Getting That Sweetroll: Stealth Indicators in Games

In active stealth games, players can voluntarily choose to hide from enemies (Bycer, 2014). As noted by Bycer, “stealth design has to be made 100% clear to the player” (2017), and the use of UI indicators can be an efficient way to communicate stealth levels to players. This blog will look at two applications of this through the lens of Fagerholt and Lorentzon’s research on UI (2009).

Figure 1: Skyrim’s eye…

When players enters stealth mode in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011), a  golden eye is displayed in the middle of the screen (figure 1); it gradually opens as the enemy sees the player, or closes when the player is hidden. According to Fagerholt and Lorentzon (2009), this is a non-diegetic element of UI: the eye does not exist inside the fictional game world, and it is not visualised as part of the 3D game space either. While functional and clear, the non-diegetic choice makes the player a passive participant in stealth monitoring, as the indicator is always on-screen and in plain view.


Figure 2: … and Dishonored 2’s bolt

However, Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios, 2016)  places the stealth meter directly on the enemy in-game (figure 2). Fagerholt and Lorentzon call this a spacial or geometric representation, as it does not exist in the fictional game world but is still visualised within it. This in-game location forces the player to pay attention to the game world to monitor enemies’ awareness. Furthermore,  the meter uses colour (red) and flashing animation to indicate stealth is about the fail, making this a signifier, an “element carrying information about entities external to the signifier itself” (Fagerholt and Lorentzon, 2009). This adds another level of engagement with the player as they are once again required to pay close attention to the stealth indicator to gage their stealth level.


While non-diegetic stealth UI indicators convey information efficiently, spacial representation can be an efficient way to also involve the player further in the stealth mechanics.


Bycer, J. (2014) Reactive vs. Active Stealth in Game Design. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2017)

Bycer, J. (2017) The 4 Required Elements of Stealth Game Design. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2017)

Fagerholt, E. and Lorentzon, M. (2009) User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games. Master of Science Thesis. Chalmers University of Technology. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2018)


Arkane Studios (2016) Dishonored 2. Bethesda Softworks.

Bethesda Game Studios (2011) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks.


Main Image: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (no date). Imgur. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2018)

Dishonored 2 (2016). Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2018)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2018). Game Pressure. Available at: (Accessed 14 February 2018)


Social Realism in Games

What is realism in games? One might think of it as the way games’ graphics mimic reality – in other words, their pictorial realism. However, in games as in other forms of art, realism can have many forms beyond a simple illusion of reality. Enter social realism.

Social realism can be defined as “the realistic depiction in art of contemporary life, as a means of social or political comment.” (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2017), and focuses on “anonymous everyday workers were recast as heroic symbols of persistence and strength in the face of adversity” (Manes, 2012). At first glance, this is a difficult parallel to make with games. Many early games were preoccupied with shooting space invaders or chasing ghosts, or later with shooting pixelated bad guys and aliens, making gaming’s assumed escapism a far cry from Les Misérables. However, this social and political commentary is far from absent in the medium, and several very direct examples can be found in the history of gaming.

Figure 1: The ominous border (Papers, Please, 2013)

Papers, Please is a game set in a fictional soviet state, Arstotzka, and puts you in the place of an immigration inspector at its volatile border (figure 1). Your job is to control passports, stamps, and documents, and to assess who has a right of entry and who should be refused. The game takes a very human approach to this mundane task, however: what do you do when a citizen has the wrong stamp but is desperate to join their young children? Will you let them in but have your pay docked so much for the mistake that you cannot buy food for your family? Will you let a spy through for the greater good, if it means you may lose your job and your roof? When your family is ill, do you take corruption money to help them, or do you stand by your initial moral ground? All these questions are explored in the game, making it a sombre commentary on authoritarian regimes and their twisted values from the point of view of an every day anonymous worker.

Figure 2: “she imagines a place where she can live without fear…” (Dishonored 2, 2016)

Sometimes this commentary is more subtle, and has to be found and wanted by the player. Such is the case in the Dishonored series, wherein the player has access to a mechanical and magical heart allowing them to see the backstory of any character in the game, no matter how trivial (figure 2). Non-playable characters can sometimes serve as environmental fodder, and disposable pixels; not so in Dishonored. Pointing the heart at characters reveal disturbing truths about the world they inhabit, and how this has affected them. A woman dreams of escape from a world of fear. Her neighbour has killed a messenger boy for money. Another one burned down a store to pay for his children’s food. Some are evil, some are good, all are anonymous faces affected by the twisted world of Dishonored. This adds an interesting layer of social realism to the heroic antics of the playable character.

It is interesting to note that games strongly anchored in reality are not always the most social realist ones. The Sims, a game about simulating the (more or less realistic) life of a computer character, offers no commentary on the society it mimics; Civilization, a game about building civilisations around cities, economy and policies also abstains from this, presenting choices as a simple numbers’ game.

New Scientist notes that, in games, we are still awaiting a “Citizen Kane moment”, “when a landmark work wins acceptance that games can fully reflect the human condition“, and that this moment must be close (New Scientist, 2013). I agree – and I can’t wait!


Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios, 2016). Image my own.

Manes, C. (2012) MOMA |Social Realism: Art for the People [online]. Available at: (Accessed: 23 January 2017).

New Scientist (2013) Social realism lets gamers feel reality’s bite [online]. Available at: (Accessed: 26 January 2017).

Oxford Dictionaries | English (2017) Social realism – definition of social realism in English [online]. Available at: (Accessed: 23 January 2017).

Papers, Please (2013) [image]. Available at: (Accessed: 23 January 2017).