Nov 102015

I posted up the slides to my talk at SGC earlier; now the conference has released video of the session.

This talk was a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics. So I tried to straddle the line by doing a talk that would be helpful both to indies and interesting to game studies folks.

Questions start right around the 49:00 mark, and in particular there’s a bit of a rant on my part about the value for interdisciplinary learning for people who are going to creatively lead projects. After that answer, Rami Ismail (who was there, of course, he is everywhere) asked if I could list the five most important or relevant books for covering the various fields that I had described in the talk. I couldn’t… so I listed more like 30.


Sep 192015

Slide15I had a great time in Sweden, despite the fact that there did not seem to be a canonical way to pronounce the city was in (Skövde — sort of hghuheffdduh-ish, but depending where I was in the country, it was also hgheffduh, hghuffda, and a few others).

The talk I gave, put together after some rather late nights with boardgames and beer (well, hard cider in my case), was called “Teaching to Fish.” It had to work as a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics.

I ended up doing a bit on game grammar, but focusing more on the fact that given the breadth of the field, it is important that practitioners know what sort of thing they are making, and use the right tools for the job. And that they take their field seriously, study the relevant literature from both games and the countless other disciplines that interact with and impinge upon games.

A lot of the audience was students; I was told afterwards multiple times over that I might have scared half of them right out of the course of study. I was asked two questions at the end, and one of them was “so, since learning all that is impossible, what then?” more or less, to which I answered “it’s not impossible, I did it.” That was followed by a question from Rami Ismail basically designed to force me to prove it, asking me to list of some relevant books; so I gave title and author recommendations for each of the fields in the slides — more like twenty than the requested five. :)

Besides Rami, I also got see old friend Lee Sheldon and Mike Sellers, and make many new ones. I learned a lot about the Nordic LARP scene, which is utterly fascinating. Tommy Palm (formerly King, now doing VR) and Ben Cousins and David Goldfarb (now at new studio The Outsiders) were kind enough to host me for meals on the last day as I attempted to sightsee Stockholm on foot. Twelve miles, one blister, and I had managed to walk most of the core of the city in the rain, visiting museums, tourist traps, and sites from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Slides for the talk are here. It was filmed, and I imagine that at some point I may get a link to that to share it with you. For now, you will have to make do with a parable about fish with a couple of bad puns. Well, one REALLY bad pun, a few middling ones, and one fairly decent one.

Game talkGames affecting people

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Jun 302015

This comes up, especially in relation to questions about free speech. It comes up, in terms of working with compulsion loops some might term addictive. It comes, in terms of whether or not game designers worry about what they do.

The most common answer is “no,” likely because it’s an uncomfortable question people would rather not think about, or one that positions games as somehow an implicitly risky medium and vulnerable to censorship, or because of a disclaimer of responsibility embodied in the notion that we’re just providing entertainment and anything past that is the player’s problem. Sometimes there’s an implicit idea that mere entertainment cannot have any effect.

So do designers worry?

Yes. I have, personally.

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Game talkReadingGuardian picks Six Gaming Books

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Jan 122014

At #2:

Penned by veteran games designer Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun was written 10 years ago, a long time considering the rapid pace of advance for its subject matter. And yet the book remains a key games design text that is still in print and highly relevant. While it was conceived to help games designers, it will be fascinating and informative for anybody involved in any field of design, or those curious about, well, harnessing the power of fun …

— Six of the best gaming books | Life and style | The Observer

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Game talkWritingTouring the print edition of Theory of Fun

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Dec 052013

The print edition is out! Yay! Hopefully I get author’s copies tomorrow.

In celebration, I thought I’d share some images of what it looks like now. I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. All glossy and hefty, it feels very substantial and classy. And I have trouble going back to look at the black and white now, having grown used to color everywhere. Read on for some before-and-afters on the imagery, some looks at the text additions, and how I tackled the issue of revising away some of the sexism in the cartoons!


The first thing, of course, is the layout. Yes, it’s in a portrait layout now, instead of the horizontal format. Not only will it fit better on shelves, but it also means that the book shouldn’t fall out of stock as much, because we selected this layout because we can  use Print On Demand to constantly keep hard copies available. Before, copies had to be manually ordered.

Ironically, the actual size of the book is almost exactly the same. The new edition is actually just slightly larger.

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Game talkWritingTheory of Fun reviews and press

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Dec 022013

printpictureThere have been a couple of pieces of coverage of the new edition of Theory of Fun.

The first real review of the updated edition is here, in Finnish: Katsauksessa A Theory of Fun for Game Design. (You can read a Google Translated version: page one, page two). They kindly sent me a a translation of the final paragraph:

Even though A Theory of Fun for Game Design goes deep into the underlining mechanics of the gameplay and opens up the question of what makes a great game tick, it is written in a way that makes the book comprehensible and easy to read. There’s also a great reference section for further study on the subject, but even without this added value, A Theory of Fun for Game Design is easy to recommend to anyone interested to know a bit about games or game design – or why you especially like or dislike a game.

Wired Game|Life did a preview piece on the book that was pretty widely reprinted.

Another, funnier change: In the original edition of the book, there was a throwaway line about how nobody plays farming games anymore. “That,” Koster says, has now “turned into a page-long riff about farming games and about how modern farming games teach business rather than farming.”

This piece was also picked up by BoingBoing, which noted

Hard to believe it’s been ten years since the initial release of Raph Koster’s indispensable A Theory of Fun for Game Design, a book that does for game-design what Understanding Comics did for sequential art.

There may be more reviews on the way… I should also mention that the ebook edition is in O’Reilly’s CyberMonday sale today, at 50% off (along with all their ebooks).

The print edition hits this week, and as you can see from the picture, came out very nicely… all glossy and everything. :)

Game talkWritingTheory of Fun ebook NOW OUT! 50% off!

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Nov 262013

theoryoffunnewcoverIt’s out! And O’Reilly has a special deal:

Save 50% on Game Design Ebooks & Videos – Deals – O’Reilly Media.

For just this week, game design ebooks are half off, including the full-color 10th anniversary edition of A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Oh, and they’re DRM-free too.

Use discount code WKGMDES. It’s only good until December 4, 2013 at 5:00am PT. And even though it’s only good for the ebook version, as it happens, the print version is supposed to hit Dec 5th, so there’s a nice symmetry there. :)

I got a sample copy of the paperback in hand too… glossy throughout, it’s really nice! I have trouble picturing the book in black and white now. You can pre-order it at the above links.

Sep 202013

Yup, it’s up on Amazon for pre-order!

For those who don’t know, here’s what is different:

  • Full color throughout.
  • Revisions on virtually every page.
  • Revised punchlines for a lot of the cartoons.
  • Substantial revisions to the chapter on cognitive styles.
  • Expansion of the sections on non-fun reasons to play games.
  • Some additional discussion of narrative.
  • All the science brought up to date.
  • A huge amount of new endnotes, including expanding on many of the existing ones.
  • A new afterword.
  • A new vertical layout so it fits on your shelf better!

Looks like they currently have it set to come out on November 22nd. The book is still in layout as we try to get everything to fit perfectly, and we have to fill in my current bio. But all in all, it looks awfully close!

Pre-order Theory of Fun 2nd Edition here.


Game talkWritingTheory of Fun status

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May 292013

penguin-14-transI have finished revising all of the text in the book, and sent off the manuscript to O’Reilly, a few days ahead of deadline.

How much has changed? Well, I would guess that half the pages in the book saw some sort of edit. That said, the shape of the book is largely unchanged. I got a lot of feedback saying “don’t break it,” from people sending in revision suggestions.

Big differences would include:

  • A big update to Chapter Six, “Different Fun for Different Folks.” There has been a lot of new science on brain differences between the sexes, and it points to both the fact that male and female brains are overall more similar than different — and yet there’s concrete evidence for some very real differences that could affect how we look at different games.
  • A lot of new science and references throughout. Some of the new material touches on Bernard Suits, deliberate practice, ludonarrative dissonance, etc. A lot of this material was not in existence at the time of the original book.
  • Clarification and updating on things like “what is a game,” “what about engaging with games in ways that aren’t fun?” and so on. A lot of this material was drawn from the Ten Years Later presentation.
  • 4000 new words in the endnotes (!). That is around an additional 50%, I think.
  • A new afterword.

In the end, there will only be two new pages in the main text. I still have one new cartoon to draw — the other one is a diagram, I’m afraid.image3Because of the new afterword, I did need a new penguin as a chapter header, though. I sketched one out, an old penguin (he’s ten years older, after all), and then tried to get my Rapidograph pens to work. No dice, as you can see from the mess I made of my sheet of test paper. I am going to have to visit an art supply store for some cleaning solution.

So I resorted to size-matching the Rapidograph nibs with Micron pens and inked him that way. It was supposed to just be a test inking, but he came out with some charm, so I decided to just scan the image and crop out all the spatter.

There is still quite a lot of layout work to do, plus I am sure the editors will come back with suggested revisions. One thing we are still contemplating is how exactly the cartoons will change given that the book is moving to a new trim size, taller than it is wide. We may actually change the layout of many of the cartoon pages. The trim size change is because it will allow us to do color print-on-demand, which should help with the book’s availability. It currently still has to have manual print runs, which is getting to be more and more obsolete these days.

We’re also still discussing how to handle the endnotes. One suggestion is to mark them out in the margins of the book somehow, perhaps with a little icon, rather than drowning the book in superscript footnotes everywhere.

Apr 162013

020780-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-spinner4-sc36The world is full of systems. Often they exist below the threshold of what we perceive. It’s all a whirling clockwork of near-infinite complexity, from the tiny mysteries of quantum physics to the wonder of a single tree spanning miles, to the vastness of neurons that sit inside our relatively small skulls.

These systems are dynamic. They move, they change. Had we only the right vantage point, we might be able to see how every gear, every electrical impulse, every vibrating superstring, all can be seen as a filigreed marvel of machinery, the insides of a grandfather clock.

Is everything only this? That’s a question for philosophers and the religious. Many of these systems are of an order of complexity that we may be simply unable to comprehend. Our mental capacity is not so great, after all.

So we arrive at heuristics, our good enough rules of thumb, for addressing these complexities. We can understand physics well enough to plant a robot on a distant planet, but we don’t understand physics. We can understand another person well enough to interact with them, but no one ever really knows anyone fully. We can read a novel — a vast profusion and entanglement of signs, story-worlds, mirror neurons, syllabic scansion, mythmaking, and metaphor — and take away some part of understanding, but likely never all.

Our means of coping with these systems is to simplify. We reduce great complexity down to signs. We classify and categorize and collate. We iconify, cartoon, sketch. When we stop to think about it, we know that all these simplifications are lies. But they are lies we use to live our daily lives, and so we carry on.


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