"A new book examining the culture and meaning of games design is already being hailed as a classic. Jim McClellan spoke to the authors about gaming potential
'I see myself as the computer games industry's loyal opposition," says American games designer Eric Zimmerman. "I grew up playing games. I love the industry, warts and all. I just want to make it better."
Hence his book Rules of Play, a monumental examination of the emerging field of games design, co-written with Katie Salen. Published by MIT Press, it was three years in the making, in part because both authors have day jobs. Zimmerman runs gameLab, an independent games company he co-founded with Peter Lee. Salen is a full-time academic and freelance game designer. "We had to sacrifice our social lives to get the book out," he laughs.
Given that Rules of Play seems likely to become a set text for the games world, it was probably worth the evenings in. With its thoughtful definitions of key concepts such as "play" and "interactivity", it should appeal to industry types and academics. And though the book looks forbiddingly substantial, it's accessible enough for general readers looking for ideas that shed light on the pleasure they get from gaming.
Psychologists, anthropologists and even literary theorists often write about computer games, but, says Zimmerman, "there's very little rigorous writing done on games as a design field". There is a growing body of professional books on digital game design but, as he points out, most have a narrow practical focus. "What we're trying to do is more fundamental. We want to really look at what games are, how they function and how they can be designed to create meaningful play for players."
Starting with a neat definition of a game - "a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome", Rules of Play offers different conceptual frameworks, or schemas, for looking at games. Grouped around three categories -rules, play and culture - these cover everything from "games as systems of conflict" and "games as narrative play" to "games as cultural environment".