Books: The Art of Game Design

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The Art of Game Design
The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses by Jesse Schell.

I am normally reluctant to review actual “game design” titles. Such texts have proliferated in the last decade with a lot of “3D Game Design for Dummies” titles being churned out. I confess that I do not think very highly of most of these books. Many are not about game design at all, but about game programming, which is a different issue. Of those that do address design issues, most of them still leave me dissatisfied. They usually contain a lot of practical wisdom for particular genres of games, but without an overarching vision. As a result they often end up feeling scrappy and incomplete. Game design has not found its Newton or Einstein and perhaps it never will.

Jesse Schell also acknowledges this problem in the introduction of The Art of Game Design, and he doesn’t pretend to have solved it. In his modesty, however, he may have hit upon a better solution: he has embraced the problem and turned it into an opportunity. Rather than offer a single unified theory of fun, he offers 100 different ‘lenses‘ through which to consider your game. Each lens offers a different perspective on your game and prompts you to ask questions. So for instance the Lens of the Player asks:

To use this lens, stop thinking about your game and start thinking about your player. Ask yourself these questions about the people who will play your game:

  • In general, what do they like?
  • What don’t they like? Why?
  • What do they expect to see in a game?
  • If I were in their place, what would I want to see in a game?
  • What will they like or dislike about my game in particular?

Each lens is backed up by interesting material drawing on Schell’s extensive reading (including many of the texts I have already reviewed) and long-term experience in game design. Jesse was the Creative Director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio and he has a refreshing broad view of games as experiences providing entertainment of many kinds. He is able to lift general principles out of particular games and express them in a way that is much more widely applicable.

This is easily the best book on game design that I have encountered yet. It goes beyond particular genres and mechanics to inspire the kind of thinking that is necessary to wholly new kinds of experiences. I strongly recommend it, and will definitely be adopting it as a text for my future teaching.act

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  • […] lunch I attended Jesse Schell’s talk about his book. His theme was “how to talk about my book without having read it” and he provided a […]

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