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  • Games, Design & Play

    Unlike many other creative fields, game design is at its heart an iterative process guided by prototyping, playtesting and refinement. This process is easy enough to explain, but much more challenging to put into practice. Games, Design & Play makes the videogame design process—one seldom understood by anyone outside the game industry—accessible and actionable.

    Drawing from less-known but important games of all types, Macklin and Sharp introduce a play-focused, iteration-based approach to videogame design. The authors conceive of game design as the design of “play experiences” where designers produce the apparatus with which players interact, but whose use is determined by the players. A play-focused approach to game design has to emphasize play. Using specific game examples, Macklin and Sharp show how a game’s structure enables different forms of play, and how to create play experiences for players.

Table of Contents

The book is divided into three sections: Concepts, Process and Practice.


In the first section, Concepts, the authors take us through the definitions and principles of a play-based approach to game design. By the end of these four chapters, readers will have the terminology and conceptual framework for understanding games and play from a designer’s point of view.

  1. Games, Design and Play
  2. Basic Game Design Tools
  3. The Kinds of Play
  4. The Player Experience


Section two, Process, looks at some of the core processes and techniques through which the iterative design process unfolds. These four chapters introduce important methods and documents that will make the game design process smoother and more enjoyable.

  1. The Iterative Game Design Process
  2. Design Values
  3. Game Design Documentation
  4. Collaboration and Teamwork


Section three, Practice, then puts game design into action. The five chapters in this section move through the iterative game design process of conceptualizing, prototyping, playtesting and evaluating the design of games as designed play experiences.

  1. Conceptualizing Your Game
  2. Prototyping Your Game
  3. Playtesting Your Game
  4. Evaluating Your Game
  5. Moving from Design to Production

Sample Chapters

Read two full chapters from the book (the introduction, “Games, Design & Play” and “Design Values”)


The introduction to the book describes the what, why, how and who of Games, Design & Play. We also outline the basic elements of play design: actions, goals, rules, objects, playspace and players.

download the PDF here

Chapter 6: Design Values

Chapter 6: Design Values

Chapter 6 describes an important tool for keeping a game’s design on track: what we call design values. We discuss the origins of the concept and tool and describe its use. The chapter concludes with three case studies: thatgamecompany’s Journey, Captain Game’s Desert Golfing, and Naomi Clark’s Consentacle.

download the PDF here

Chapter Excerpts

In addition to the full chapters above, we’ve included a few chapter excerpts that we think will give you a better sense of the book.
Chapter 7: Game Design Documentation

Chapter 7: Game Design Documentation

To keep the game design process from feeling like an ever-shifting state of chaos, this chapter introduces three kinds of documentation: design documents, schematics, and tracking spreadsheets. Design documents record the specific design decisions made about the game. Schematics illustrate how the design is manifest on-screen to make the abstract ideas partially tangible before being implemented. And tracking spreadsheets capture big-picture and moment-to-moment tasks necessary to design, prototype and playtest a game.

In this chapter 7 excerpt, we include the portion of the chapter covering the design document.

download the PDF here

Chapter 9: Conceptualizing Your Game

Chapter 9: Conceptualizing Your Game

Conceptualization is the start of the gamemaking process. But what will that game be? There’s nothing more daunting than a blank screen, but there’s also no shortage of ideas, people, places, things, dreams and other games to be inspired by. Conceptualizing your game starts with an idea, but it doesn’t end there. Using techniques such as brainstorming, motivations, and design values will help turn those ideas into a game design.

In this chapter 9 excerpt, we include three brainstorming techniques that we’ve found are really helpful in getting started on conceptualizing a game.

download the PDF here

Teaching Materials

Games, Design & Play is designed for use in the classroom. To this end, we’ve prepared teaching materials—including syllabi (10 and 15 work term versions), assignments, in-class exercises and full slide decks—for two different classes: a game design course, and a game appreciation course. We’re also continuously creating new exercises as part of our teaching, so check out the book blog for these.
Game Design Course

Game Design Course

files available here

The game design course is conceived of as a project-based course, and so students will be playing, modifying and creating games throughout. It begins with the principles of game design, then moves into a series of iterative design cycles. The course uses group work for most assignments as a means of fostering peer learning and giving collaboration opportunities whenever possible.

While this can certainly be used as a soup-to-nuts course, we imagine many faculty will want to modify and supplement based on the particular needs of your program, course and students.

The following are the learning outcomes for the course as designed here:

  1. Develop game design vocabulary for talking about games and their play.
  2. Put into practice the basic tools of game design.
  3. Learn about the kinds of play games provide.
  4. Understand the demands gameplay makes on players.
  5. Experience the iterative game design process.
  6. Develop critical thinking skills related to the analysis of games and play.
Game Appreciation Course

Game Appreciation Course

files available here

The game appreciation course is more suitable for humanities and game studies courses. It is a lecture or seminar course, with an emphasis on in-class lecture and discussion building on playing games and material drawn from the book and beyond.

While this can certainly be used as a soup-to-nuts course, we imagine many faculty will want to modify and supplement based on the particular needs of your program, course and students.

The following are the learning outcomes for the course as designed here:

  1. Develop a vocabulary for talking about games and their play.
  2. Learn about the kinds of play games provide.
  3. Understand the demands gameplay makes on players.
  4. Develop an understanding of systems thinking as an analytic tool.
  5. Consider the place of games in culture.
  6. Develop critical thinking skills related to the analysis of games and play.


We focus primarily on independent games—because they are often the games at push the boundaries of game design.


Games, Design and Play brings together other great books on games and design. Check out this selected bibliography for more great books.

Anthropy, Anna, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.

Anthropy, Anna and Naomi Clark. A Game Design Vocabulary: Exploring the Foundational Principles Behind Good Game Design. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Professional, 2014.

Burnett, Rebecca, Brandy Blake, Andy Freeze, Kathleen Hanggi and Amanda Madden, WOVEN Text version 2.2. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2012.

Cooper, Alan, The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Boston, MA: Sams – Pearson Education, 2004.

Costikyan, Greg. Uncertainty in Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008.

Dreyfuss, Henry, Designing for People. NY: Simon and Shuster, 1955.

Fullerton, Tracy. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Guide to Creating Innovative Games, 3rd edition. Bacon Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2015.

Garrett, Jesse James, The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond (2nd Edition). San Francisco, CA: New Riders, 2010.

Hickey, Dave. “The Heresy of Zone Defense”, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy. Los Angeles, CA: Art Issues Press, 1997.

Isbister, Katherine, How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.

Juul, Jesper, The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013.

Juul, Jesper, Half-Real. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005.

Lemarchand, Richard. “Attention, Not Immersion: Making Your Games Better with Psychology and Playtesting, the Uncharted Way”, The Game Developers Conference (talk). 2012.

Llopis, Noel. “Indie Project Managment for One: Tools,” Games from Within. August 5, 2010. Accessed January 29, 2016.

Meadows, Donella. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Norman, Donald, The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Nutt, Christian. “Road to the IGF: Lea Schonfelder and Peter Lu’s Perfect Woman” Gamasutra. Published Feb 25, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.

Osborn, Alex F., Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem-solving. New York: Scribner, 1979.

Parsons, Talcott, The Structure of Social Action. New York: Free Press, 1967.

Raskin, Jef. The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Professional, 1994.

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Shewhart, Andrew Walter, Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control.  Washington, D.C.: The Graduate School, the Department of Agriculture, 1939.

Suits, Bernard. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. University of Toronto Press. Buffalo, NY: 1978.

About Us

Colleen Macklin is an Associate Professor in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design in New York City and Co-Director of PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab), a lab focused on developing games for experimental learning and social engagement. PETLab projects include a curriculum in game design for the Boys and Girls Club, games in disaster preparedness for the Red Cross, and big games such as Re:Activism and the “fiscal” sport Budgetball. She is a member of the game design collective Local No. 12, known for their card game the Metagame. Her work has been shown at Come Out and Play, SoundLab, The Whitney Museum for American Art and Creative Time. 

JOhn Sharp

John Sharp is a designer, art historian and educator. He has been involved in the creation and study of art and design for over twenty years. John is a member of the game design collective Local No. 12, which focuses on games as a research platform. He is the Associate Professor of Games and Learning in the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons School of Design at The New School where he co-directs PETLab (Prototyping, Education and Technology Lab). His book, Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art and Games, was published by The MIT Press.

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