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The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

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Good game design happens when you view your game from as many perspectives as possible. Written by one of the world's top game designers, The Art of Game Design presents 100+ sets of questions, or different lenses, for viewing a game’s design, encompassing diverse fields such as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, puzzle design, and anthropology. This Second Edition of a Game Developer Front Line Award winner: The Art of Game Design, Second Edition gives readers useful perspectives on how to make better game designs faster. It provides practical instruction on creating world-class games that will be played again and again.

520 pages, Paperback

Published August 4, 2008

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Jesse Schell

5 books48 followers

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5 stars
1,704 (56%)
4 stars
903 (30%)
3 stars
288 (9%)
2 stars
71 (2%)
1 star
34 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 222 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica Mae Stover.
Author 5 books165 followers
July 20, 2020
Update: My giftee has read deeper into this book and shared some parts with me that I hadn't yet seen. This book is sexist and misogynistic.

I'll update with more details as soon as I have time (I want to look into who else is responsible for publishing this material in support of the author), but, wow: those parts are terrible, poorly cited, and contain glaring problems such as "people are saying" weasel words.

I'm going to go ahead and say most reviewers here likely would not have given this book a pass if it contained racism and antisemitism equivalent to the book's sexism, yet look at the 4-5 star reviews with not a single mention of the outrageous sexism contained herein. Either those readers believe as the author does, without evidence, so they didn't notice, or they just don't care, which is frustrating and disturbing no matter how you slice it.

This book is used as a university textbook, and I cannot imagine seeing those sections in a classroom setting. Furthermore the table of contents for the offensive sections hasn't changed for 3rd edition, so the material is still there! Until I return with more detail, this is being talked about online in other spaces: https://medium.com/@partytimehxlnt/ti...
Bought the second edition of this book as a gift, and read a few excerpts with the giftee. If you search the reviews here for "gender" and "sexist," you'll see that there are red flags about one particular section, and I urge readers to talk back to that part of the book in your reviews and in your game design. For future editions, it would be helpful if the section in question was handed over to someone else due to the author's limitations and the lack of needed citations, or else omitted entirely. I'm not sure if that lens permeates the entire book, but I sincerely hope not since this is the go-to book on game design, and otherwise looks to be well received.

A simple test readers and writers can use: Try reading the work with race substituted for gender. If you wouldn't say the thing about race -- if it sounds wrong -- don't say it about gender.
Profile Image for Michael Burnam-Fink.
1,489 reviews223 followers
January 23, 2011
On one level, this is a textbook about how to design a game. On another level, this a work of love by someone who clearly understands why games are fun, and how to manage the tricky business of coordinating all the people required to build one. Jesse Schell breaks games down into their individual components, and explains how those can work together to reinforce an experience of fun. The book is full of practical, folksy wisdom on managing artists, programmers, playtesters, and clients. A charming, conversational book full of hard advice and useful ideas. A good read for anybody who loves games, and essential for somebody who plans to design one.
Profile Image for Graham Herrli.
96 reviews67 followers
October 12, 2015
This book contains some thought-provoking suggestions about game design, but it also contains enough empty truisms to become annoying. For example: "there were many decisions the designer made to lay it out, and these decisions made a significant impact upon the game experience" (p. 237). The final paragraph of each chapter and subchapter could probably be omitted without removing any information from the book.

And the number of typos was astounding. (I sent Jesse Schell a list of nearly twenty to correct in e-books or reprintings.) Their sheer volume made me a bit dubious of the depth of thought that went into the book. Some parts of it, especially the emotional ramblings toward the end, read like first drafts.

The premise of the book intrigued me. Schell pulled together a collection of one hundred "lenses": ways looking at a game to see what needs to be changed about it. Some of these could be quite useful, although most don't need the surrounding context of the book to support them. The book has a companion Deck of Lenses that might make a better purchase for anyone actually intending to use the lenses for a design.

As a former professional juggler and former employee of Disney, Schell's perspective on the entertainment side of the industry was valuable, albeit somewhat trite.

Here are some things this book says:

EDIT: Jesse responded to the list of typos I sent him by sending me a pack of his Deck of Lenses as a thank you. This was a very proactive gesture and gave me considerable respect for his professional courtesy. Now that I own the deck, my earlier recommendation that the deck is likely more useful than the book still stands. The deck also has the added merit of being beautifully illustrated and satisfyingly crisp.

I think it's a good idea to publish the media in multiple formats like this; multiple entries into a world are something which Jesse Schell advocates convincingly for in his book. I've heard that Stephen Anderson also created a complementary deck of psychological principles to go with his Seductive Interaction Design .
Profile Image for George Kaslov.
99 reviews133 followers
June 26, 2017
My crash course into game design continues. This book is an excellent resource for the whole process of making a game (most of these lessons can also be used for software development in general). It covers everything from the original concept/idea for a game to the end product, with all the hurdles in between (teem communication and organization, testing, balancing, talking to clients...). My only problem is that some of the topics were covered too generally, but I understand that this is the only way to do it without making it the size of Encyclopedia Britannica. The four star review is mostly because the writing style didn't sit well with me.
Profile Image for Levon Zakharchenko.
20 reviews3 followers
December 6, 2020
Отличная книга со множеством полезных советов. По сути является Art of game design 2.0
Profile Image for Florian.
Author 3 books11 followers
December 26, 2019
Good inspiration for beginners, but with flaws

I am torn about this textbook. There is much to like in The Art of Game Design, and the book is arguably at it's best when Schell relays his extensive personal experiences in the industry. I indeed found some sections to be excellent, for instance the discussions of design principles, of games in education, or or the social responsibilities of designers. I also appreciated the accessible writing style.

That said, as a uni instructor looking for a textbook for undergrad students in a Games Studies course, the book ultimately missed the mark for me. Aside from its excessive length and over-ambitious scope, I found many of the observations poorly reasoned and often grounded in a cursory understanding of related fields. I was irritated by the frequent generalisations about 'human nature', the uncritical discussion of 'player types' (taking the controversial arguments by Bartle at face value), and the frequent assumptions about gender in gaming ('women like to play nurturing roles', etc.). The book would have benefitted from a more careful consideration of the state of the field in disciplines like psychology, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Instead, the author ignores much of the academic literatures, and at one point even derides theoretically-minded work as 'pedantic'. This is a real same, and a missed opportunity.

In short, if you are looking for inspiration, there is plenty to be found in these pages, but for a more critical assessment of game design I'd recommend turning elsewhere.
Profile Image for Kars.
351 reviews42 followers
January 3, 2015
I have mixed feelings about this book. To start with the good: Schell takes a very holistic approach to game design. He's also plain spoken, demystifying a lot of the work that goes into making games. On the downside: the range of topics Schell covers in his effort to be holistic leads to some shallow treatments. His insistence on accessibility means things are sometimes dumbed down too much, assumptions aren't examined or (in the worst cases) arguments are based on questionable pseudoscience. I also found the insistence of turning everything into a lens tiresome. I personally find a list of 100 things to keep in mind when designing unwieldy and ultimately unrealistic. An approach that is at odds with the pragmatic tone of the rest of the book. In summary, I can't think of any game design book that covers this much ground, so it makes a great (if hefty) introduction to the field. However, each separate topic discussed herein is served better by other titles.
Profile Image for Wise_owl.
295 reviews10 followers
July 27, 2012
I read this book mostly because a friend was reading it and game design is something I'm peripherally interested in. That being said, with a few exceptions, I found the book pretty useful. It covers the full range of decisions that go into game design and has tips, or at the book puts it 'lenses' through which you can examine you game. Who is your game for. What is your games 'world'. How do the players inter-act with that world. What are the spaces of that world. It was effective is getting me to look 'under the hood' as it were, and to recognize some of my own gaming decisions. For example, I realized I tend to be attracted to games with strong 'stories' where the game-play isn't divorced from the story or abstracted.

I have a few criticisms. Some of the book does feel like it dwells a little deeply in 'gamer' culture. The section in Gender and Demographics made me bite my tongue for it's predictability. Not that the underlaying message; that when you make a game you have to be conscious of the reality of different interest in different demographics, I just think his assertions regarding what those trends are is myopic and a tad ignorant of the broader social factors at play.

Over-all I'd recommend the book to those interested in Game-design. It's a pretty easy read.
Profile Image for Caroline Berg.
Author 1 book23 followers
November 16, 2017
I figured it was about time I read this, having heard such great things about it from other game designers, and it is an excellent book. It should have been a standard part of curriculum in college for my Game Art & Design degree. Honestly, anyone interested in going into game design, be it for board games, RPGs, or video games should spend some time reading this book.

However, as great as it is, I still disagree with parts of it. And to be fair, Schell does say in the book to question the knowledge presented within. The parts that bothered me the most were Chapter 9, which portrays sexist stereotypes as to what games women play and why they play games and Chapter 23 which is unapologetically anti-solitaire gaming. Schell says, "the single-player phenomenon appears to have been a temporary abnormality" - seriously? As an avid solo gamer across all platforms I find this to be a very extroverted way of looking at games. As long as there are introverts in the world, there will be solo games. Not everyone wants to game with friends.

As for the rest of the book, it is a veritable wealth of information and would be well worth owning, especially for the lists of further reading material at the end of every chapter.
Profile Image for Sander Vanhove.
14 reviews1 follower
April 19, 2021
This book is a bible for game designers. It introduces you to all the aspects of game design and gives pointers to places where you can learn about each topic in more detail.

Get it, read it, be a better game designer/person.
Profile Image for Alexander Pavlov.
19 reviews4 followers
December 29, 2019
Книга поможет совсем начинающим гейм-дизайнерам получить общее представление о создании игр, а опытным — придать форму знаниям, полученным из опыта. Книга слишком общая для того, чтобы иметь практическое применение. Автор предлагает использовать"призмы" для того, чтобы через них смотреть на свою игру. Но количество призм делает невозможным использование этого метода. Наверное, если настоящий гейм-дизайнер попробует его применить, то это застопорит его работу и погрузит в размышления на несколько лет.
Profile Image for Mythreyi.
104 reviews4 followers
April 6, 2021
It starts off interesting. The structure(lenses) Jesse provides to understand a complex system i.e. video game is pretty good intro to design. But then midway through it derails. It has missed the point so much on gender that I have to wonder what else was over simplified? Few of the quotes that were troubling

"There is no female equivalent of a pickup game of touch football. On the surface, this is strange—girls tend to be more social, so you might expect that games involving large gatherings would
appeal to them more. The problem seems to lie in conflict resolution. When a group of boys play a game and there is a dispute, play stops, there is a (sometimes heated) discussion, and the dispute is resolved. At times, this involves one boy going home in tears, but despite that, play continues. When a group of girls play a game and there is a dispute, it is a different story. Most of the girls will take sides on the dispute, and it generally cannot be resolved right away. Play stops, and
often cannot continue. Girls will play team sports when they are formally organized, but two informal competing teams put too much stress on their personal relationships to be worth the trouble"


He goes on to generalize saying how men look for mastery, competition, destruction etc in games while women looks for Emotion, Nurturing and real world in games.


Terrible stereotypes are harmful for women AND men.

The book at best is reductive and at worst is perpetuating dangerous stereotypes.

This book would have been better served as a biography or opinion piece. It being recommended as a objective text or academic learning, is concerning. In any other field, this would be not the quality you would set for learning that discipline. Worries me about ecosystem of videogames , even further.
Profile Image for Rich.
138 reviews2 followers
August 31, 2008
Jesse has to be one of the smartest people I know...and this book is proof.

This book is not only a great way to learn about designing games, but teaches a lot of good tips for creating anything. I particularly appreciate that the book is not overly technical (its easily accessible to anyone who would pick it up), but it does go into some complex ideas...he hit that perfect balance in creating a book that anyone, regardless of skill or education level, can read and learn from.
Profile Image for Osama Alsalman.
49 reviews7 followers
February 7, 2017
This is a life changing book, not as a game designer only, but as a human. For it contains many valuable lessons on the design of human experiences, I would recommend this book to anyone.

The last three chapters were the most effecting for me, for they discussed the effect of games and how they can transform us.

Once you finish it, you will get a ring, a secret ring, but I can't tell you more. So, go read it yourself :)
Profile Image for Madhur Bhargava.
Author 2 books12 followers
December 19, 2021
A very different take on game design! Most books try to teach by taking working examples and narrowing it down to details - this book is different - it narrows it down more to the thought process and encourages to look at the decisions being made through the lenses which are introduced in this book. Although the book is specifically for game design, however, just as a personal opinion, I felt that the process can be scaled to a lot of other digital mediums. The bonus part is the inspiration at the end of each chapter where the author selflessly shares a list of blogs/talks/literature that inspired his decisions and thought process.
Profile Image for Seyed-Sajad Hamedheydari.
Author 5 books16 followers
May 27, 2023
I was searching for books about game design, and came across this book on the internet. From the first page I was hooked to it, and I must say every chapter has some unique insights about game design that I had never thought of. For whoever that is willing to become a game designer, and even other areas of designing experiences, like writers, this book is must read.
Profile Image for Chris.
83 reviews
September 4, 2010
This is a fantastic intro to the field of game design. It chooses to be comprehensive instead of detailed, so towards the end, you get some very breezy chapters about working in a team and with clients, for example, and mentions enough biz talk so that you've at least heard the terminology but don't totally get it. I didn't fault the book for glossing over these topics. I was happy that it mentioned them, in a getting-to-know-the-lay-of-the-land way, and I also appreciated that the author clearly wasn't trying to stretch his own knowledge, or lay down rules that wouldn't work in real life. The book spends the most time on the bare essentials of game design from a mostly theoretical point of view, which felt very helpful. I feel that having read this book, I now have the beginnings of a rigorous way of thinking about games, which is really valuable.

The gimmick of the book -- here are a set of 100 lenses you can use to think about game design! -- fell a little flat for me, on the other hand. To me they seemed pretty much the same thing as the usual summary you'd find at the end of a chapter in a textbook, which is fine, but not especially amazing.

To close: this book, more than anything I have read so far, made me proud to be exploring this field myself, and that is priceless.
Profile Image for Sheri.
14 reviews2 followers
October 9, 2013
About half of this book is truly excellent. Unfortunately I can't say exactly which half, since the good parts and the not-so-good parts are all mixed together.

The author himself seems to be of two minds about the importance and role of games in our culture, which causes some inconsistencies throughout the book. For most of the book one gets the sense that game design is a very cold calculating type of business. Schell leaves discussion of the game designer's responsibilities and motivations for the very end of the book. Those last two chapters feel much more honest, and I believe better reflect the author's actual opinions than the rest of the book. The book would be much stronger if he had maintained that honesty throughout.

This book would probably be most helpful for those from a computer science background or those without a traditional art background. It is a good basic overview of the game design process. Just remember not to take every word of it as gospel.
Profile Image for Tara.
80 reviews
May 22, 2018
A fantastic book that gave me a lot to think about as I continue to design tabletop games. While it isn't 100% (some concerns with gender, understanding of choice-based narratives, etc), it is overall very useful. I've found ways to apply the contents to my (not game related) day job and other aspects of my life. I definitely recommend reading it, even if you don't agree with everything in it.

(I'm not sure how much I'll use the lenses, but the ideas around them are great. And, to echo some of the reviews, his knowledge at times can feel shallow. As with any textbook--take what is good and explore what seems shallow or unsure).
Profile Image for Hung Vu.
1 review2 followers
April 21, 2019
Finished this book in under a week. Not a very strong book, but still indeed contains some gems. At times it feels like the book is more aimed towards game enthusiasts rather than game designers. The author often derails too far into the definition territory of things, making it hard to stay on point. When done with definitions, the book goes on about setting the right framework of mind, how to stay on track, overcome psychological pressures, and so on--which apply to many other creative fields too and are not exclusive to game design. I guess that's fine too, but I was expecting something else coming in, so that was rather disappointing.

I did find the chapters on game balancing and game production very useful however. If game designers should ask me about this book, I'd recommend those specific chapters. Otherwise, it's probably not worth your time if you're not looking to pursue game studies.
Profile Image for Adriii.
140 reviews109 followers
January 1, 2021
Me ha encantado, aunque esta pensado para quienes quieren diseñar un juego, realmente es interesantísimo también desde el punto de vista del jugador. Da un contexto más rico para disfrutar de esto que tanto nos gusta.

Habla sobre diseñar un juego, sobre diseñar una experiencia y los elementos esenciales que la definen. Habla desde la antropología, la etología, la introspección, la psicología. Habla sobre herramientas para la narrativa, la estética, las dinámicas. Aunque una revisión en temas de perpetuar ciertos sexismos en el mundo videojueguil le vendría bien, es completísimo y se lee que da gusto.
Profile Image for yuc yuc.
Author 1 book6 followers
April 21, 2017
Pros: A thorough and thought-provoking guide to game design, and many of the techniques and knowledge from the book could be applied to general artistic creation as well as performance art.

Cons: After reading this book, I often find myself compulsorily analyzing the design when I'm playing a game, or studying carefully the structures of the plot line right in the middle of a movie or novel...which could sometimes be disrupting.
Profile Image for Kyra.
21 reviews4 followers
July 17, 2022
Fantastic overview on the game design process, raises interesting questions to ask one's self/team during development process. Drawbacks in narrative chapters, overall stereotyping of genders and giving absolute statements where differebt perspectives could have been beneficial.
A must read, but with care.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
2 reviews
January 16, 2019
Thorought, interesting, useful. From concept to market release with interesting stories and personal tidbits added to make it more fun to read. Highly recommended to anyone interested in tabletop or computer games.
Profile Image for Jeremy Steingraber.
95 reviews3 followers
December 9, 2019
You don't really read a book like this cover to cover, but I've been skipping through it for quite some time at sporadic intervals. If you're interested in game design this is one that might help you think about different perspectives: maybe even break you out of some dead ends.
Profile Image for Brian Gee.
63 reviews2 followers
December 28, 2020
So far the most helpful book I've read on game design. Most of the advice is very practical, but the writing style can also being somewhat philosophical (in a good way). It looks at the psychological roots of our appreciation of gaming, and how that connects to game design.
78 reviews1 follower
October 30, 2020
Very robust and covers a lot of useful concepts to consider when developing and designing a game. -1 star for the gender stereotypes that were (in my mind) needlessly included in the book.
Profile Image for Jargo.
4 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2021
first book I read about game development and still one of the best. Highly recommended for beginners.
189 reviews
October 12, 2021
Although this book is recommended by many people, I think it's a typically badly-written book. Lots of personal stories, general points, whys, irrelevant matters. So many rules that they are just impractical or unfocused. But it lacks hows, principles, and deep explanations. It's very verbose and most of the contents are baloney and unnecessary trivial details which you can easily figure out yourself. I like details, but not these kinds of useless ones which tells nothing. Not to mention the bad structure of blatant 35 chapters without any sections to divide them.
Profile Image for Ignacio.
99 reviews2 followers
July 15, 2020
Great book, very comprehensive. Everything is very well explained and with very good examples that reinforce the points the author makes. If you are getting intro the game design industry, this should be a must read.
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