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Theory of Fun for Game Design

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3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  994 ratings  ·  108 reviews
A "Theory of Fun for Game Design" is not your typical how-to book. It features a novel way of teaching interactive designers how to create and improve their designs to incorporate the highest degree of fun. As the book shows, designing for fun is all about making interactive products like games highly entertaining, engaging, and addictive. The book's unique approach of pro...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published November 6th 2004 by O'Reilly Media (first published November 1st 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,207)
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Tom
If I ever teach a class on video games this will be the first book I add to the syllabus. A must-read for gamers, casual gamers and designers of interactive digital environments. More importantly, I think this book is a must-read for parents and teachers. Koster does a great job of explaining what it is about games that eat up so many hours of our kids' and students' lives.
Travis Miller
I wasn't a big fan of this book. I was hoping to learn specific approaches for designing games that are engaging, or which provide certain kinds of experience for the player - how to choose mechanics and fit them together, how to balance a game, how to design rulesets that encourage emergence, how to model the game world intuitively to the player, and so on. What I got was a much squishier affair, more concerned with presenting little parables and going off on scattered tangents into philosophy,...more
Matija
Don't bother with this one. It's just $6 in the Kindle store, or else I wouldn't have even bought it, but I regret it now in any case. Luckily it's quite short, but even so I just skimmed a chapter or two.

To me, this is a collection of sometimes barely coherent stream-of-thought ramblings of a video-game executive, apparently about what makes games fun, though you'd barely know to read it. They don't really seem to have much purpose to it, except to draw attention to how educated and cultured th...more
FiveBooks
Journalist Tom Chatfield of Prospect has chosen to discuss Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun , on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Computer Games, saying that:

“Today we are seeing a new form of it, (Play) but in order to really understand it properly, we need to begin with this really deep evolutionary hold that games have on us. Koster looks at games as something that’s about learning above all, and they are in his phrase ‘chewy’ environments for our brains, where we are performing...more
Tom Coates
It's an incredibly insightful book, and genuinely useful for people trying to create games. Having said that, its basic premise is that all satisfying play is learning and I just don't buy that. The logic seems very flawed to me in this area. It seems to me quite plausible that play or certain kinds of games can be seen as highjacking the satisfaction that you would ideally be getting from an actual accomplishment in real-life, diverting your mastery and craft and intellectual stretching from th...more
Mike
Feb 09, 2007 Mike rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Game Developers
This book is about what psychological elements of video games capture peoples attention. In particular which of these elements create a fun game.

Its very short and written in the format of a children's book with every other page being a full page cartoon of the concept discussed in the previous page. It is not a children's book since they discuss things like "grokking" and pattern recognition.

The author is one of the creative leads for Sony interactive entertainment, so you learn a bit about how...more
Graham Herrli
This is a fun-spirited book. It alternates pages of text with whimsical cartoon. The text on one page continues the idea of the text two pages previous, and the cartoon on one page often continues an idea from the previous cartoon, while also tying in to the text.

This book stands as a call to action to game designers to step beyond the traditional formal abstract systems used in games. Such systems teach skills we would have needed as cavemen (such as aiming, territory, and timing), but Koster p...more
Ellen Guon
How to describe this book? It is enjoyable, entertaining, and the best synopsis of what constitutes "fun" and more importantly, why. Highly recommended for both professional game designers and people interested in working in the field.
Josh K
This is a cute book -- kind of reminded me of Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" or Martin Gardner's "Aha!" The title mostly refers to the first part of the book during which Koster gives a quick overview of his take on a theory of how "fun" works. The second half of the book is more of a manifesto on games as art. People deep in the world of game design might not get much out of this directly -- although it's nice to just see an important game designer's take on the subject. But this book w...more
Jane L.
Apr 08, 2010 Jane L. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in FUN
Surprise! I anticipated a dry read, and found instead a literate, fun and interesting romp through topics related to games and fun including: how the brain processes fun, ethics, what games teach us, why games matter and more.
Kent
Delightful and very readable (i.e., not particularly academic) discussion of "fun" in the context of game design. Well-considered and should be on every game developer's shelf.
Paul Lee
A ludological approach to game theory that I don't think gives enough credit to the similarities between narrative and gameplay, A Theory of Fun for Game Design still has a lot of insight to offer. Its primary contention is that fun comes from learning, and it uses that premise to explain the societal role of games and to offer an interesting take on games-as-art.

The book itself embodies the humble, unpretentious joy that it upholds as the objective of good game design. It is written to be easil...more
Liz
Oct 14, 2014 Liz marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is, in my opinion, an epochal work of media theory, so when I heard this book described as the Understanding Comics of video games, I had to check it out.

This isn't a bad book by any means, but if you're expecting insights on the level of McCloud's, you'll be sorely disappointed.

I made it about halfway through before deciding I wasn't engaged enough to continue. Koster's makes some valid points but a lot of them are pretty obvious. He's very repetitive and ci...more
Nathan Glenn
Aug 28, 2014 Nathan Glenn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tory Anderson
The author starts with a story. His grandfather, close to death, asks him if he is proud of what he has done with his life. The author is a game designer, and his grandfather is worried that his grandson has just played games his whole life.

This was an interesting read, and it was rather short, and half pictures. The author is the creative head at Sony America, and has a wide education in different areas of the humanities: film, music, writing (his main), theatre, painting, etc. He approaches th...more
Ilib4kids
794.81536 KOS 2014
2nd edition
Avery rate 2:

Games he design
ultima online(linux,windows)
LegendMUD (award-winning text-based virtual world)
Star Wars Galaxies

the game Will Wright design
The Sims, SimCity, SimEarth, Spore

the game portraying concepts like social good or honor by Dani Bunten Berry
M.U.L.E; Seven Cities of Gold

Essays
Declaring the Rights of Players
The Laws of Online World Design

Prologue: My grandfather wanted to know whether I felt proud of what I do
P178 A game like trellis, a trellis can...more
Damian
A cute book by the creative lead at Sony Online (Star Wars Galaxies) that tries to be for game design what "Understanding Comics" was for comics. This book has, surprisingly, found its way onto the reading list of many a university game design course -- which is surprising, given that the book's presentation is anything but scholarly.

Ironically, the book is not very well designed from a user-experience point of view. In each 2-page spread, the left page contains text, while the right page contai...more
Christa Hartsock
Raph Koster's account for what games are was entirely unsatisfying to me at best, and at worst seemed to limit the genre to success via mechanics, even at the expense of narrative.

I feel like part of my frustrations with the book are due to a changing paradigm (the book was written ten years ago, which feels like eons in game space), and that change in paradigm is what has brought me to games. I can admire craft in design of the game system, but I do not feel that is by far the most important p...more
Krzysztof
I guess many people, me included, can be a bit disappointed in this book, because of a wrong assumption. The title is a bit misleading - it suggests this book is going to contain some good tips on how to create games, some general guidelines, or practical ideas and solutions to problems with game design. In fact, it does neither of these things. Koster's book is that first part of the title - a theory. It is a theory which can have a great impact on video game design, but as a theory, it is very...more
James
Kind of disappointing, maybe because I read it right after Castronova's Synthetic Worlds and Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
There is some very interesting content in this book, along with some thought-provoking surprises about the sometimes-flimsy connection between a game's mechanics and its outward appearance and theme. It's also interesting in its exploration of the nature of fun, a more complicated subject than it seems at first glance.
However, it's incre...more
Shay Pierce
Mar 16, 2010 Shay Pierce rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: game designers
A very good book with a very good fundamental lesson about what is really at the core of gameplay: learning.

Honestly though, I had read that thesis of the book beforehand, mostly on Raph's blog... and actually reading the book did little to expound on the idea. While the idea is profound and important, it's also fairly simple and doesn't really require an entirely book to establish.

That's probably why the book spins off in such wildly different directions. I suppose that if I were writing a game...more
Zach
I picked this up primarily because I was interested in fun-as-mastery, which is Koster's whole gig. Koster does in fact put up his thesis pretty early: Games are systems that teach the player how to play. Playing is a form of learning. We grow bored when we grok the game entirely (either through mastery of that game, or mastery of another game like it) or when the game presents us with too much noise and we have no chance of understanding the underlying system. Therefore: games are fun when they...more
Carlos Garcia
Nunca antes habia visto lo divertido que puede ser el aprendizaje. Este libro no solo es acerca de la diversion como una herramienta para el aprendizaje, sino que predica con el ejemplo al hacer de cada parrafo algo de lo que disfrutas sin que siquiera tengas que recapacitar en ello.

Raph Koster (aclamado Game Designer) ha encerrado muchisimo conocimiento proveniente de distintos temas en este libro, desde psicologia de la educacion, hasta filosofia y musica, y como todos ellos se relacionan en e...more
Nicolay Hvidsten
Raph Koster, a rather celebrated game designer (and former creative head of Sony’s game department), tries to explain just exactly what video games are, and in the process of doing this takes on what he feels are common misconceptions about video games. Like McCloud, Koster feels like his medium of choice (of course, he obfuscates this point - but more on that later) is misunderstood, and that it deserves a cultural status akin to that of literature and art. To defend his position, he goes on in...more
Eric Kolb
I purchased this book not because I'm working on a (non-electronic) game development project and I was looking for a grounding wire, some perspective to keep me focused on some core principles and avoid going off the deep end with game design boondoggle. Koster's book proved to be incredibly effective at just that.

Rather than following the shiny lights and starting with the recent history of game design, Koster begins at the beginning, the simplest building block: fun. A good portion of the disc...more
Chris
From playing cops and robbers to playing house, play is about learning life skills.
-----
Fun, as I define it, is the feedback the brain gives us when we are absorbing patterns for learning purposes.
-----
Games aren't stories. Games aren't about beauty or delight. Games aren't about jockeying for social status. They stand, in their own right, as something incredibly valuable. Fun is learning in a context where there is no pressure, and that is why games matter.

-----

Before I put these ideas into my...more
Juan Mejias
It's good that books on Game Design Theory are being written, and this is a fun and not completely clueless one, but I disagreed with many of the statements. In particular, its central definition of games as a learning tool misses the point of what the enjoyment of games is really about.

That definition is ultimately very empoverishing, and it undermines all that comes afterwards, not least the aspiration of games as an art form. In the end, I think Koster actually underestimates games and what...more
Serge Pierro
Raph Koster presents an interesting look into the idea of fun in game design. This should be considered as a philosophical approach to the subject - as compared to an instructional one. Interesting thoughts are presented throughout, though this is clearly his personal thoughts, and have to be taken as such.

Oddly enough, this is the second book that I've read on Game Design, that featured a layout of a page of text on the left, and an image/cartoon on the right. However, unlike the previous boo...more
Erin
Koster isn't subtle, but he's probably right.
"A huge number of games simulate forms of combat. Even games ostensibly about building are usually framed competitively. Given that we’re basically hierarchical and strongly tribal primates, it’s not surprising that most of the basic lessons we are taught by our early childhood play are about power and status. Think about how important these lessons are within society, regardless of your particular culture. Games almost always teach us tools for being...more
Daniel Hadlock
This book is an excellent starting point to give a game designer a foundational seed bed to then populate with ideas. Leaving the question of "how" unanswered while attempting to help us know "why".

Recommend for new game designers as well as those that are concerned about games their loved ones may play.
Carl Klutzke
It's a comic book about games, and what makes them fun. Rather like Understanding Comics, except that means it should be a game rather than a book. Anyway, it's a good book about the nature of Fun, and it's also a quick and engaging read.
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Raph Koster is a veteran game designer who has been professionally credited in almost every area of the game industry. He's been the lead designer and director of massive titles such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies; and he's contributed writing, art, soundtrack music, and programming to many more titles ranging from Facebook games to single-player titles for handheld consoles.

Koster is wid...more
More about Raph Koster...
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“That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.” 0 likes
“Noise is any pattern we don't understand. [...] If we perceive something as noise, it's most likely a failure of ourselves, not a failure of the universe.” 0 likes
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