Game Design Books: My Coup de Coeur

Someone asked me recently what are the books that I would recommend for people that are starting their career in game design. This is my list of favorites, or how the francophones would say, my coup de coeur <3

Mariana Boucault’s Top 5 Game Design Books

1# Theory of Fun, by Raph Koster

This book is light and fast to read. It doesn’t get into practical details on how to make games, but instead, invites you to understand “what fun is and why games matter”. And I believe that fun is the most important goal you have to think when making a game. This book is on the top of the list especially for those who are not used to read a lot, this is a good start to get into more dense texts.

2# Level Up: A guide to great video game design, by Scott Rogers

This book is more specific about game design. It is still basic, but will give you a general idea of the development of a game. What I like about it the most is that it is really practical and even today, I go back to it to read some parts when writing a document. If you are new in the area and doesn’t know what path to follow, the chapter where he describes each of the professions that work in game is really good. And the Appendix is my favorite part.

3# Game Design Workshop, by Tracy Fullerton

This one I would say is more academic. It breaks games into elements to define what a game is, although I particularly think there are many solutions for that problem (you should know her solution too). It  also explains about the stages of the development and the game industry, and gives you nice exercises to improve your design skills. It is perfect if you are in college and you are studying what a game is for a paper or project.

4# Head First Object-Oriented Analysis and Design by Brett D. McLaughlin, Gary Pollice, Dave West

Why is there a programming book in a list of game design books? Because it is awesome. This book was first indicated to me by my beloved husband, who is also a game designer. When I was starting my career, my designs were too contextual and high level, without thinking of exactly how I would construct the features, and this book helped me improve that. If you ignore all the book’s code and apply the OOA&D teachings to your game designs, you will learn how to break big problems into smaller ones and solve them in a structured manner. I recommend this book for those who are struggling with getting your ideas into the real world.

#5 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

There aren’t many books that I can say that changed my life, but this is one of them. The Flow Theory is well known amongst game developers. Jenova Chen even wrote a thesis about it, and created the game flOw. This book covers so much more than the flow graphic we learn in the university, that I don’t know what else to say other than read this book asap.


Others books about game design:

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

Mostly academic, it discusses games as culture and different types of play. It contains a compilation of definitions of what games are by different game developers that can open your mind.

The Art of Game Design: A book of Lenses by Jesse Schell

To be honest, this is not one of my favorite books about game design. It contains so many points of  view that I personally don’t know where to focus. At the same time, it does exactly what it says: it “presents 100+ sets of questions, or different lenses, for viewing a game’s design”. If you are stuck in a design or searching for a new perspective, this book is for you.

Challenges for Game Designers, by Brenda Brathwaite

If you learn by doing instead of reading, this is what you are looking for. With a handful of challenges, you will have a chance to apply what you read, with no programming skills required.


Worth mention:

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal
Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, by Jesper Juul

I can’t say much about these books, because I haven’t read them yet, but they were highly recommended by my colleagues.  I’m sorry Jesper and Jane! But the pile of books just gets bigger and bigger…

So, pick a book that fits your current needs and happy reading!

If you have other books you recommend, please leave a comment.


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