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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(1 star). Show all reviews
on May 10, 2013
I have just finished reading all of the other 1 star reviews of this book, and I agree with all of them 100%.

That being said, I was actually far more disgusted with a different aspect of the book.

Here are a couple of quotes from chapter 6.

"In recent years, much study has been centered on gender differences....One researcher in the U.K., Simon Baron-Cohen, has concluded that there are "systematizing brains" and "empathizing brains....Men are more likely to have systematizing brains, and women more likely to have empathizing brains." pg. 102

"It's clear that players tend to prefer certain types of games in ways that seem to correspond to their personalities. It is equally clear that different people bring different experiences to the table that leave them with differing levels of ability in solving given types of problems....What does all this mean for game designers? It means that not only will a given game be unlikely to appeal to everyone, but that it is probably impossible for it to do so." pg. 104

"For years now, the video game industry has struggled with lack of appeal of games to the female audience. Many reasons have been advanced for this---the rampant sexism in video games....the juvenile themes....Perhaps the answer is simpler. Maybe games are more likely to appeal to young males because these players happen to have the sort of brain that works well with formal abstract reasoning systems." pg. 106

"As games become more prevalent in society, however, we'll likely see more young girls using the amazing brain-rewiring abilities of games to train themselves up." pg. 108

In other words, chapter 6 is devoted to explaining the gender differences found among video game players by using pseudopsychology to "prove" that women are basically just to illogical and stupid to be able to handle solving puzzles like the ones found in video games. (On the bright side, he does have hope that someday we might learn not to be so illogical and stupid! Oh JOY!)

I am currently a university student studying for a Game Development degree. I already have a B.S. of Psychology from a different university. I am female.

I did not find chapter 6 amusing.

I would dearly like to hunt down Raph Koster and use some "formal abstract reasoning" to explain to him why he is an idiot.

Are there differences between males and females? Yes, of course there are. The author of "A Theory of Fun," however, clearly has not got a clue what those differences are or how those differences would impact a female's desire to play video games. If his view on the subject is typical of video game designers in general, it is not hard to deduce why video games do not perform well among female audiences.

FYI, many females do not respond well to being condescended to or patronized. They also dislike being insulted.

The only good thing I have to say about my experience with the book is that I borrowed it from my university library, and didn't actually pay money for this drivel.
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on April 4, 2013
I'm surprised at the review ratings that this book has received. Despite nearly every reviewers' comment finding big problems with this book, the ratings remain high. I value my time and my money and this book is worth spending neither.

I read this book after reading Brian Tinsman's "The Game Inventor's Guidebook", which I strongly recommend. He referenced this book so I ordered. Long story short is that this book does nothing for you if you're interested in developing a game.

Several other reviewers have pointed out that the title of this book is very misleading. That's to put it mildly. There is no theory presented or anything coming close to scientific reasoning upon with to base some new thinking. I was hoping for some new insight or approach but found only dribble. The author does not really get into "fun", what it is, how to achieve it in a game, or anything else particularly useful. The author does provide dictionary definitions of common terms at the start of nearly every chapter.

The author equates "fun" with "educational" and says that the biggest aspect determining whether or not a game is fun is if you are learning. I'm sorry, but I have an entire industry of "educational" games that beg to differ. I think the author's point may be that learning is easier or more effective or more fun when the method of learning is fun. While that may be true, it's also true of just about anything. There's nothing inherent about learning or education that leads to "fun" in this regard.

The author picked up a term "grok" or "grokking" from some other text and uses it extensively through the book as if it were a real word, a word that the reader is familiar with, or a word that has some special meaning. If there is a special meaning, it was lost on me. As best I could figure out, "grok" was used to mean "understand" or "master" or the like. Of course, the use of common English words instead of made up words would make the reading much more schlopable. (That's my own made up word - I haven't yet decided what it means. You get the picture.)

The illustrations used are pretty low quality and childish. They look like single drafts with little or no effort put in to refine the illustrations. They're basically for ignoring, although I found myself getting frustrated or annoyed everytime I looked at one expecting added context. (I'm not good as just ignoring a thing.)

The author repeatedly provides the example of how Tic Tac Toe is a game that is initially "fun", but once you "grok" it you stop playing it. This one example of this one game appears to be the basis for the entire book, with the author believing his superficial understanding of how one can get bored with a game is some deep insight that deserves an entire book.

I have a new definition of "grokking" and this book is it! It was a grokking waste of my time.
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on November 12, 2010
I'll start by saying what i do, and why i chose this book. I'm an independent game developer and i've made games that currently sell on the XBOX Live market place. I wanted to pick up this book, in hopes of furthering my studies on the "science of fun". So many people give this book rave reviews, so i bought it.

Actual chapter content is 222 pages, however, literally every other page is an illustration, which in most cases, does not illustrate anything. So, you are buying 111 pages of readable content.

None of the illustrations are informative. I think the author just needed to fulfill a contractual obligation on page count, and someone forgot to put a stipulation into the contract that "half the book can't consist of worthless doodles".

I was hoping for an intelligent analysis of game mechanics, and how they work into the author's theories of fun. Instead, the book reads very much like a conversation with an old man who just keeps talking in circles, and saying very obvious things about human nature.

The first 80 pages are just broad generalizations of "how the brain works". If i wanted to know about that, i would pick up a book written by someone who is dedicated to that field of study.

This book should have been a 10 page article in a magazine. Instead, the author takes 10 pages worth of content, and spreads it out over 222 pages of long winded explanation of painfully obvious things.... "Gamers get bored after they master a game, let me tell you a story about that" ...... really?!

Considering the "skip to chapter 5" advice, you should go to a local bookstore that has this book, and you should be able to read the whole thing standing up before your coffee gets cold.

This book is neat for about 10 minutes and is definitely not worth owning.
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on June 25, 2010
Like many other books about game development, Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun For Game Design is, implicitly, misleading in its title. There really isn't much about the practice of game design in this book. Instead it is more of a paean to game design by a long-time practitioner. The book is full of anecdotes, jokes, asides, and other errata from the life of a game designer. It's a form of swan song, a 'my life in games, and why I lived it' type of thing.

This isn't necessarily bad, but the potential buyer should be aware of this fact. One certainly wouldn't deduce this fact by reading the gushing praise other game industry veterans have lavished upon the book. Everyone from Will Wright to Scott Miller insists that you must have this book if you want to learn about game design. Perhaps this says more about the integrity of the peer review process than anything else. But I digress.

The primary source of my disappointment with this book is how little it actually conveys regarding the process of game design. Once one discounts the cartoons (which appear on every other page, taking up a full page), the anecdotes, the jokes, the stories about music and children ... there really isn't much content remaining. And what does remain is often either obvious, redundant, or just plain wrong.

In the 'just plain wrong' area, Raph commits many errors. He states that with a book one cannot practice a pattern or run permutations on it (makes me wonder what all those math and programming books I purchased were good for). He states that humans cannot comprehend language that is 'too deeply nested' (which is completely false - any rule of language can be learned with practice).

In the 'obvious' camp, Raph informs us that games are 'puzzles to solve'. The only difference between a game and real life, he posits, is that 'the stakes are lower with games'. A good game is one that conveys 'everything it has to offer before the player stops playing'. And, in a head-smackingly obvious conclusion, Raph asserts that 'the more constraints your game has, the more limited it will be'.

Obviously any critique of anything, be it music, writing, or art, is considerably subjective. My opinion might well differ from yours in many areas. But I think I can safely say that this level of writing is below standard. I cannot imagine, really, what anyone could learn regarding game design from this book ... unless they came at it with no knowledge of what a game is.

And this is what leads me to my conclusion: that this book is intended for children, or for someone with a child's level of understanding of games - essentially, for an outsider. The level of writing, the amateurish cartoons, the dialogue itself, all seem intended for a person who has absolutely no knowledge of what a game is, why people play games, what fun is, what boredom is ... it's instructive in a manner that is entirely facile and pedantic; rather like a pop-up book about the solar system helpfully explaining that when the sun goes away, the sky becomes dark.

Perhaps in some hippie, 70's-culture fashion, this is meant to unlock the child in all of us. But I just found the experience exasperating. I don't expect a person with years of experience in an industry to speak to me about it as if he were cooing to a child. And I expect that, if someone with such experience were to write a book, they would have something important to convey - some information that I could not find elsewhere, or deduce myself. Otherwise, why would I purchase the book?

In the end, this book simply has very little knowledge to convey. Games are puzzles. People enjoy solving puzzles. People become bored with puzzles that they can solve too easily, and frustrated with ones that are too hard. Water is wet. The sky is blue. Et cetera.
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on November 15, 2006
It's a somewhat random collection of thoughts about why it's ok to be a game designer with half of the pages containing some kind of drawing or cartoon. It says very little of substance and doesn't constitute a theory in the technical sense of the word. There's very little to say for this, except that it wasn't all that expensive and the cover looks good.
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on July 2, 2006
Raph Koster is clearly a man in love with his own ideas. His writing is full of self-indulgent babbling about very simplistic ideas. He seems to think that he's the only one who's ever thought about games and the way people play them.

There is no real theory in this book. He never makes any clear thesis statement, or presents much evidence to shore up any substantial conclusions. This book is simply a random assortment of long-winded but simplistic opinions, accompanied by childish cartoons.

This book is a shining example of the current trend in internet circles towards communal self-aggrandizement. Seemingly every new media community is full of its own importance, and believes it has the key to leading humanity into a golden age of wonderfulness.

I would however remind Mr. Koster's audience that so far, he has given the world: Ultima Online, an interesting but dull take on the Arthurian mythos, Everquest, another dull hack 'n slash prize quest game, and Star Wars Galaxies, a game with the barest of gameplay at launch that rapidly spiraled into the gaming toilet.

So far, his "theory of fun" hasn't produced much fun in reality.
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Here is an actual sentence from page 104 of "A Theory Of Fun:"

"It is...clear that different people bring different experiences to the table that leave them with differing levels of ability in solving given types of problems."

This particular sentence is representative of the author's "theory": it's both a) obfuscatorily verbose, and b) so entirely self-evident (i.e, every individual approaches a given situation differently) that you might feel a bit ripped-off that you actually paid money to have someone tell you that. (In case it isn't clear enough, though, the author includes a little cartoon on every facing page to illustrate.) The parts of the book that actually purport to deal with game design are all along this line: retardedly simple "ideas" presented at drawn-out length in patronizing, management-consultant language.

However, it gets worse: large swaths of "A Theory Of Fun" are devoted to the author's windy pronouncements on "art" and "ethics." I can't even begin to describe these parts except to offer another excerpt (from page 174):

"There is a crucial difference between games portraying the human condition and the human condition merely existing within games. The latter is interesting in an academic sense, but it is unsurprising. The human condition manifests anywhere."

Huh? Try as I might, I have no idea at all what those three sentences are supposed to mean, either in the context of game design or any other context.

To conclude, if you're interested in reading this, hunt down a copy at the library or borrow it before you drop any cash on it.
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