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  • Ask the Experts: The Game Designer's Bookshelf

    - Jill Duffy
  •  Dear Experts,
    Hi! I'm thinking of (and trying to) become a game designer someday. I'm currently studying a ITESM Tec de Monterrey, though my major is not game development specifically -- mainly a computer science/IT focus, which was the closest I could get to game development where I live in Mexico.

    I'm not really a programmer. I think of myself as a more arts and graphics guy, having worked at an ad agency before, as well as having studied graphic design for one semester at California State University--Chico.

    I think I have good skills overall, but I would like to study more about game design. I would like to read more, maybe more technical books on game design, or some history on it, or something that would be useful. What books would you recommend to an aspiring game designer?

    Thanks in advance!
    Bookmark Seeks Home

    Dear Bookmark,
    I've read a few game design books that I've found insightful, but because I don't actually make games, my personal answer to your question might be slightly skewed.

    However, I did ask around for you. I touched base with three recent graduates who have made successful games within the last year. They are precisely the kinds of people who would be reading game design books, but who also would know which books were really useful.

    Each of the student developers I spoke with has published a postmortem on this site; you can tell from the descriptions and web shots of their games that they have different styles and design sensibilities. Between the three of them, I rounded up a pretty comprehensive list of suggested reading.

    First up was Matt Korba (MFA graduate of University of Southern California), whose game The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was one of the most alluring-looking student games I saw at the 2008 Game Developers Conference. The postmortem is available here.

    "The book I use the most," said Korba, "is Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton and Chris Swain [both authors are faculty at USC whom Korba studied under]. I live by the book's mantra of rapid prototyping and iterative design process."

    He added, "Another good read is Ralph Koster's A Theory of Fun, and I thoroughly enjoy Bernie Dekoven's Junkyard Sports," Korba added.

    Next up on my list of freshly-minted game developers was Eitan Glinert, who graduated from MIT this past spring and is now starting up a game studio called Fire Hose Games. A postmortem he and a fellow student at the time wrote is available here.

    "I've always been a learn-by-doing sort of guy," Glinert wrote to me via email, "so I haven't read too much on game design. I did go through a bit of Jim Gee's stuff when doing my thesis, specifically Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning and Literacy."

    Glinert also said two books his peers read and found useful Rules of Play and The Game Design Reader, both by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen.

    However, books aren't his main source of reference and information at all. "What I do read a lot of are papers on specific game topics. I think a lot of the most interesting games research isn't making it into books since it's not broad enough, but if you really want to do something different and new in gaming, I think the papers are where you should start." Glinert gave me a list of suggested papers, which are listed in the Resources at the end of this column.

    Lastly, I put out a line to MFA gradate David McDonough, who worked on Cowboy Cave and Rats! at Savannah College of Art and Design.

    "First, of course, would be Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun, which I've found to be the best all-around primer on what game design means. I'd also highly recommend Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, Donald A. Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, and James Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. And finally, I am currently in progress reading Ian Bogost's new book, Persuasive Games, which I am using a primary resource for my MFA thesis project. All of these have been highly influential and enlightening to my pursuit of game design."

    I hope that gives you some ideas of where to get started. I'm sure readers of this site have other recommendations, too, which they can list on the forum.

    Happy reading!

    Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of and senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine.


    • Persuasive Games (2007), Ian Bogost
    • Junkyard Sports (2004), Bernie Dekoven
    • What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), James Paul Gee
    • Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning and Literacy (2007), James Paul Gee
    • A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2004), Raph Koster
    • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994), Scott McCloud
    • The Design of Everyday Things (1990), Donald A. Norman
    • Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (2003), Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen
    • The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (2005), Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, eds.

    Work by Dimitris Grammenos in accessibility in gaming:

    • D. Grammenos, A. Savidis, and C. Stephanidis, "UA-Chess: A Universally Accessible Board Game," in Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction, Crete, Greece, 2005.
    • D. Grammenos, A. Savidis, and C. Stephanidis, "Unified Design of Universally Accessible Games," in Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction. Applications and Services, Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2007, pp 607- 616.

    Work by Hiroshi Ishii in tangible user interfaces:

    • H. Ishii, and B. Ullmer, "Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits, and Atoms," in Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI '97, Atlanta, March 1997, ACM Press, pp. 234-241.

    Work by Dan Roy on cross platform gaming:

    • D. Roy, "Mastery and the Mobile Future of Massively Multiplayer Games," M.S. thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., May, 2007.


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