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The well-played game: A player's philosophy Paperback – 1978

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews


This is one of the most brilliant and overlooked books on games to date. For anyone interested in playing, studying, designing, or writing about games, this should be a perennial and oft-referenced bookshelf companion.

(Celia Pearce, author of Communities of Play)

The Well-Played Game focuses on a kind of fun that is unfortunately not normally associated with games, and certainly not with sports. I like to think of it as 'kindly fun' -- like the fun that families share when they are enjoying each other, or the fun that children share with each other when they are feeling safe and free from supervision. The book is remarkable, because it demonstrates that kindly fun is not only something that people experience, but something that can be nurtured and extended throughout an entire community.

(Brian Sutton-Smith, author of The Ambiguity of Play)

In a world filled with technologies and devices devoted to diversion, we need this very human reminder of what really matters in games: how we are able to challenge, support, and discover each other through play, and to create communities of fun that can last a single round or many generations.

(Tracy Fullerton, author of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, 2nd Edition)

Play is fascinating, especially when shown to us through the delicate and generous gaze of this seasoned player. To De Koven, play is an act of imagination, generosity, delight, danger, and to risk sounding cheesy, love. From the most generous spirit the game industry has ever witnessed, read this moving meditation on being a genuine human being.

(Mary Flanagan, author of Critical Play)

...this book is a must-read for game designers and game players who may wish to tweak the games they play to make playing more rewarding. I would go even further. Because it is so delightful to read, I recommend it to anyone who likes a thought-provoking, intellectual journal. The writing style is deceptively simple. As you read, you wonder to yourself, "Can it really be this easy?" But don't kid yourself; this is a book that can be read again and again for new insights each time.

(Computing Reviews)

This book is important. If you have not read it, read it. If you already have, browse it and you will almost certainly find small details and aspects of play and games that you already knew but failed to take into account. And, more importantly, please rewrite this book in a different tone, in a different format, make YouTube videos about some of its ideas, create web comics about them, share the stories with your students, use its anecdotes in your own work. That is the way that classics are supposed to be dealt with.

(Gonzalo Frasca Game Studies) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Bernard De Koven is a game designer and theorist of fun. He was a codirector of the New Games Foundation and a founder of the Games Preserve. He is the author of Junkyard Sports and the creator of the website deepfun.com. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Press; 1st Anchor books ed edition (1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385132689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385132688
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,070,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game, originally published by Doubleday-Dolphin in 1978, it served as the philosophical underpinnings of The New Games Foundation. Reprinted in 2013 by MIT Press, The Well-Played Game has become a seminal resource for videogame designers as well as youth leaders and physical educators. His full bio is on his website at http://www.deepfun.com/bernie/.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As I read and then re-read this new edition of The Well-Played Game, a book first published in 1978, I was again reminded of another book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses a state (i.e. "flow") during which creative artists, for example, are not consciously thinking about the next note to play or the next stroke to make on a painting. Athletes call it being in a "zone" as when Michael Jordan feels that he will make every a basketball shot or when Tiger Woods feels that he will sink every golf putt. That does not mean that their actions are random or mechanical or that optimal performance will continue indefinitely. Those in a "flow" feel as if guided by a set of internalized rules or strategies. These rules influence the result but those involved do not need to consciously "will" each intention in action. Results occur naturally if allowed to.

Bernie De Koven would describe it as "a well-played game." In fact, he describes the state of mind/heart/spirit as an experience that transcends games, just as the games you will read about in his book "transcend the historical, geographic, social, and physical circumstances that divide us. It is not about any particular game, but about the spirit of play itself. Nor is it about any particular player, but about the relationship between players in pursuit of fun." He believes -- and I agree -- that children's games are truly theater, and that, like all good theater, they capture the human condition, they reveal the essence of optimal humanity.
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Format: Hardcover
This slightly revised reprint of a classic book on playing games (originally published in 1978) is not just an enlightening book on the structure and purposes of games, but is also (maybe MORE so) an entertaining and even profound look at one of the least examined aspects of human social interaction – the human compulsion to play, to create games. You might not think of games as having an obvious survival purpose, but all human societies have games. There must be something deeply important about them. De Koven could have turned these observations into a dull degree thesis; but instead the treatment is humorous and involving. We all play games from peek-a-boo with our children to war games, board games, sports, political games, and subtle undeclared games in many areas of our work lives and relationships. De Koven concentrates on declared games that people choose to participate in; but the lessons learned can be applied more broadly.

Every chapter contains surprises, as De Koven points out the importance of a “well-played game” – a game that all participants can enjoy and gain something from. If you don’t play “well” (including giving good effort, playing fairly, and a lot of other characteristics), people won’t want to play with you anymore. And you won’t get as much enjoyment from the game either. He points out that a game is a “shared experience” -- “not just one-on-one but one *with* one.” He also writes extensively about “gaming communities,” a group of people who come together to play. This could be your family or a group of friends or some huge number of people at a convention.
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Format: Paperback
This book may have been written a long time ago but much of its principles still hold true today. His narrative is quite different from what you would normally expect (first person POV) but it makes for a fascinating read. I highly recommend it for ANYONE in game design.
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Format: Hardcover
As an avid board gamer, there's an attitude I come across a lot that the only right way to play a game is for every player to be doing their utmost to win, which I take to mean always making moves that maximise their probability of winning (or at least their estimate of it). The high priest of this school is David Sirlin, whose 'playing to win' manifesto denounces those who don't exploit every opportunity the game gives them to win as 'scrubs'.

But while all games give their players a goal, I've never seen one that makes 'playing to win' a rule. And when I started brainstorming things we do in games that can actually reduce our chances of winning, I came up with a bunch.

- levelling the playing field. Handicaps are commonly adopted by players with mismatched skill levels, whether parent against child or Go master against novice.

- giving hints. For example, I often point out to a new player at the start of a game of Kingdom Builder that it's not a great idea to touch several different terrains with your first move.

- 'playing nice'. When I play Ticket to Ride with my wife, we have an informal agreement that we don't block for the sake of blocking, only if it's a route you need yourself. Carcassonne is another game that allows 'nice' and 'nasty' modes of play. I don't see nasty play as inherently superior.

- humour. Playing Love Letter, I'll often do something because it's funny, even if it isn't strictly my 'best' move.

- exploration. It can be fun to try out new strategies in a game, even if you think they might not work. I got bored of always doing the same thing in Puerto Rico and forbade myself from buying the Factory, even though I knew I was more likely to win with it.

- to keep playing.
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