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A Theory of Fun for Game Design

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,649 ratings  ·  215 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 provi ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 6th 2004 by Paraglyph Press
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Nicolay Hvidsten
Feb 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent start for someone who has no idea even where to start when it comes to game design. The style in witch this book is written is quite casual and it doesn't go too much into details (as I said, good for absolute beginners). ...more
I found this book very inspiring and deep, especially the parts where the author tries to connect games and arts and fun. Some parts of the book are abstract and a little bit hard to grasp as the book includes many metaphors. Nevertheless, many paragraphs still give me goosebumps as they are so true and profound. The author has many strong arguments and also very has high ideals when it comes to game designing. A game is designed not only for entertainment, but also for educating and helping pla ...more
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edu-tech
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. ...more
Feb 09, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Sona Nahapetyan
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Do not bother if you are looking for a book, where you can actually find tips on how to make fun games. The book is more of a visual guide to other writers that can be considered for finding the answers to those questions.
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: analytics
introduction into games and into computer games. Why games exist, how they are developed in terms of design - the underlying theory. The book is not tactics but about the underlying theory of games: why some games have high retention and others are not. Why some games are boring and others are not.
Dec 21, 2020 rated it did not like it
It was disappointing and frustrating experience. I think this book could be good, but author turned to much it in personal journal, full of stereotypical views. As women I think it hits twice strong. The Book shares wrong idea of women in games and discourage women in industry.
Anatolij Grigorjev
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Surprisingly Dissapointing

I'm not a hard reader to please. If you have access to my reading history you will see easy 4-5 star reviews for most anything pickier readers consider barely palatable, but this book really pushed some of my buttons, and very few of them actually because of the contents itself

While the main message is something I disagree with - need for art to censor itself as for feeling of social responsibility - I have no beef with the way the argument is presented and with the res
Mar 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, games
A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2013) by Raph Koster describes Koster's view of what fun is and why we play computer games. Koster is a game designer and producer who worked on Ultima Online, various MUDS, Everquest and other games.

Koster's thesis is that all games are edutainment with low stakes with rewards that tickle our fancy. It's actually a bit limited and doesn't really capture the breadth of different types of games and their appeal. In the book Koster himself says that revelations of
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 perform
Tom Coates
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it
The game deserves respect, the core of this book. A great guide for a game developer.

I personly am fond of chapter 2&3 regarding the brain, game and its relationship.

"The human brain is mostly a voracious consumer of pattern, and games are just exceptionally tasty patterns to eat up."

"Music is ordered sound and silence. Noise is any pattern we don’t understand."

"The definition of a good game is “one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing. The games are in the en
Jennifer Gottschalk
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This is 3.5 stars rounded down.

This book had some interesting ideas and it covered the history of game development really well. It also discussed the underlying features of many games and considered what a game needed to include to be fun and successful.

Having said that, at times it seemed a bit long winded. One of the most annoying things about the books is that end notes were denoted by an asterisk (instead of a number) and these were liberally peppered throughout the material. I ended up usin
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
This was a very good book. While most of the other game design books I have read came across as textbooks, this one didn't. The way it was spaced out, it felt more like I was reading a novel than a textbook. The little cartoons on the right pages can piss of some people ("What the Hell is the point of them?"), but I enjoyed them, as they seem to illustrate the point of the text on the left pages a little more. While there are some things I would place into question, for the most part, the book d ...more
Xavier Rubio
Nov 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: computers, games
This book has some intriguing concepts but it fails to explore fun effectively both from an academic and game design perspective.

Its ideas may have been relevant when it was once published but right now it seem terribly outdated. All the discussions on themes, narrative and maturity of videogames as art completely ignore the last 15 years.

The book also tries to be academic without any proper citation or hypothesis. Finally, it uses old-fashioned ideas on cognitive behavior and evolutionary dyna
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
A deeply researched treatise on video games. Raph Koster, who worked on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, talks about the background of play and games and moves on to what games are and what games are not. He ends on what he thinks games should and could becomes. It is an informative and powerful book which is also peppered throughout with little cartoons that he has drawn to better illustrate his points.
Ellen Guon
Jun 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jane L.
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Luiz Guilherme
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very nice book, easy to understand and with a lot of wonderful concepts about game design!
Recomend this book for non-gamers as well, it may make you see games in another perspective.
Aug 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Outdated, banal, and surprisingly sexist.
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

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
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
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
Isiah Valdez
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
I like the beginning concept: games are fun because they provide a space to learn with no real-world consequences.

Beyond that, there are some problems with the text due to its age and others due to some contradictory stances the author presents. Koster openly admits in the afterword that this whole thing was written basically in a weekend, so it isn't surprising its coherency suffered.

Throughout the book it felt like Koster couldn't make up his mind whether entertainment was art, or if art need
Dan Lewis
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a good book on the philosophy of video games. Video games are obviously a medium, so can you make them into art? I always thought sure, of course, but I found that Koster corrected some of my ideas about what is unique to games, in an engaging style.

To my surprise, the core contribution games offer is a learning experience. Koster unpacks this box throughout the book.

Underlying any game is an abstraction, the system that the player is offered to master in the journey of experiencing the
Michal Domanski
Dec 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is less a theory, but more a collection of thoughts from Raph Koster. It’s essentially nothing more than a prolonged 100 page blog post, full of strong opinions without many sources to back those up. Given that context, I guess assumptions are acceptable. I just wish the title of the book would reflect it.

The illustrations in this book were made by the author himself. The author speaks in very proficient and assertive tones about fine art, but the quality of the books illustrations sta
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, ebook
Koster wrestles with what games are, their formal systems, and what every designer should know before embarking on designing a game. His argument focuses on games needing to surpass just being about fun, as they'll never be considered a true medium until a designer can make a game about, say, loneliness, or other aspects of the human condition.

Personally, I think Koster has an exaggerated romantic view of games. The games that tend to increase empathy, and explore what it means to be human, have
Kellynn Wee
Jun 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Koster talks about games as our desire for both repetition and challenge (and out of that, the pleasure of learning), the concept of "fun", and how games are formal systems that reward skills that are either primitive (shooting, speed, aiming) or questionable (gaining power, resolving issues with violence, concerns with status hierarchies). He says that games should instead be designed and approached more like art rather than entertainment, and that games have a great deal of potential to be tra ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Please change the first published date for this book 3 100 May 19, 2015 04:16AM  

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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

News & Interviews

Twists, turns, red herrings, the usual suspects: These books have it all...and more. If you love mysteries and thrillers, get ready for dozens...
126 likes · 31 comments
“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.” 5 likes
“That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.” 4 likes
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