Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
An impassioned look at games and game design that offers the most ambitious framework for understanding them to date.
As pop culture, games are as important as film or television—but game design has yet to develop a theoretical framework or critical vocabulary. In Rules of Play Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman present a much-needed primer for this emerging field. They offer a unified model for looking at all kinds of games, from board games and sports to computer and video games. As active participants in game culture, the authors have written Rules of Play as a catalyst for innovation, filled with new concepts, strategies, and methodologies for creating and understanding games. Building an aesthetics of interactive systems, Salen and Zimmerman define core concepts like "play," "design," and "interactivity." They look at games through a series of eighteen "game design schemas," or conceptual frameworks, including games as systems of emergence and information, as contexts for social play, as a storytelling medium, and as sites of cultural resistance.
Written for game scholars, game developers, and interactive designers, Rules of Play is a textbook, reference book, and theoretical guide. It is the first comprehensive attempt to establish a solid theoretical framework for the emerging discipline of game design.
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I am not sure if the authors genuinely do not understand play theory, or if they just thought they'd attempt to give game design a more lofty theoretical framework by hijacking play theory.
Seeing they refer to, and extensively cite the main play theorists (Huizinga, Caillois, and Sutton-Smith), it is hard to believe they are entirely naive. Although the authors specifically state in the book that it is 'not a simple matter of sleight of hand' to reposition play within games, nothing that they write from that point onward makes one think otherwise.
After initially celebrating the said play theorists above (who define the field) they swiftly go on to denounce their theories as 'problematic' - for the simple reason that Salen & Zimmerman decided that they should re-brand play theory, and that the extant literature does not support that move. Subsequently, they present a series of chapters where they re-introduce the previously slated elements of play theory - now as their own version of 'games-as-play-theory' ('Games as the play of experience’, ‘Games as the play of pleasure’ (where they also throw flow into the mix as game flow), ‘Games as the play of meaning’, ‘Games as narrative play’, ‘Games as the play of simulation’, ‘Games as social play’).
Incidentally, although they do refer to Sutton-Smith's book on games, they omit his seminal book on play, 'The Ambiguity of Play'. Presumably this is because the above mentioned chapters on 'Games as the play of...' are more or less directly formulated on the basis of the rhetorics of play that Sutton-Smith defines in that particular book.
I would strongly recommend to anyone actually interested in play theory to read the origin of these not particularly elegantly re-hashed thoughts instead (The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith). It is a far more interesting, engaging, and deeply thoughtful book than Salen and Zimmerman's. And I imagine if Sutton-Smith were bothered, he'd sue them for plagiarism.
I give this book two stars for effort - it is nicely presented, and certainly ambitious (albeit not necessarily in a way that can be described as intellectually honest).
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