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 ...
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.
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.)
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
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.