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Customer Review

54 of 66 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Theory of Obvious, June 25, 2010
This review is from: A Theory of Fun for Game Design (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 24, 2010 2:10:06 PM PST
Murad Juraev says:
Thanks for the review. What would you recommend to read?

Posted on Dec 25, 2010 6:02:04 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 26, 2010 5:21:21 AM PST
Melante says:
I understand your points and, indeed, the title is misleading if we are looking for an "actual" theory that we can then put straight away into practice in our game designs, but I still think the book have value thanks to its ability to convey the author approach and his vision to game making.
Anyway, if you found this too abstract and you are looking for a more applicable "theory" of fun, I'd probably suggest Dillon's "On the Way to Fun" published by AKPeters which is my personal favorite on the subject.
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