Rules (of Play) vs Art (of Game Design)

Moikka (Finnish “Hi”)! As a part of the process of writing my thesis I’ve been reading some literature about music games and games in general. Right now I’m reading Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play is considered as one of the most comprehensive and fundamental books about games and game design.

Rules vs Art

I haven’t read Rules of Play from beginning to end but you will get the impression about the book very soon that it really tries to establish concepts and definitions about games in a quite scientific way. I’m feeling such a contrast between the book and Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design that I read thoroughly some time ago. I felt that Art of Game Design is so much about inspiration and it has been written also in a very inspirational way. You immediately feel like being home and feel like starting to develop and design some great games and experiences. You could say that it’s an empowering book. But I have to say that Art of Game Design has been the easiest book for me to read from beginning to end in my whole life. So I may be biased.

Nevertheless when I’m reading Rules of Play I’m kind of reminded of the time when I was learning to program for the first time at the university. I remember when I tried to understand these algorithms and how every single bit needed to be said to the computer or it wouldn’t do it. The computer does exactly what you tell it to do and not a tiny bit extra. It’s hard to understand why the computer is so dumb. It feels counterintuitive to chop everything into atoms. Very much like the way it is been done in Rules of Play. You have already established this view about games in your heart and now the cornerstones are been touched again and chopped into pieces when you read the book. It feels awful. Similarly you already have the view about logic and how stuff just works. You don’t need to think things algorithmically when you are doing basic things like walking or eating. It just happens. Your brain does the work for you. But with programming you just need to think things in small pieces.

Kind of what I’m just trying say is that I think you need to put a lot more energy into the reading process when you’re reading Rules of Play than with Art of Game Design. I remember the words of one of our University of Jyväskylä’s lecturer who said that thinking actually hurts. I think this is not about that that I would be afraid of thinking (I hope). I think it kind of just shows that personally I’m more on the art side of things than on the strict rules side. Maybe I take the rules more for granted and want to leave them as they are.

Rules of Play is still an interesting book to read. I’m not saying that it isn’t but the reading experience has been totally different for me than with Art of Game Design. Maybe you need both kinds of books to exist to keep things in balance. Oh yeah I forgot to mention about this concept of meaningful play that they have in Rules of Play. Maybe I’ll talk about it some other time 🙂