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Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games

3.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1466554207
ISBN-10: 1466554207
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Editorial Reviews


"How do we make better entertaining interactive systems, "games," specifically? That's the question Burgun is trying to answer here, and I think his "philosophy for understanding games" does an excellent job of helping all of its readers answer that question."

- Ryan Rigney
WIRED Contributor

While literature and music, for example, stand on a solid theoretical foundation, the theory of game design is much less developed. … It is possible that thought-provoking books such as this one may be just the spark required to kick start the industrial revolution of game design.
—From the Foreword by Reiner Knizia

About the Author

Keith Burgun is a game designer, writer, composer, and visual artist who has been developing games independently for nearly 20 years. He writes for Gamasutra, Destructoid, and several other popular websites, including his own blog at Dinofarm Games. He is a founding member of Dinofarm Games and produced its first commercial game 100 Rogues for the iOS platform. He also teaches game design and animation courses at local art schools.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: A K Peters/CRC Press (August 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1466554207
  • ISBN-13: 978-1466554207
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,768,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Keith Burgun is a game designer and author who lives in Westchester, NY. He co-founded Dinofarm Games, where he designed the games 100 Rogues and Auro: A Monster-Bumping Adventure.

Keith is the author of "Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games", a book that details his unique lens for analyzing and creating games. He writes for gamasutra.com and several other blogs, including his own at keithburgun.net.

He is a moderator for reddit's "gamedesign" subreddit, and he also has a popular YouTube video series called "3 Minute Game Design".

He teaches game design at several local art schools, such as the Katonah Arts Center and the Pelham Arts Center, as well as running a game design class at SUNY Purchase College.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I agree with much of the meat-and-potatoes of this book. I heartily back-up Burgun's insistence on minimalism, and I agree with his basic assessments of many games. I love mechanically analyzing games, and Burgun is clearly keen on such endeavors as well. It's valuable to perform this kind of analysis with careful thought and clear writing. This book is closer in terms of subject matter to the kinds of analysis that I want to read than most game theorizing I've found.

Unfortunately, Game Design Theory reads like second-draft introductory material. It glosses over complex topics--like how most of the concepts it introduces can actually be used to understand how to design games that players will find more enriching and engaging--and includes a number of flawed or factually incorrect examples. For instance, he erroneously describes rules of both Chess and American Football when he uses them specifically as his only examples for a couple of concepts. The book's value as introductory material is somewhat limited due to its focus on Burgun's ideas to the exclusion of the many other theorists who have written similar material in a much more clear and useful fashion. Burgun provides very little context for his theorizing, aside from occasional dismissals of game industry veterans and vague references to the works of others such as Dave Sirlin. Burgun has no expertise to back up such flat dismissals, considering he has produced, at the time of writing, a single game (though it is well-received), and seems to tend towards irritating readers more than illuminating unique and clear thought. In short, the rigor of his thought and clarity of his writing leave me wanting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I originally read this book quite some time ago (months to a year ago) and meant to write a review for it but always got sidetracked with other things. Although I don't have time right now to give a more detailed review, this book is so different from other game design books and such a refreshing thing to see that it merits me taking the time to provide another review in support of it.

I actually work in the AAA game industry for a living, and this book is a breath of fresh air compared to most of what passes for "game design" in this industry. I've read other books on game design, read tons of articles, played a truly enormous number of games over the course of my life, and I interact with real world game developers on a daily basis. Keith's book, as well as his articles on his website, brings almost everything else I hear about game design from within the industry to shame. They aren't even in the same league, in terms of understanding of what real game design actually is. Currently industry "game design" still for the most part feels like it's in the stone age and this book attempts to truly address the question of what game design means and how we can move forward.

The game industry is in many ways a wonderful place and there is tremendous creativity and intelligence within it. However, Keith addresses the core problems with how the industry currently views game design in the most direct and meaningful way I've ever found anywhere. It is unfortunate that in most of the AAA industry what people call "game design" is actually just "theme design" or "art design" or "story design" or "world design", which are all things that don't necessarily have any direct relevance to true GAME DESIGN.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are many problems with this book, but arguably the biggest problem is that, from the get-go, it seeks to constrain the idea of what makes a game in order to suit the author's own personal taste in games. While there is nothing wrong with having a certain type of game you enjoy the most, it doesn't make for a very interesting book because there's absolutely nothing a reader can gain through reading it. Either the reader already agrees with Mr. Burgun's assumptions, and would therefore have already arrived the conclusions he draws from them, or the reader can't get on board with one or more of them and the whole thing falls apart. The arguments made amount to "this is a good game because it adheres to my definition of 'game.'" This logical fallacy is known as "begging the question."

This kind of "us and them" mentality really does nothing to advance the conversation about game design. It is exclusionary because it seeks to create a class of "real" game designers and a class of "fake" ones. No one who uses the format or tropes of video games and their culture is allowed to call themselves a "game designer" unless their work fits neatly into Mr. Burgun's definition. They are instead relegated to second-class citizenship in the games world with the title of "interactive systems designer." In one of the many instances of arrogance, the author declares, "Is your goal to tell a story? Consider a linear, temporal medium, such as prose, cinema, or comics."

If you're in the market for something more open minded that opens up the possibility space and doesn't completely squash your ideas, let me recommend both Ian Bogost's "How To Do Things With Videogames," and Anna Anthropy's "Rise of the Videogame Zinesters." If not, purchase this book: it will provoke exactly zero thoughts and do absolutely nothing to challenge the elitist echo chamber in which you reside.

Recommended if you like: the works of Ayn Rand, religious fundamentalism
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