on January 21, 2004
This book is enjoyable for anyone interested in computer game design. However, enjoyable and illuminating are two different things. Beginning with the obviously misguided analysis that computer games are not an art form because the process of designing them is not all a matter of creativity, but that of skill and calculation as well (which is the way it is for any art form), the authors begin a journey of, well, describing what computer games are like.
Overall, the book seems more to describe than explain, more to report than interpret. There arises no general, well defined thesis from its 500+ page volume. At best, this book can be said to raise a lot of issues which a designer ought to have in mind when designing a game.
However, the vast majority of the issues raised are either of secondary importance or generally irrelevant. It breaks down the process of game design into topics in a way which is neither natural nor logical, and proceeds to pursue a rather sizyphusian discussion of each of these topics in turn. These are: What is Game Design?, Game Concepts, Game Settings and Worlds, Storytelling and Narrative, Character Development, Creating the User Experience, Gameplay, and The Internal Economy of games and Game Balancing.
This division makes very little sense. These topics are all so closely related, some to the point of overlapping, that attempting to develop a theorem which deals with each of them separately would result in exactly the kind of negligible book we have before us.
Actually, it would be impossible for the authors to develop any meaningful discussion of their subject, because they fail to define a) what we are trying to create and b) how do we measure our success. Nor can such a definition be induced from this overflous and superficial book. Without this definition, there is nothing that binds the book's pieces together (and, actually, had the authors bothered to provide a rigorous definition, they would have realized that no reasonable definition could be found for the garbled mess they've created), and it remains a pile of expressions in the spirit of "some people did this in some games, and some people did that in some other games". In short, the book does an admirable job in showing how NOT to perform a critical analysis of a subject, not to mention attempt to construct a wholesome theory.
While the book can be interesting at times, mainly because it makes one think on how such a book SHOULD be written, it is chuck full of assertions obviously made on the basis of misunderstandings, like the authors' curious misuse of the term Suspension of Disbelief, or their suggestion of the Hero's Journey narrative template as an object of imitation rather than a tool for analysis.
The authors' goal with this book also seems questionable. At one point, they assert that, even were it possible, we wouldn't like our player to be tormented by remorse after taking an immoral action in the game. Why? isn't moral education one of the most important and unique roles of art? If it were indeed possible, and I'm sure it is, it would've been a glorious achievement for this medium, one which would put all its previous achievements far behind.
Or are the authors only interested in computer games as a source of pure fun? If so, I suggest they invest their impressive talent and enthusiasm in cooking or adult toy design - a medium's greatness lies not in the fun it offers, and these repeatable fields are all about fun.
An interesting book for raising a large scale discussion, but one which falls short of grasping the deeper principles of its subject, and is, therefore, unimportant.