A Theory of Fun for Game Design


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One of the many nice things about the book is the illustrations, which are both informative and quirkily entertaining. Highly recommended for anyone who likes games on either the design or playing side of things. A Theory of Fun for Game Design is written by an author who deeply loves games, understands how they work, and believes in them as an art form. As the forward by Will Wright notes, Koster brings a multi-disciplinary method to the examination of games, pulling out basic concepts and breaking them down in a way that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

Summary + PDF: A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Raph Koster

I had to use god mode for the end boss. Molly is really tough! With Gamergate still brewing merrily on Twitter, those last few items seem particularly important. The dressing is tremendously important. The ethical questions surrounding games as murder simulators, games as misogyny, games as undermining traditional values, and so on are not aimed at games themselves. They are aimed at the dressing. A lot of the material overlaps with the ways people enjoy stories, particularly the section about the brain.

The book may also change the way you perceive games when playing them, mainly because Koster talks about them in terms of an art form, like a story or a painting, rather than the trivial pursuit label that sometimes get slapped on such entertainments. Koster believes deeply in the evolution of games to something as immersive and enlightening as any other media.

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In that sense, games are disposable, and boredom is inevitable. And that seems right, in general.


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But this is precisely the kind of thing that interactive fiction tends to lack. Solving an IF game is usually not about this kind of learning. Other IF players have told me they do the same thing. One possible argument here is that interactive fiction is therefore not a game in the sense he intends.

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But other things Koster says do seem to fit:. Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. And he goes on to argue that players are looking for a system that gives them fresh data about a given problem up until the point where they solve the challenge. This need not be motor-skills training; it could be solving a puzzle.

The next chapter, What Games Teach Us , describes most of the current game market as a bit thin — stuff that teaches visceral skills like how to move quickly and reinforces old, not necessarily good attitudes binary opposition of sides, the use of violence. Games are not the stories they tell, Koster argues, and the fun comes from learning and interacting with the rules rather than from the aesthetic appreciation of story.

This, I think, gets at a pretty common issue in the IF community. This irritates me a little. Sure, there are a few pure-narrative works written every year, but if you go by the numbers, far, far more of it is of a fairly traditional sort. I think the implications for IF here are split. That feeling is intensified greatly in a work of IF, in which the player must take direct action to move the story forward, and several IF theorists have suggested that the element of complicity is what gives certain IF stories their special emotional force.

6 books to help you master game design

But there is commitment to following the story through, and sometimes that has its own aesthetic value. On the other hand, there are certainly times when I have felt resentful of the author for making me trudge through his weary narrative, and quitting was an act of rebellion. Even if we leave aside more narrative IF, though, what can we say about the puzzly stuff? What does it teach?

Close reading of texts, perhaps, and thoroughness; these are valuable skills in themselves but not deeply revealing. Or research, investigation, getting to where you understand the world context. Moreover, a lot of IF is about mastering space, in some way or other; Peter Nepstad said of that navigating the territory is one of the puzzles: what one learns from playing it, more than anything about jewel thefts or the nominal plot of the game, is how the fair was laid out and what was on display.


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This time, I could. Not all self-identified serious games or political games have impressed me very much, since some of them seem to trade on their message to excuse them from having to be fun; and in some cases the messages have been quite trite or simple.


  1. Book Review: A Theory of Fun for Game Design.
  2. A Theory of Fun for Game Design.
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  4. By contrast, Super Columbine Massacre , despite all the recent controversy it has generated, sounds as though it turns very much on player complicity to make the story happen, using a fairly standard set of rules which the player may already be able to apply easily. I kept wondering about that Palestine game: are the solutions in its rules at all realistic?

    Do the game designers really know how to resolve this problem since it seems like no one else does? The same can be said about books or movies or any medium in which persuasion is possible in the first place. And what follows might be described as a spoiler, if that is imaginable in a game with no story. The game is almost free of semantic meaning, though the main mechanism appears to be eating, so we assume that we control a small aquatic animal and that our opponents are also small aquatic animals.

    We can eat or be eaten, but — unlike many another game — flOw is paced and designed so that if we want to just hang out for a while, unthreatened, we can.

    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design
    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design
    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design
    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design
    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design
    A Theory of Fun for Game Design A Theory of Fun for Game Design

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