Since I have started to work with the Games industry I have been fascinated by the passion this industry is provoking. Here I mean passionate debates between people who love games and those who despise them. One side is convinced that it is pure entertainment and that killing virtual characters by the dozens, battles between heroes and evil, fighting for conquest, driving crazy cars or simulating sports is totally safe and innocent. On the other side, we can hear and read people about games saying how dangerous, destructive and addictive they can be. Curiously, on a personal level I started rather neutral on the subject. I had played a bit when I was studying computer science at University. I remembered spending a couple of half nights on stuff like Dune and waking up in the morning wondering why on earth I did spend that valuable time on that screen. Anyway, as life and business was bringing me back to Games, I intended to get another shot at it. So, I started to play again. This day, I can say that I have had a very serious go at the question and have acquired a solid experience on what games can offer to us.

This paper is not here to close the debate about how good or bad video game can be but to review a book on the topic. This book could only appeal to me with its title: “A Theory of Fun.”

Theory of Fun for Game Design Theory of Fun for Game DesignRaph Koster; Paraglyph 2004WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

First impression

The format of this book is rather unusual. Now if we think about it, from the Chief Creative Officer for Sony Entertainment, we should not expect anything too traditional. Indeed, as Raph is talking about fun, we can see from page 1 that he knows what he is talking about: every left page of text is illustrated with a drawing on the right page. And not only is this drawing most of the time funny, it also illustrates the point very well. So, in short, Raph Koster has made this book very entertaining. The reading is easy and the format of the book attractive.

In details

Raph Koster will cover topics from the first games in history to how the brain is working via players’ styles and psychology of learning. All the way long, the author will lead you cleverly and naturally to his point: fun is about learning. Without learning, he is claiming that games would not be fun. “This is what games are for. They teach us things so that we can minimize risk and know what choices to make. Phrased another way, the destiny of games is to become boring, not to be fun.” (p118). It is because we learn through them that they become boring. Once we know the rules and master them well enough, we don’t fancy playing them anymore. Some games like chess will be exception to this rule as the number of possibilities is endless (finite mathematically speaking but infinite from a brain’s perspective.)

Raph’s style is extremely well balanced between the “serious theories” covered such as brain pattern recognition system or player personality, and the anecdotes or the personal conclusions made from the combination of the theories and his observation of the world of games. This balance makes the book extremely pleasant to read. I consider it as a reference in terms of content and style illustrating the content. He has reached the meta-level of fun (using fun to talk about and model fun) and that is a great achievement.

Once we have read this book, although we start to have a possible answer to the fundamental question of “What is fun?” we still do not have much of a strategy for implementing that kind of fun into a game. In a way, although I tend to think that Raph Koster is dead right about what is fun, I also believe there is a serious need for another book about how to make a game successful when following that path. I also suspect that there are some darker aspects of what is fun that are closer to the animals in us (such as killing bad guys by the bunch with blood all over the screen). But that does not go against Koster’s point of view anyway.


I can only recommend it to anyone interested in games but also to anyone interested in human behaviour and almost anthropology. If you have not read it yet I strongly suggest that you get it and enjoy it. You will not regret you purchase.


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