“Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster; O’Reilly Media

This book promises to help you understand the major cultural force that is games and to inspire you to do better than current game designers. The books highlights ‘fun’ and how this concept relates to games both digital and traditional games. Unfortunately I have to admit to not finding the book much fun to read. It’s problem is not that it is a stale treatise on game design, rather  the opposite  that it is a rambling essay on the author’s thoughts about game design and the human condition. I initially found the book interesting, but soon got frustrated with the lack of discussion about the implications of the theories being discussed for game design and the lack of examples to back up the opinions. The book has its thought provoking moments, but these are often reactionary to the strong personal opinions being put forward or through reading a lot between the lines. There are points made about what the future of game design ought to being doing, how current games designers are doing it wrong, but there is a lack of discussion of examples good and bad, or how these different future games might look or work.

If you are looking  for ideas about why games look and behave the way they do now, why many are repetitive, derivative and fairly stagnant at this point in time, and want an opinion about they could evolve in the future then this book will be of interest to you. If you’re interested in games design and why people want to play games, then you will probably find this interesting and easier to read than a formal book on game design theory. If you want a book that will give you ideas for the an entirely revolutionary game, it might give you that so long as you can read between the lines and make the leap on your own.

The book was apparently written based on slides from a games conference presentation, and that is the feel that comes across in the book. It is divided loosely into chapters, but it doesn’t feel like it coherently brings everything together. The many ‘factual’ statements are referenced throughout each chapter, although very little of the referenced literature is discussed in any detail, and many of the implications of the statements are left undiscussed and rather interpreted from the author’s world view. Rather ironic given that some of it is about the theory of ‘chunking’ and how our previous knowledge affects the way we interact with the world! Also, I don’t whether this is a problem in the e-edition only, but the references are all asterisks, so it isn’t easy to look up what was mentioned in the text, although the final section does contain the references with a short description of each.

What I did like about the book was the little cartoons, without which the book would have been very dry. What I didn’t like was the 42 quotes about ‘how great this book is’ and the ‘this author is really talented and famous’ sections at the beginning of the book. I get suspicious when I need that much reassurance that the book I’m about to read is brilliant and going to change my life. It isn’t, it didn’t. Sorry.

For more information, see the O’Reilly product page.


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