Chapter 1: What Is This Book About?
This book is about games, all kinds of games: paper-based strategy games and first person shooters, classical board games and glitzy gambling games; math puzzles and professional sports; austere text adventures and giggly teenage party games. This book links these diverse play activities within a common framework-a framework based in game design.
In The Study of Games, Brian Sutton-Smith writes, “Each person defines games in his own way-the anthropologists and folklorists in terms of historical origins; the military men, businessmen, and educators in terms of usages; the social scientists in terms of psychological and social functions. There is overwhelming evidence in all this that the meaning of games is, in part, a function of the ideas of those who think about them.” What, meaning, then, does the game designer bring to the study of games? What does it mean to look at games from a game design perspective?
To answer this question, we first need to clarify what we mean by “game designer.” A game designer is a particular kind of designer, much like a graphic designer, industrial designer, or architect. A game designer is not necessarily a programmer, visual designer, or project manager, although sometimes he or she can also play these roles in the creation of a game. A game designer might work alone or as part of a larger team. A game designer might create card games, social games, video games, or any other kind of game. The focus of a game designer is designing game play, conceiving and designing rules and structures that result in an experience for players.
Thus game design, as a discipline, requires a focus on games in and of themselves. Rather than placing games in the service of another field such as sociology, literary criticism, or computer science, our aim is to study games within their own disciplinary space. Because game design is an emerging discipline,
we often borrow from other areas of knowledge – from mathematics and cognitive science; from semiotics and cultural studies. We may not borrow in the most orthodox manner, but we do so in the service of helping to establish a field of game design proper.
This book is about game design, not game development. It is not a “how to” book, offering tips and tricks for making successful digital games. It is not a book about digital game programming or choosing development tools; it is not about writing design documents or generating game ideas. And it is definitely not about development team dynamics or about funding, marketing, and distributing games. As a book on game design it is not a general introduction to games, a history of games, or a journalistic account of the people and circumstances that create games. There are plenty of books that cover all of these topics very well.
Instead, Rules of Play provides something altogether different. Bridging the theoretical and practical aspects of making games, we look closely at games as designed systems, discovering patterns within their complexity that bring the challenges of game design into full view. As we explore game design as a design practice, we outline not only the concepts behind the creation of meaningful play (a core idea of this book), but also concrete methods for putting these concepts to use in your games. Written with the interests and needs of practicing designers, students, and educators in mind, our approach comes from our own experience of designing games, playing games, and teaching game design.