MIT Press has just published a new edition of Bernie DeKoven’s classic book on play, The Well-Played Game. Bernie is one of my game design heroes, and in 1978 when he wrote this book, he pioneered ideas about the importance and meaning of play, re-imagining games as a social community of players who transform and improvise rules.
Full disclosure: Bernie asked me to write the foreword to this new edition, and I was happy to pen a few pages that connect his concepts to what is going on in games today. You can find a PDF of my forward here (it’s the second essay on the list). It turns out that Bernie’s ideas anticipated many of the debates currently raging in games, from the rise of independent games and alternative player communities to addiction, eSports, and games in education.
It’s hard to convey what is so special about a book like The Well-Played game. It’s more than the brilliant ideas Bernie explores. It’s also the way he explores them. The writing follows his restless, curious mind – telling stories, cracking silly jokes, but always deftly bringing insight to bear on crucial topics around playing games and being human. Bernie doesn’t write about play in a book, he plays – and this book is what resulted.
The Well-Played Game is full of challenging ideas and is a joy to read. My highly biased recommendation: read it.
Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and Robert Gutschera are three of the most legendary and influential paper game designers working today. Among other things, they were all instrumental in developing Magic: The Gathering, Richard’s design that singlehandedly created the trading card game genre.
When they asked me to write the foreword for their new book, Characteristics of Games, I was more than flattered. I have read articles, heard lectures, and attended workshops with all three of them. Not to mention that I’ve lost my fair share of tabletop games to them as well. Their ideas and their games have had a profound impact on my work.
Characteristics of Games is an amazing book whose influence will be felt for years to come. It dives deep into the nuts and bolts of game design, where mathematics and logic meet human psychology and design aesthetics. Deliciously analytic, the authors dive in to thorny dilemmas like quantifying luck and social politics. If you are a game designer, game scholar, student, fan, or player of games – on or off the computer – read this book.
Online game site 1UP has posted a short piece on the five must-read game design books. I’m proud to see Rules of Play, the book I wrote with the brilliant Katie Salen, at the top of the list. One of the comments under the article disparages Rules of Play because it reads too much like a textbook. Luckily, that’s exactly what it is!
Late-breaking addition to this post: I just found out that Rules of Play – as well as The Game Design Reader, the anthology that Katie Salen and I edited – are among the handful of recommended game books on the Games for Change book resources page. Thanks, G4C!
I love making games for any occasion. Figment is a game I designed for a book.
When friends and colleagues Thom Bartscherer and Roderick Coover approached me to contribute something to their book Switching Codes, I told them as a game designer I’d rather make a game than write an essay. Switching Codes is a book from the University of Chicago Press about dialogs between technologists, artists, and scholars, and I decided to make a game that literally re-mixes the interdisciplinary discourse of the book.
Figment takes the form of cards that you cut out of the book (or you can download the PDF and rules here if you want to keep your volume intact). Each card has a snippet of text taken from one of the essays in the book, and by playing your cards in combination, you make statements alternately profound and absurd. Players must follow the rules of grammar while also making statements that other players deem as genuinely insightful. The first one to play all their cards wins.
Part Apples to Apples and part Exquisite Corpse, Figment always seems to inspire both deep philosophical conversations as well as hysterical laughing fits. I like the way that Figment intervenes playfully in the rest of the book, using unsuspecting essays as its raw material and encouraging readers to deface the object they just purchased. And the rules of Figment don’t have to be applied just to Switching Codes – with the properly chosen source texts, Figment is a process that could be applied to other documents as well.
I’d love to hear from you if you play the game! Post here on my blog or drop me an email at e @ ericzimmerman.com.
Hot off the digital presses is a book project I created with all-star game scholars Seann Dikkers, Kurt Squire, and Constance Steinkuehler. Real-Time Research is the outcome of a series of workshops we staged at conferences like the Game Developers Conference and Games, Learning, & Society. At at Real-Time Research workshop, people form guerrilla research teams across wildly different disciplines and conduct experiments in game scholarship during the conference they are attending. The RTR process was modeled on game design itself and involved game-card constraints, improvisational design, and enforced uncertainty.
The book chronicles these misadventures, including many examples of the resulting projects as well as in-depth guidelines (and even game card templates!) for creating your own Real-Time Research events. Special thanks to Drew Davidson at the ETC press for publishing the book – and with such a lovely cover and interior design too! Props to my co-authors Constance, Kurt, and Seann. Available in paper and digital form.