User:Playclever/Sandbox/Rules of Play

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Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
Author Eric Zimmerman, Katie Salen
Subject Game design
Publisher MIT Press
Publication date
Media type Hardback
Pages 688
ISBN 978-0262240451

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals is a book on game design by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, published by MIT Press.


Unit 1: Core Concepts[edit]

Meaningful Play

The authors introduce the concept of meaningful play as the goal of successful game design. They offer two definitions, one descriptive and one evaluative:

  • Descriptive definition: "Meaningful play in a game emerges from the relationship between player action and system outcome; it is the process by which a player takes action within the designed system of a game and the system responds to the action. The meaning of an action in a game resides in the relationship between action and outcome"
  • Evaluative definition: "Meaningful play is what occurs when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game"


The authors discuss definitions of design, and introduce their own: "Design is the process by which a designer creates a context to be encountered by a participant, from which meaning emerges." They go on to discuss semiotics, the study of meaning, describing Charles Peirce's semiotic elements, in their own words:

  1. A sign represents something other than itself.
  2. Signs are interpreted.
  3. Meaning results when a sign is interpreted.
  4. Context shapes interpretation.


The authors introduce four elements all systems share, as defined by Stephen Littlejohn in his textbook Theories of Human Communication:

  • Objects are the parts, elements or variables within the system
  • Attributes are the qualities or properties of the system and its objects
  • Internal relationships are the relations among the objects
  • Environment is the context that surrounds the system

They go on to identify each of the four elements of a system in the game of chess, when framed as a formal (mathematical), experiential (social), or cultural (representational) system. They note that these systems form a hierarchy, such that each system is a superset of the prior system, and indicate that formal systems are closed systems and cultural systems are open systems, while experiential systems can be either.


The authors connect interactivity with the concepts introduced thus far, stating that "when a player interacts with the designed system of a game, meaningful play emerges." They emphasize the concept of designed interaction, using the example of rolling a die in a game of craps (designed) versus simply dropping an apple (not designed).

They go on to identify various modes of interactivity, citing examples of cognitive, functional, explicit, and "beyond-the-object" interactivity, types of interactivity varying in form, but which may all exist to some degree in a given game. At the core of interactivity, they claim, is a choice, an action-outcome event consisting of five stages, which can be characterized as either internal or external events:

  1. Internal: Initial state
  2. External: Convey the possibility of choice
  3. Internal: The player makes a choice
  4. Internal: The choice affects the game system
  5. External: Convey the change to the player

The authors explain how common complaints about a game can stem from a failure to address one of these stages (for example, decisions may feel arbitrary if stage four is neglected), before moving on to discuss the possibility space of a game, defining it as "the space of all possible actions and meanings that can emerge in the course of the game."

Defining Games

The authors first discuss the relationship between the terms "play" and "game", demonstrating that games are a subset of play, while simultaneously play is a component of games. They go on to discuss existing definitions of a game, noting that the presence of rules is the only element that most definitions share. They then provide their own intentionally narrow definitions of games and game design, and go on to discuss how puzzles and role-playing games in particular fit into their definitions:

  • "A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome"
  • "Game design is the process by which a game designer creates a game, to be encountered by a player, from which meaningful play emerges"

Defining Digital Games

The authors insist that "the underlying properties of games and the core challenges of game design hold true regardless of the medium in which a game manifests," but they do identify four traits that are particularly strong in digital games:

  1. Immediate but narrow interactivity
  2. Manipulation of information
  3. Automated complex systems
  4. Networked communication

The Magic Circle

The authors borrow the term magic circle from the book Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, using it to describe "the space within which a game takes place". They explain how players enter into the magic circle by adopting a lusory attitide, whereby they accept the rules of a game because of the pleasure the game can afford. This is another borrowed term, taken from Bernard Suits' book Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia. They explain that the magic circle is fragile, and requires constant maintenance to keep it intact.

Unit 2: RULES[edit]

  • Defining Rules
  • Rules on Three Levels
  • The Rules of Digital Games
  • Games as Emergent Systems
  • Games as Systems of Uncertainty
  • Games as Information Theory Systems
  • Games as Systems of Information
  • Games as Cybernetic Systems
  • Games as Game Theory Systems
  • Games as Systems of Conflict
  • Breaking the Rules

Unit 3: PLAY[edit]

  • Defining Play
  • Games as the Play of Experience
  • Games as the Play of Pleasure
  • Games as the Play of Meaning
  • Games as Narrative Play
  • Games as the Play of Simulation
  • Games as Social Play

Unit 4: CULTURE[edit]

  • Defining Culture
  • Games as Cultural Rhetoric
  • Games as Open Culture
  • Games as Cultural Resistance
  • Games as Cultural Environment



Guest contributions[edit]

The book is punctuated by guest contributions, including one essay and four commissioned games, each discussed alongside various prototype materials.

  • Foreword: Frank Lantz
  • Commissioned Essay: Reiner Knizia
    • In an essay entitled "The Design and Testing of the Board Game—Lord of the Rings," Reiner Knizia discusses the process of developing the Lord of the Rings board game including his approach to design, distilling the key parts of a story and presenting them in game form (his "scripted game system"), playtesting both mentally and through prototypes, refining the game, and finally expanding the game.
  • Unit 1: Commissioned Game: Richard Garfield
    • Richard Garfield describes the development of a board game specially commissioned for the book, called Sibling Rivalry.
  • Unit 2: Commissioned Game: Frank Lantz
  • Unit 3: Commissioned Game: Kira Snyder
  • Unit 4: Commissioned Game: James Ernest

See also[edit]

External links[edit]