Top 7 Books About Video Game Design

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Playing video games can be fun. But making video games can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re a keen gamer, I’m sure you’ve considered diving into the magical art of game design many a time. Regardless of whether you’ve never tried making a game or whether you’ve fallen at the hurdles of learning software, trying to code, or worldbuilding in the past, these seven books are sure to ignite the fire in you to embark on the journey to create something great.

And who knows, perhaps it may even immerse you in a career you never thought you could make it into.

Characteristics of Games

The history of gaming goes far beyond computing. From chess to checkers and horseshoes to soccer, gaming has been a key part of human interaction for millennia. 

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Characteristics of Games is a book that addresses this long lineage, tracing it into the present day while drawing conclusions on the surprising number of similarities found between the varying types and styles of games that have stuck around.

It digs into why we play and why we come back for more. Two fundamental questions need to be answered to draw in a gaming audience.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

To make great stuff, we have to know what great stuff looks like—right?

Jesse Schell’s incredible book of lenses equips its readers with key ways to look at video games in order to see their quality. Give readers over 100 fundamental questions to help you start thinking about psychology, gameplay, usability, accessibility, storyline, fun, and much more.

What’s more, is Schell outlines how to take your answers to these questions to create a plethora of new game ideas. Who knows, Schell’s formula might bring about your next hit game.

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

With a title as self-explanatory as that, you can already tell why you need this one on your shelf.

While Rules of Play is a thick and somewhat intimidating book, it is an absolute tome when it comes to the fundamentals of game design—whether that be for tabletop, sports or (what we’re all here for) video games.

Beyond practical application, the book also covers a variety of perspectives, case studies, and culturally specific examples which illuminate the importance of good design.

Playing Nature

For those interested in video game scholarship, Alenda Y. Chang’s Playing Nature is a must-read.

Ditching mechanics, narratives, and marketing to instead look at the video game environments we inhabit within game worlds, Chang explores the inner meaning of these worlds and how they have much larger socio-cultural repercussions on their players (and creators).

Dipping into topics of environmentalism, Anthropocene, alternate reality gaming, and more, Playing Nature is sure to ignite plenty of new ideas in readers.

How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design

Games make us feel things. This may seem like a simple question, but when taken at its fundamental it cuts to the very core of why we game.

This is exactly what designer and researcher Katherine Isbister explores within this incredible primer on storytelling within games.

Like Playing Nature, this book focuses more on the culture of gaming and its larger scope rather than the nitty-gritty of design itself. But, as any great designer will tell you, such background is key to great design.

Game Feel: A Game Designer’s Guide to Virtual Sensation

Games making us feel and game feel are two hugely different things, but over the years “game feel” has become one of the most important buzzwords out there.

This book attempts to chart how designers create a game feel—that interesting and incredibly unique feeling of engagement and oneness with a game’s systems.

Looking at perception, touch, sound, engagement and much more, the book touches on one of the fundamentals of making a game that hooks players. A factor that can be used to incredible effect when trying to deliver strong messages through video games.

Game Programming Patterns

Thought you’d make it out of this list without a book on programming? Think again. While design, culture, history, and gameplay are the tenets of gaming we all know and love, there is one fundamental to all video games—programming.

This popular book written by the incredibly experienced designer Robert Nystrom, aims to make the fundamental elements of game programming more accessible. Giving you immediate access to key game loops, scripting engines, and design patterns alongside plenty of other technical specificities.

But, most importantly, Nystrom provides a shed load of motivation for you to go out there are finish your game—no matter how big or small it is.


Gaming is an art form like no other. And with its market eclipsing that of both the film and music industry combined, it’s no question that there are plenty of careers to be made within it. But the first steps are always the hardest.

Equipped with the knowledge and motivation held within the pages of these books, you may just get yourself on track to become a pro game designer. 

I’m getting excited about playing your next game just thinking about it!

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  • David Horgan

    This looks like an interesting selection. Game Programming Patterns is fun and I enjoy reading it. I’m developing an eco city building game so I was interested in Ecology in video games enough to buy it!

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