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Flashlights in games are primarily used in  three ways, none of which are mutually exclusive:

As part of the atmosphere of the game

Flashlights are particularly useful in horror or survival games. Placing the character in a dark environment and giving them a flashlight which has a very specific area of effect helps add to the foreboding nature of the environment.

As a gameplay mechanic

The most common flashlight mechanics are:
  • Having the light either run on a battery, or charge which runs out as the light is used. This again is mostly in horror or survival games where light can be a life saver.
  • Having your flashlight be one of a very limited number of items your character can hold or use at any time. Doom 3 is one of the most well known examples of this type of mechanic.
  • Having the enemy recognize and react to your light. Almost any modern game that inculdes a flashlight will use this mechanic to discourage the player from running around with what would otherwise be a useful item active at all times.

As part of a puzzle

While not as common these days, a flashlight was often part of a point-and-click adventure puzzle. Whether it was that you had to take the batteries out of the flashlight to power something else, or put batteries into the flashlight so you could go through the dark tunnel, Flashlights and their parts were useful at least as bits of a larger puzzle.

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