“Fun,” says game designer Raph Koster, is just another word for “learning.”
The idea that play is the best way to learn is not, admittedly, an entirely original idea. Even Plato, Koster is quick to point out, famously declared that “the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” Still, few authors have explored the relationship between learning and play like Koster did in his 2004 book A Theory of Fun for Game Design.
The original edition of the book became something of a bible for game designers. University game design programs across the globe made it a part of their curriculum, and the book was translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean, eventually selling over 30,000 copies. This year Koster teamed up with publisher O’Reilly to release a 10th anniversary edition, due out December 5. The book’s many charming illustrations are now rendered in full color, and Koster has updated the content to make it more relevant to the modern games industry, but the core idea at the center of A Theory of Fun — that learning and fun can be synonymous — has gone unchanged. That’s mostly because in the 10 years since the book’s release, nobody has been able to successfully challenge that idea.
“Somebody really should,” he says. “It’s been 10 years, dammit.”
Much of Koster’s game industry experience is with MMOs. He was lead designer on Ultima Online: The Second Age, and creative director of Star Wars Galaxies.
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