Uncertainty in Games

Uncertainty in Games

by Greg Costikyan
     
 

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In life, uncertainty surrounds us. Things that we thought were good for us turn out to be bad for us (and vice versa); people we thought we knew well behave in mysterious ways; the stock market takes a nosedive. Thanks to an inexplicable optimism, most of the time we are fairly cheerful about it all. But we do devote much effort to managing and ameliorating…  See more details below

Overview

In life, uncertainty surrounds us. Things that we thought were good for us turn out to be bad for us (and vice versa); people we thought we knew well behave in mysterious ways; the stock market takes a nosedive. Thanks to an inexplicable optimism, most of the time we are fairly cheerful about it all. But we do devote much effort to managing and ameliorating uncertainty. Is it any wonder, then, asks Greg Costikyan, that we have taken this aspect of our lives and transformed it culturally, making a series of elaborate constructs that subject us to uncertainty but in a fictive and nonthreatening way? That is: we create games. In this concise and entertaining book, Costikyan, an award-winning game designer, argues that games require uncertainty to hold our interest, and that the struggle to master uncertainty is central to their appeal. Game designers, he suggests, can harness the idea of uncertainty to guide their work. Costikyan explores the many sources of uncertainty in many sorts of games -- from Super Mario Bros. to Rock/Paper/Scissors, from Monopoly to CityVille, from FPS Deathmatch play to Chess. He describes types of uncertainty, including performative uncertainty, analytic complexity, and narrative anticipation. And he suggest ways that game designers who want to craft novel game experiences can use an understanding of game uncertainty in its many forms to improve their designs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Game designer and science fiction writer Costikyan claims that uncertainty is a necessity of a fun and rewarding game experience, whether that happens to be a board game, videogame, or something like rock/paper/scissors. After a brief introduction to types of play in animals and humans, Costikyan states that uncertainty is essential because predictability inhibits fun. He analyzes the role this characteristic plays in numerous games, including Super Mario Bros., Cityville, Diplomacy, and poker. For each game, he provides a rundown of the rules of play and strategies that players might invoke. Addressing the role of randomness, he notes that even highly strategic games often contain an element of luck, which has its own benefits. Other sources of uncertainty include hidden information, narrative or development anticipation, and uncertainty of perception, for each of which he provides multiple examples. Costikyan closes with thoughts on game design and the importance of the right amount and types of uncertainty for a successful and popular game, noting that "there are almost as many ways to design games as there are game creators, and there is always something new to be learned with each game played." This concise treatise will highly interest game designers and those wishing to hone their game-playing strategies. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Award-winning game designer and author Costikyan (Toon: The Cartoon Rolepaying Game) supports his opening definition of "uncertainty" with examples anyone can relate to: whether you can pay your bills; whether the person you love loves you back, etc. This uncomplicated approach dominates the text and accommodates even those readers who have never heard of game theory. Costikyan covers video, board, card, and playground games such as rock-paper-scissors (with an emphasis on video games). Sports are not covered. He is one of the few game designers to explain how uncertainty in games engages players and keeps them playing. But he doesn't stop there. He also labels the types of uncertainty in games—performative uncertainty, player unpredictability, and narrative anticipation, to name a few—and explains how each one works with familiar examples such as Super Mario Bros. and Magic: The Gathering. His clarity ensures that readers don't have to be familiar with a particular game to understand the concept it demonstrates. VERDICT An excellent introduction to the world of game studies for anyone interested in how games work.—Paul Stenis, Pepperdine Univ. Lib., Malibu, CA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262313599
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
03/08/2013
Series:
Playful Thinking Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
152
Sales rank:
391,509
File size:
166 KB

What People are saying about this

Chris Crawford
Once again, Greg Costikyan has given us an original and insightful angle on game design. In a world inundated with overwrought megabytes about fun, graphics,and immersion, Costikyan shows that an analysis of the role of uncertainty in games sheds important light on the process of game design. This book should be required reading for game designers.

Warren Spector
Uncertainty in Games is sure to provide readers of all stripes many satisfying 'Aha!' moments. For gamers, those might take the form of ' That's why I got hooked on Game X.' For developers, there's a wealth of specific advice for providing deeper, more surprising experiences.

Academics will discover new tools of critical analysis rooted in the unique perspective of a hands-on game designer. Even publishers will find insights into how better to retain players and monetize them more effectively. In this brief, easy read, Costikyan truly does offer something for everyone.

Jesse Schell
Until now, uncertainty has been a shadowy concept in the world of game design; hard to put a finger on, hard to pin down. In this incisive text, rich with examples, Greg Costikyan captures uncertainty, dissects it, analyzes it, then miraculously brings it back to life and sets it free, all in the name of showing us what uncertainty truly is: the secret force that makes us love games.

From the Publisher

"Once again, Greg Costikyan has given us an original and insightful angle on game design. In a world inundated with overwrought megabytes about fun, graphics, and immersion,
Costikyan shows that an analysis of the role of uncertainty in games sheds important light on the process of game design. This book should be required reading for game designers." -- Chris
Crawford
, former head of Atari's Games Research Group, and founder of the Game Developers
Conference

The MIT Press

"Until now, uncertainty has been a shadowy concept in the world of game design; hard to put a finger on, hard to pin down. In this incisive text, rich with examples, Greg Costikyan captures uncertainty, dissects it, analyzes it, then miraculously brings it back to life and sets it free, all in the name of showing us what uncertainty truly is: the secret force that makes us love games." -- Jesse Schell, Carnegie Mellon University; CEO, Schell Games

The MIT Press

"Greg Costikyan is a true veteran of the game industry. His career spans the earliest online videogames, tabletop role-playing games and wargames, and recent Facebook and casual hits.
Uncertainty in Games puts Costikyan's considerable experience and pointed intellect to good use. The result is some of the most insightful, accessible, and witty writing about games in recent memory. There is one thing I have no uncertainty about: my game design students will be reading Uncertainty in Games." -- Eric
Zimmerman
, independent game designer & founding faculty, NYU Game Center

The MIT Press

" Uncertainty in Games is sure to provide readers of all stripes many satisfying 'Aha!' moments. For gamers, those might take the form of ' That's why I got hooked on Game X.' For developers, there's a wealth of specific advice for providing deeper, more surprising experiences. Academics will discover new tools of critical analysis rooted in the unique perspective of a hands-on game designer. Even publishers will find insights into how better to retain players and monetize them more effectively. In this brief, easy read, Costikyan truly does offer something for everyone." -- Warren Spector, award-winning veteran game developer

The MIT Press

Eric Zimmerman
Greg Costikyan is a true veteran of the game industry. His career spans the earliest online videogames, tabletop role-playing games and wargames, and recent Facebook and casual hits. Uncertainty in Games puts Costikyan's considerable experience and pointed intellect to good use. The result is some of the most insightful, accessible, and witty writing about games in recent memory. There is one thing I have no uncertainty about: my game design students will be reading Uncertainty in Games.

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Meet the Author

Greg Costikyan, an award-winning designer of board, tabletop, roleplaying,computer, online, mobile, and social games, is Senior Game Designer for Loot Drop,Inc. He is the author of four science fiction/fantasy novels.

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