Apr 3 2017
Game Design 101
Here's a rather eclectic and absolutely personal list of books on game design I've been reading and using in the past 7-8 years. Note that most of these approach games from a theoretical perspective ("what is a game, I wonder") rather than from a practical perspective ("how to design a game in five simple steps").
For those of you who want to have a slightly more cohesive overview, the slide decks from my Game Design course (1. Structure of games, 2. Game space, 3. Formal elements of games, 4. Dramatic elements and player embodiment) which synthesize some of the core concepts from a few of these books might be a good introduction. If you are interested in the liminal territory of new media design, here's also my 2014 World IA Day Bristol presentation It's pitch black. You're likely to be eaten by a grue (with notes), mostly dealing with the idea of place in games and its ties to the information architecture of infospace.
The list is in alphabetic order by author, contains only books and all entries link back to their Amazon pages. I'll probably make another list with articles and papers (there's way too many good ones), and the dozen books which are already sitting on my bookshelf but I haven't read yet, including Bogost's “Unit Operation” and Barton's “Dungeons and Desktops”. As always, I hope you'll find it useful. Drop me a line if you have questions. Or ping me on Twitter.
Aarseth, E. J. (1997)
Cybertext. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Aarseth's seminal book on ergodic literature, and its application to games as narratives that require effort to be traversed. An important book in the ongoing theoretical conversation surrounding videogames. Bonus points for using MUDs as examples (among many other literary and non-literary works).
Botermans, J., Burrett, T., van Delft, P. and van Splunteren, C. (1987)
The World of Games. Plenary Publications.
Must-have for those who are interested in the history of games, unfortunately out of print but you can still get hold of used copies even through Amazon. The book also teaches you how to play the games, and how to build your own boards and props.
Bogost, I. (2007).
Persuasive Games. The MIT Press.
Bogost's argument is that videogames introduce a new type of rhetoric that he calls procedural rhetoric, based on rules and structured interactions. The book lays the foundations of his analysis in Chapter 1, and then looks at how videogames can support or disrupt social and cultural stances in the fields of education, politics, and advertising in three subsequent sections.
Brathwaite, B. and Schreiber, I. (2009)
Challenges for Game Designers. Course Technology.
"Non-digital exercises for video game designers" is the book's subtitle. This is a book that deals in detail with the elements and mechanics of videogames and then provides "challenges" in which those elements can be explored, strictly in non-digital, lo-fi format. Also provides an overview of serious games, casual games, and social games mechanics.
Carr, D., Buckingham, D., Burn, A., and Schott, G. (2006)
Computer Games - Text, Narrative, and Play. Polity Press.
Academic book with interesting chapters on a taxonomy of game genres (2), games and narrative (3), play and pleasure (4), space and navigation (5), and adaptation (11).
Chatfield, T. (2010)
Fun Inc. Virgin Books.
A fairly obscure book that approaches the gaming industry (and its value proposition) from the point of view of business.
Donovan, T. (2010)
Replay - The History of Video Games. Yellow Ant.
A tad unstructured, and a 500 page behemoth, but still a necessary read for those interested in the history of gaming.
Dovey, J. and Kennedy, H. W. (2006)
Game Cultures. Open University Press.
An interesting but uneven academic book on games from the perspective of embodiment. Read if interested in the theory of games and / or in the concept of spatiality and sense of place. Gives a good overview of the central role "play" now occupies in the consumption and production of culture.
Fullerton. T. (2008)
Games Design Workshop. Morgan Kaufmann.
A fundamental book providing a structured way to break down games into systems (formal, dramatic) and elements (resources, procedures, rules, premise, story, character) that you can understand and manipulate. If you are interested in the structure and mechanics of games and how they impact gameplay and you have a one-book policy, this is the one.
Gazzard, A. (2013)
Mazes in Videogames. McFarland Publishers.
If maps, labirynths, dungeons, and wayfinding are what gets you hooked to games, read no further and go fetch a copy of Alison Gazzard's book. You won't regret it.
Goldberg, H. (2011)
All Your Base Are Belong To Us. Three Rivers Press.
The thinnest "history" book in the pack and the one you can probably leave behind unless history is your thing. While some readers point to the (existing) inaccuracies, what left me a bit disappointed is that the book doesn't really explain how "fifty years of videogames conquered pop culture" (its subtittle), but rather provides a prevalently business-centered vision of the videogame industry.
Harrigan, P. and Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2007)
Second Person - Role Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media. The MIT Press.
A sort of follow-up to "First Person" and a collection of essays on role playing and game narrative spanning tabletop and digital games. Your mileage may vary, but some of the contributions (especially those on pen and paper and dice role playing) are definitely worth a read.
Hiwiller, Z. (2016)
Players Making Decisions. New Riders.
Probably the most UX-y book in this list, this is all about what happens at the intersection of game mechanics and players behavior, with plenty of attention devoted to the psychology of playing and its influence on the player's enjoyment of the game itself. Recommended.
Hjorth, L. (2011)
Games and gaming. Berg.
Academic book, focusing on games as new media. Interesting chapters on gaming cultures in Asia, online identity, and locative games. For specialists.
Howard, J. (2008)
Quests - Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. A. K. Peters.
An ideal companion to Gazzard's, but a somewhat difficult book that spans English literature and specific toolsets for specific games. Still valuable for the way it illustrates the connection between the traditional quest, its narrative, the space in which it develops, and how that can be translated to games.
Juul, J. (2012)
A Casual Revolution. The MIT Press.
Jesper Juul's second book follows the rise of casual gaming and the consequences of the widening of the audience playing games, both in terms of age and gender.
Kent, S. L. (1997)
The Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press.
Larger than Donovan's with its 620+ pages, is probably one of the most detailed histories around and one of those you have to read if history is what you are interested in.
King, G. and Krzywinska, T. (2006)
Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders - Videogame Forms and Contexts. J. B. Tauris & Co.
An academic book centered on what games offer players. Light on examples and unapologetically conceptual, this can be a tough read. Chapter 1 on context and chapter 4 on the political implications of gaming are probably the most interesting and accessible.
Koster, R. (2005)
A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Paraglyph Press.
A book that tries to address the problem of all problems: why some games are fun and others bore us to death. Koster was creative lead for Ultima Online and his own voice (and sketches) is heard loud and clear all throughout the book, supporting his narrative and his point of view. If you are interested in information architecture and user experience, you should read this.
Loguidice, B. and Barton, M. (2009)
Vintage Games. Focal Press.
Any book that introduces horror games discussing the original "Alone in the Dark" (Infogrames, 1992) has my full attention. The history of videogames through a list of what the authors consider masterpieces or pivotal points. A must have for anyone under 30.
Mechner, J. (2011)
The Making of Prince of Persia - Journals 1985-1993. CSIPP.
Jordan Mechner's diary of the ideation and development of the 1992 Prince of Persia game. A must read for everyone interested in the early days of game design. The diaries are also freely available at Mechner's website in a variety of formats.
Rogers, S. (2014)
Level Up!. Wiley.
One of the books I used in my game design courses. If you are looking for a book teaching you how to design a game piece by piece or step by step, this one is pretty good and very practical. Students loved it.
Schell, J. (2009)
The Art of Game Design. Morgan Kaufmann.
Subtitled "A book of lenses", Schell's approaches game design through a systemic view based on four basic elements (aesthetics, mechanics, technology, and story) and 100 intervention points such as surprise, action, or functional space, the lenses. A good book if you are looking for an alternative to Fullerton's.
Tavinor, G. (2009)
The Art of Videogames. Wiley-Blackwell.
One of the few books in this list that tackles the long-standing question of whether videogames are art or not. While Tavinor is a self-declared gamer, the book does not shy away from properly dealing with the theoretical and philosophical foundations that (according to Tavinor) allow to situate games as their own art form within the vast landscape of new media. An intriguing book, not for those who are only looking for practical insights into game building.
Totten, C. W. (2014)
An Architectural Approach to Level Design. A. K. Peters.
Interested in architecture? Spatial theory? Placemaking? Videogames? The impact these have on information architecture and user experience? Do yourself a favor and go buy this book. You'll thank me later. An absolute gem.