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I was recently researching the stealth mechanics of several games and I stumbled across the distinction of "stealth" (eg. Splinter Cell series) vs "social stealth" (eg. Assassin's Creed series).

What exactly is the difference between these two terms?

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Classic stealth is typically when you're using occlusion, camouflage, darkness, silence, disabling of detectors, and inanimate distractions (like throwing a rock to make someone look the other way) to hide your presence.

Social stealth is when you're using a crowd or disguise to hide your identity as a threat.

Basically, if it entails a person other than you and the observer you want to hide from (like an authorized person you're impersonating, or townsfolk you've riled up by throwing money to distract guards in an Assassin's Creed game), it's typically deemed "social."

Both can overlap and achieve the goal that an opponent doesn't know where the threat is. The trick with social stealth is they might be aware of your presence, but just don't identify you as a threat, because you pass for someone who's supposed to be there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another way to understand this is by considering "social stealth" a subtype of "social engineering." Take your common tailgating attack on a business place. A threat-agent wishes to enter, but he knows he doesn't have a valid id-badge. To gain entry he therefore dresses like an employee and approaches the door at the same time a legitimate employee does, asking them to hold the door for him. By convincing the real employee that they are coworkers the threat-agent is let into the building without a second glance. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Mar 22 '16 at 21:13
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Going to quote Wikipedia on this, but it looks like social stealth is subtype of stealth.

From Wikipedia's article on Stealth Game:

In 2007, Assassin's Creed employed a social element to the stealth game, where the player is able to hide among crowds of civilians by taking care to blend in.

Poking around in a few other places, the distinction vs. other subtypes of stealth (evading via silence, evading via locomotion, evading via visually hidden, evading via distraction, etc.) seems to be that social stealth involves blending in to social environments via conforming to certain social norms to escape detection.

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Stealth can be thought of as trying to avoid attracting attention by making it seem like you're not there.

Social stealth can be thought of as trying to avoid attracting attention by making it look like you belong there.

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