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A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster | Notes

Chapter 1:

Artificial conflict in games - they give us series of challenges to overcome.

Gameplay exists in a simulated environment with its own rules (fantasy).

Game players have meaningful choices. Their actions/choices mean something within the context.

Games have results, quantifiable outcomes.

Chapter 2 - How the brain works:

Games are voluntary, free activity outside ordinary life.

The Brain:

-likes faces, and is good at drawing meaning from patterns, making assumptions based on information and filling in the blanks.

-cuts out the objects/details irrelevant to the task it is doing.

-absorbs more than we think/realise.

-iconifies the input.

-chunks the routine behaviours (driving, getting ready), that you do without thinking in 'auto-pilot'.

Art is forcing us to see things that we take for granted (i.e. nature).

People like textured/varied order, they do not like chaos/noise.

Chapter 3 & 4 - What games are & What games teach us:

Games are concentrated/iconised chunks ready for our brains to absorb. They exclude distracting extra details. Games are iconised representation of human experience, that include patterns to be practiced and learned.

*Games teach us: about power & status, social hierarchy & belonging to a tribe, calculate the odds & predict events...

Balancing between construction and uncertainty in games.

Construction: rigid definition of rules, mathematical analysis

Uncertainty/Interpretation: variables, unpredictability, human element

Fun (a source of enjoyment) can happen:

-via physical stimuli

-aesthetic appreciation

-direct chemical manipulation

*Learning/mastering (comprehension) a task causes 'fun' in games.

Survival of the species: If we learn our body rewards us.

sensory overload vs. sensory deprivation

excessive caos vs. excessive order

How boredom might strike (killing the pleasurable learning experience):

1- 'Too easy': Learned how to get by in the game too fast.

2- 'I will not bother.' Not interested in the permutations/depth.

3- 'Too hard': Too complicated, player cannot see the patterns.

4- 'The difficulty ramps too slowly.': Reveals new data too slowly.

5-'This has got too hard too fast.': Reveals new data too fast.

6- 'I beat it.': Consumed the game, mastered every pattern.

"There is probably something deep in the reptile brain that is deeply satisfied by jumping puzzles... The I first started playing games, everything was tile-based, meaning that you moved in discrete squares, as if you were popping from tile to tile on a tiled floor..." (page 70)

Question: why the most popular games are the ones that teach obsolete skills, while the more sophisticated ones that teach subtler skills tend to reach smaller markets.

-Visceral appeal. Action games let us stay in unconscious where as ones that require careful consideration require logical, conscious thought. (Adjusting work to target the unconscious mind).

When we design games we often start with a previous game and change just one element in it.

Chapter 5 - What games aren't:

There are not many games that are put unclothed abstractions. Most games provide some level of misdirection (metaphors).


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