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Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games Paperback – August 13, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1466554207 ISBN-10: 1466554207

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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: 0.6 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,332,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

More About the Author

Keith Burgun is a game designer and author who lives in Westchester, NY. He designed the critically-acclaimed mobile games "100 Rogues", and "Empire", as well as the upcoming "Auro: A Tactical Bumping Game".

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 and several other blogs, including his own at

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

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Michael Ardizzone on September 17, 2012
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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44 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Michael Hansen on September 8, 2012
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert M. Seater on September 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Game Design Theory by Keith Burgun is one of my favorite books on game design (I've read many such books, and I have a fair amount of experience with game design).

Most books in this genre make a lot of statements that, while interesting, are too vague to be falsifiable. They are typically afraid to set any clear definition of `game' lest some fringe case be excluded, and their practical value suffers as a result. Keith Burgun's book sets clear definitions, supports those definitions with concrete examples, and sticks to those definitions throughout the books. That kind of formalism is just what the field of game design needs, as Reiner Knizia notes in the book's forward.

Sometimes I agreed with what he said and sometimes I disagreed, but I was always thankful that he actually articulated a position clearly enough that I could agree or disagree. Even when he covered ideas I thought were obvious, I could appreciate the fact that he did it rigorously and carefully. But it's not just a careful theoretical framework - the book provides concrete examples of real games, followed by a specific advice that can be followed by a designer. As such, while the book has value for anyone who plays game, it is of direct practical value to game designers.

Another complaint I have of most books in this genre is that they read like a textbook - they sound dumbed down and condescending, even when delivering real insight. Keith's book reads like he respects the reader, but wants to convince the reader of a point. He is concise and clear, and the book is just the right length. Even if you disagree with him, you will find insight in his carefully formulated arguments and unambiguous definitions!
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