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In the real world, the concept of digging is usually about removing earth (or other soft materials) using digging implements (such as shovels, tractors, or manually), for the purposes of reshaping the terrain, to bury something, or to extract something that was buried. Unfortunately the mechanism is difficult to transfer into games because it involved deformation of the game world, so frequently a simpler metaphor is used.
The most common metaphors used are:
- Hidden Treasure: Treasure is arbitrarily or randomly hidden under patches of earth which may or may not be marked. The player must guess the location of the treasure and dig to find it, or systematically dig through a zone where treasure might be found.
- Controlled Terrain Modification: Most common in strategy games, both turn-based on real-time, where digging can be used to create impassable trenches to defend a location or funnel enemy forces, this truer form of digging is usually made possible by restricting where the digging might be done as well as how deep the player may dig.
- Progression Through Obstacles: Many platforming games will place obstacles on the walls or floors and require the player to obtain some digging implement (or a special digging ability) to break through the obstacle and pass through.
- Primary Game Mechanism: Several games, from platform games (DigDug, Liero) to RTS games (like Dungeon Siege) will start the player in a solid game world and task them with digging through it to create the playing field.
In the majority of cases, digging is a one-way action; A hole, thus created, is usually permanent and cannot be refilled.