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Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  853 ratings  ·  45 reviews
An impassioned look at games and game design that offers the most ambitious framework for understanding them to date.As pop culture, games are as important as film or television--but game design has yet to develop a theoretical framework or critical vocabulary. In Rules of Play Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman present a much-needed primer for this emerging field. They offer ...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published September 25th 2003 by MIT Press
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  853 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Graham Herrli
This dry, yet thorough, book draws upon research and theory in sundry fields (such as cybernetics, probability, and systems theory) to develop a thorough theory of game design as a field of its own.

One thing this book does both repeatedly and well is to describe a fundamental game structure and then suggest a modification of this structure that inspires thoughts of entire games based upon that tweak. For example, after describing the formal properties of poker rules, they suggest that a new gam
stephen k
May 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
I did a lot of skimming here. The authors don't begin to understand how video games differ from traditional games or how to talk about them as the remarkably novel creation that they are. As a result, they write almost entirely about traditional games and the video games that closely resemble them. Most of this book could have been written before video games were ever invented, which shows how little they focus on how they are actually unique. If you're interested in video games as sets of limit ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
The pretentious forward was the opening number in a scattergun approach to the topic that just felt so shallow compared to discussions you might hear on The Forge or Extra Credits or EnWorld or really anywhere that gaming fanatics gather to discuss theory. A dreary dull text that will be of no interest to anyone that would be interested in reading it, written by dreary dull academics that haven't a clue really what they are talking about and know less about game design than the average experienc ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: game-design
As was mentioned in earlier reviews, I, too, did a lot of skimming in this book. That's because the information was given in a very repetitive nature. There are a few good points, such as looking at games as a system and an emphasis on iterative design to know for sure that a game plays smoothly.

However, I did not really like the writing style that the authors chose. When advancing to a new topic, several different definitions would be introduced and explained, after which the authors would pic
Dan Slimmon
It's clear that the authors are extremely well read. The book is jam packed with different conceptual frames in which to place games. But it never really comes together into a coherent book. It feels more like a brain dump (albeit of two huge brains).

There were several really strong ideas that I thought could've been books, or units, to themselves. In particular, the idea of games as systems of metacommunication (how we signify what is play and what is not) strikes me as fascinating and rich. Th
Nov 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
It basically just says that games are systems are and over. Flipping to a random page, here's an example: "It is clear that games are systems and that complexity and emergence affect meaningful play." Basically every sentence is like this, too abstract to mean anything. Absolutely horribly written and unpleasant to read. The authors are pretentious and have nothing actually to say. You WILL get a headache reading this; you WON'T ever be able to apply any of it.

It focuses a huge amount on giving
Apr 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
An extensive and in-depth study on game design. The basic format is how games fit into different schema and how to design games by thinking about all the different possible ways to look at games. Katie Salen and Aaron Zimmerman use a plethora of games from classic card games to current (at the time this was written) games to illustrate their points. Their are also four games made specifically for this book that are included in the book. Many parts are very interesting, but it can get dry at poin ...more
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reading this made me realize that I'm mostly interested in game design as a hobbyist. That being said, I think this is probably the most complete textbook available on the subject and is really ahead of its time with the range of topics it covers. My main complaint is that most of the case studies are on really boring games that I doubt most readers have played. It gets pedantic at times, but most writing in academia does.
Nov 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Was a guinea pig for this book in several grad school classes. I turned out pretty OK!

Good intro to basic game design principles and thinkers. You can probably get away with reading chapter summaries, though, if you have any experience with game production, design, or critical thinking in general.
Ali Akhavan
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some chapters were not well structured; however, the book gave lots of insights about games. Magic circle and lusory attitude were new to me. For a game designer, considering different types of rules in games such as constitutive, operational, and implicit rules are critical in designing a meaningful game.
Last but not least, enjoy playing games :)
Eduardo Omine
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: etc
I read the first "unit" and skimmed through the rest of this book. The content is actually good, but the text being set in a small sans-serif typeface makes it hard to read.
Parham Mohammadikalhori
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hi guys.
I'm nob and I just read 4 chapters. still don't know I'm gonna continue it or not but to be honest is a little bit deep for someone who is new in this field. It's like you can not passing by a paragraph without stop and thinking about it that's why it takes too much time from me.
It's amazed me from providing different conceptual aspects .
I think, It helps me to get familiar with simple definitions which can mean more and precept them honest I had feeling like I didn't know many
Anthony Serenil
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for any aspiring game designer.

I found this book invaluable to learning the concepts of game design. The teaching of design of games via the use of schemas made for a very thorough look of games.
Blake Williford
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
Extremely academic.... You're better off using your intuition to design games then reading something like this. We've been surrounded by great games for decades - Learn from them, not academic writing.
Jano Van
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book deviates from most other have design books. It looks at games for a bigger picture by including the contexts games are played in such as culture. It avoids the usual classification of game mechanics and any other approaches that aim to classify types of games. This one really stands out.
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Good book on theory of game design
Toviyah Foster
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Pedro Gardel Camara
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In my opinion, this is the most important book for a game designer to have. It has plenty of unique approaches to understanding rules that are not present in any other book.
Carlos Domínguez
It is a heavy, extensive and a daunting but good entry point for game design basics.

This book dissects game design from the inside out. From the formal, mathematical, logical approach all the way up to the cultural side, and it's quite an eye opening journey.

Because of this, the reader must be aware that the book focuses more on breadth than depth, but again, that's good as it's set to be a starting point for game design in general and seeks to help the reader to establish a formal game design
Michael Scott
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Rules of Play is an academic textbook about game design. Starting from a framework with three components---the rules (organization of the game), the play (gameplay experience), and the culture (game context)---, Katie Salen introduces a (formidable) theory of game design. Two more topics are part of this textbook: an introduction to games, and an introduction to game design. While I found the theory to be on the dry side, I enjoyed reading about the design processes of five game designers, four ...more
Zack Hiwiller
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I finally read this cover to cover as my first experience with it was in my senior undergraduate project where my advisor wanted to talk about the "magic circle" (we were doing a distributed ARG-style educational game) and I basically wrote it off as a bunch of philosophical claptrap. I've come back to it over the years and while I still feel there is a fair amount of useless meandering, I've also found that the things I teach are in here in spades and I could have saved a lot of time by not mak ...more
Serge Pierro
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: games, non-fiction
A interesting look at Game Design. Although at times it was a bit dry and long winded, there is some valuable insight provided throughout. The commissioned pieces by Reiner Knizia (Designer extraordinaire), Richard Garfield (Magic the Gathering) and James Ernest (Cheapass Games) were clearly the highlight of the book. In particular, was the Knizia article on the design and development of the Lord of the Rings co-op boardgame. A recommended book for those who are seriously interested in game des ...more
I read the first two sections (about two-thirds of the book).

The amount of thought and research that went into this book on game design amazes me. It is a surprisingly deep but understandable treatise on game theory. The book deals with three aspects of game design - rules (the structure of games), play (players interactions with games), and culture (the interaction between games and culture). Although I only took the time two read the first two sections, based on their content I expect the enti
May 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: game-design
A valuable set of schemas that will prove useful in designing any type of game. It is abstract, quite universal and of considerable theoretical depth.
I like to use this combined with Adams & Rollings' Fundamentals of Game Design, which offers somewhat more practical guidelines that are specified for digital game design. Together they offer a more complete picture.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's not often a book comes along that defines an entire category. This book also gives us a vocabulary to speak about games, game theory, and of course, rules, play and culture - and how they intersect.
Bill Palladino
Mar 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Geeks
Shelves: business-work
What a tome! Good to carry as a physical weapon as well as to wield as an implement of knowledge. The bible of game theory, schemas, and animation. So what if I didn't understand 50% of it. I can say I read it, and now I know what a pixel really is.
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I found this book very interesting. It attempts to create a theoretical framework, for designing games. Many popular games are analyzed in the book, and many sections were entertaining as well as enlightening. I'm looking forward to reading the anthology also by these authors.
Apr 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: purchased
Has so far been overly technical and wordy. Several of the first chapters are spent explaining what could be surmised in a few paragraphs. Early chapters are basically a history / philosophy lesson on why humans are compelled to play.
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: game-design
The book uses many technical words, and is mostly an academic analysis of gameplay and games. While trying to analyse games from a serious perspective, it does not convey the message as effectively as other titles.
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Long winded and redundant at times. A little too familiar for something that's pretty close to a textbook. That's me nitpicking though. This book laid out a foundation for all the hunches and intuitions I had about game design and pointed out many that I didn't have.
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Katie Salen is a game designer, interactive designer, animator, and design educator. She has taught at universities including MIT, the University of Texas at Austin, Parsons School of Design, New York University, Rhode Island School of Design, and School of Visual Arts.

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