As the gaming hobby and industry continue to grow, there is greater interest in the scholarly study of games and game design. MIT Press continues to publish fascinating reads on the topic, with a recent one being The Aesthetic of Play by Brian Upton. If that author’s name sounds familiar to you, then you probably enjoy digital games as well as tabletop games. Brian Upton co-founded Red Storm Entertainment, where he was lead designer of one of my all time favorite PC game series, Rainbow Six. He is now a “script doctor for games” at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio.
In this book, Brian explores how we play, discusses how we experience games, and builds from that a framework on how we should design games. He even delves into the idea that understanding how we play helps us better understand other creative engagement, such as books, music, theater, and art. Even if you are not interested in game design, this book is a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain at the mind of a game designer.
An important skill for any game designer is the ability to “see through” a set of rules - to be able to place at a set of static rules and extrapolate the sorts of dynamic constraints they will generate during actual play. At the same time, a designer should be able to reverse the process – to reason backward from a desired player experience to arrive at a simple rule set that is capable of evoking it. Learning to roam easily back and forth across the conceptual gap between the game as designed and the game as encountered is an important step toward becoming a professional designer.
The book is a scholarly and enjoyable read on the study of play, games, and design, using examples from Monopoly to Dungeons & Dragons to Guitar Hero to Rainbow Six. As I read more and more about games, game history, and game design, I have such greater appreciation and respect for those designers who create the games we all enjoy so much.