So some time ago I ordered me a copy of Raph Koster’s “Theory of Fun.” I read it, thought it was pretty good, and said to myself “You should review this book!” Maybe I will someday. . . . Guess I’m not much for detailed book reports.
These pros and cons I’ve put together may be of interest to those gamers gone readers, readers gone gamers or anyone inbetween.
Koster’s casual presentation of otherwise daunting ideas makes the book extremely accessible, while remaining quite in-depth. He covers all the necessary ground.
His theory does not venture far from previous work, but in sticking to accepted dogma, he offers a fairly comprehensive and clear compilation of ideas. This is what makes the book a good read for anyone looking for a foundation in theory related to games.
I found many ideas in the first half of the book to be over-simplified. Though most issues are readdressed with more sophistication in the second half, his dual presentation created a sense of contradiction. Koster may have divided the book this way to increase the chances that the reader would reach a point of well rounded knowledge before falling over from dizzy philosophical loops. For my tastes though, if you didn’t say it right the first time, you just said it wrong. You may find some early implications to be later negated.
Koster also involves a bit much of his own tastes and artistic ethics. This is primarily in the latter portions of the book, but it somewhat turned me off. He goes into some description of how games “should” be, the responsibility of the designer, etc. I suppose it is interesting to hear another’s perspective, but I prefer to determine my own principles. (Maybe for you this is a pro!)
Theory of Fun would do well as required reading for anyone seeking an education in game design, and could be useful to anyone in art, but if you’ve already covered the field of theory, you may not be too impressed. Still, it’s an easy read and rewarding.
Game players may also want to give it a go just to get a new perspective. It may turn you on to some of the finer details of the very games you love to play and help you find new ways to love and play them.
I also suggest this book to anyone looking at games from the outside, anyone not involved in production or consumption. It can give the layman a good look into a new world and maybe close some generation gaps. Theory of Fun may be what we need to mail to our representatives to keep them from judging games to hastily.
-Christopher J. Rock