The Lazy Designer

Rules of Play

Rules of Play (by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman).

To be honest I was a little concerned when I started reading this book. I’m always uncomfortable when people need to go out of their way to start justifying ‘games as art’. As a practical designer I really could care less what others think of games. I just want to learn how to build them better and faster. So I was worried that the book, which is a collection of methods by which game designers can understand game design and largely academic in tone, would offer me nothing of practical value.

I was wrong.

There is value in this book, particularly past the first bit. The evolution of the sample games created specifically for the book I found quite interesting… especially because they included the designer’s notes on why they abandoned various concepts and why they settled on others. Because the book is wider in scope than just video games, digging into core mechanics universal to all games, I felt I was learning about topics I had never really explored before. The discussions on dice games and children’s games I found fascinating.

How much *use* will I get out of what I’ve learned? I’m not sure… there’s certainly a lot of “I do that” in here… game design procedures that I utilized in the past but never really could explain why they were the “right way”. Now I can.

Really the book is about ways in which we can start talking about, examining, and assessing games. There are better titles out there for building games. This won’t help you there. But after a few years experience I think it can be a worthwhile tool to illuminate your game design practices; weaknesses and strengths. I suspect that this book is best read at a particular point in a designer’s ‘lifecycle’. If I had read this a couple years ago while still working at BioWare I think I wouldn’t have been able to benefit as much from the content. There’s some deeper issues explored here that are best ruminated over when one has more time to do so.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.

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