. The result was a slightly different ending based on the player's choices. Role-playing games introduced a new level of emergent gameplay by allowing actions to impact the game's narrative in a more noticeable way. For example, choosing to save or not save a certain character may unlock new abilities, block off certain stages or paths of progression completely, and ultimately result in a completely different experience.
A newer breed of emergent gameplay has emerged from puzzle-based gaming as well. In these games, players are given the ability to make custom solutions to puzzles. There may be only a set number of solutions, but the player's approach is analyzed and used to create more challenging puzzles based on that player's tendencies.
The field of emergent gameplay is becoming more and more popular as online gaming platforms offer more opportunities to create a complex gaming environment out of relatively simple gameplay mechanics. Many progression-based games now mix in elements of emergent gameplay.