Recommended Reading

Apr 2, 2010

From HobbyGameDev Vol. 6 Sec. 2, on using books as a resource:

Cost can seem like a factor, since good books on this subject can easily be in the $30-$80 range, but the important things to think about are that (a.) the cost per hour is quite low, (b.) the overall cost pales in comparison to paying for classes, and (c.) it’s impossible to estimate value of “this professionally edited content was what enabled me to succeed in learning this” (I can say that last one about at least a few books I had growing up).

Here are some of the books that I’ve still been reading, which I’m happy to recommend to peer developers that are also past what introductory books are expected to cover.

Disclaimer: these are not affiliate links (!). I am not trying to sell you these books. I won’t see a penny of any sales. I’m just offering these notes as additional data points to consider in your ongoing search for learning, and linking to the Amazon pages for them so that you can also view other reader opinions, notes about length/size, track them down used, etc.


Gaming and Cognition: Theories and Practice from the Learning Sciences
By Richard Van Eck
Price (new): $180.00
Skill: Advanced
Type: Theory and research about the relationship between cognition and playing videogames
Notes: This is the most that I have ever spent on a book. For me at least, this being my area of research interest, it’s worth it. For serious games and learning based games (which to my mind encompasses any videogame beyond the most trivial), no other book I’ve found can match the quality, depth, and rigor of this one.


Game Feel: A Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation
By Steve Swink
Price (new): $44.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Videogame design concepts, non-technical
Notes: Most books about game design focus on traditional games – board, card, and other rule-based non-digital games. Game Feel is actually about design for videogames: real-time input, timing, tuning, and spatial relationships. Besides standing out for being one of the few books in its category that appreciates about digital videogames what makes them different, it’s also well put together. I’d like to see more books like this, but before that’s going to happen, we need more videogame developers to read the one that we have.


Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
By Scott Mccloud
Price: $14.99-$22.99
Skill: All
Type: Visual design – though focused on graphic novels, relevant to challenges and ideas relating to videogames
Notes: This book has become famous among game designers after SimCity/Sims designer Will Wright mentioned it in an interview, beginning, “There’s a really good book called ‘Understanding Comics’ by Scott McCloud. It’s all about comics, but it turns out that a lot of the lessons he talks about are very applicable…” It’s not hype, and it wasn’t just coincidentally what Will was reading at the time: the book really is full of gems useful for thinking about and discussing videogames. Highly recommended.


The Art Of Computer Game Design: Reflections Of A Master Game Designer
By Chris Crawford
Price (used only): $52.14
E-Text: Available $2.99 for Kindle (note that free official Amazon programs are available for Mac, PC, iOS, Android, etc. to read Kindle books, even if you don’t own a Kindle)
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Videogame design concepts, from Chris Crawford (founder of the Game Development Conference) written in 1984
Notes: Surprisingly relevant and interesting, especially considering that this book is older than the Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m not sure whether this is a sign of how far we haven’t come in 26 years, or how far ahead of his time Chris Crawford was in his ideas and ability to articulate. (Some of both, probably.)



Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By Daniel H. Pink
Price (new): $26.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Lay introduction to conclusions from motivation research
Notes: Part of a videogame’s role is to motivate a player – to motivate the player to keep playing, to motivate the player to play a certain way, or to motivate the player to perform certain tasks. The business world (which is really what this book is about) doesn’t listen to what motivation research has revealed about what makes people do certain things, but the development of each videogame is a chance to rethink how we motivate people.



Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames

By Ian Bogost
Price (new): $37
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Survey and analysis of serious games
Notes: A look at videogames that aim to fulfill a purpose other than entertainment. Grounded in a wealth of examples, all of which are taken apart and put into context for the reader.



Responsibility in Mass Communication

By William L. Rivers, Wilbur Schramm, and Clifford G. Christians
Price (used only): Under $5.00
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Not about videogame design, but rather about the history and reasoning of ethical considerations in the production and distribution of wide-reaching media. While news gets particular attention, differences between print, television, and radio (yes, this book is old) for the development of entertainment are investigated. I highly recommend this; although to my knowledge it has been out of print for almost 30 years, (1.) it’s available used (easy to find through Amazon) ludicrously cheap (2.) I haven’t found a more modern replacement that does service to the subject.



What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

By James Paul Gee
Price (new): $17.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Bridge between learning theory and videogame playing
Notes: Connections between how people learn, and how people play videogames. It’s easy to read (in the same way that Gladwell or Gilbert are easy to read), it’s grounded in commercial videogame work, and the author’s expertise in education comes through cover to cover. If you were vaguely interested in Gaming and Cognition above, but not interested enough to pay that much money for a book, Gee’s is worth looking into.



Tricks of the Game-Programming Gurus

By Andre Lamothe, John Ratcliff, and Denise Tyler
Price (new): $22.00
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Best book on mid-90’s videogame development
Notes: This book is from 1994. If it were a person, it could drive now. There are newer versions of this book (not much newer – 1999 maybe?) adapted for Windows/DirectX, but they pale in the depth and breadth of this first one. It’ll take a fairly knowledgable modern game developer to discern what aspects of this book are antiquated beyond relevance, versus which are worth taking note of with a little adaptation, but this tome covers an impressive array of topics (and well), all in one place, in a way that I haven’t found anywhere since. If nothing else, consider that there are 13 used copies currently listed on Amazon selling for under $1.00 – if only to get some perspective on older videogame development practices, I think it’s worth paying a dollar more than shipping and handling.



Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

By Neil Postman
Price (new): $15.00
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Investigation into the effects of entertainment media on society
Notes: Gun makers need to have an understanding of gun safety; food manufacturers should be aware of the nutritional impact of what they make; videogame developers should be equally interested in understanding our potential to do harm, that we might do a better job of thinking up new ways to do good. Postman’s book is focused primarily on television and news media – but a lot of it applies to our medium, as well. You may or may not be interested in reading this, but your players are interested in you reading this.



Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding The Market

By Sheri Graner Ray
Price (new): $39.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Summary of research and discourge on gender and videogames
Notes: Readable, well-researched, and in many cases Ray’s book provides actionable suggestions. Even if you’re not making a game specifically targeting females, this book can help influence a few small but important decisions to avoid frustrating or turning away the girls interested in what your game has to offer. When I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon on gender and videogames in 2007, not only was this the best book that I found on the subject, but the interviews that I held with female players and developers leading up to the presentation overwhelmingly supported Ray’s research.



The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

By Peter M. Senge
Price (new): $24.95
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Grounded and accessible introduction to systems thinking
Notes: Technically a business management book, not a videogame development book. That said, the strategies highlighted here get to the core of challenges facing teams across the videogame industry. As an introduction to systems thinking, it’s also (by accident) a valuable introduction to useful ways to think about player experience and real-time videogame design.



Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism

By Ian Bogost
Price (new): $19.00
Skill: Advanced
Type: An academic look at videogame design as a relationship between elements, rather than as a collection of tangled holistic theories. Though one of my favorite books on understanding videogames, it’s less accessible than other items listed here; I have difficulty finding developers that have both the practical experience and requisite interest in theory to appreciate this. Crack a copy open in the bookstore or library first, to get a sense for what’s covered and how it’s written. Not for everyone, though great for who it’s for.



Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice

By Rudolf Kremers
Price (new): $59.00
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Cross-disciplinary look at level design concepts
Notes: The few level design books that I have seen focused on how to use a particular tool, forgetting the design part of level design while getting lost in implementation. Kremers pulls together an impressive array of subjects to provide a bigger picture of level design. I wish this book had existed when I was younger – when I was getting into level design I quite literally went to bookstores in hopes of finding what’s covered in this book.


Originally posted as part of GameDevLessons.com Vol. 13



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2 Comments

  1. […] not entirely a mystery – motivation research makes it pretty clear how improperly mixing my sense of purpose with the conditional rewards of […]

  2. […] Here’s the blog entry I mention briefly during the video about cool books related to videogame…. […]

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