The Art of Game Design

1st Edition

A book of lenses

Authors: Jesse Schell
Paperback ISBN: 9780123694966
Imprint: Morgan Kaufmann
Published Date: 4th August 2008
Page Count: 512


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Anyone can master the fundamentals of game design – no technological expertise is necessary. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses shows that the same basic principles of psychology that work for board games, card games and athletic games also are the keys to making top-quality videogames. Good game design happens when you view your game from many different perspectives, or lenses. While touring through the unusual territory that is game design, this book gives the reader one hundred of these lenses – one hundred sets of insightful questions to ask yourself that will help make your game better. These lenses are gathered from fields as diverse as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, writing, puzzle design, and anthropology. Anyone who reads this book will be inspired to become a better game designer – and will understand how to do it.

Key Features

  • Jesse Schell is a highly recognizable name within the game industry - he is the former chair of the International Game Developer's Association, and has designed many successful games, including Disney's award-winning Toontown Online.

  • The book's design methodology was developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, co-founded by Dr. Randy Pausch of "Last Lecture" fame.

  • 100 'lenses' are scattered throughout the book. These are boxed sets of questions, each a different way of seeing a game that will inspire the creative process.

  • 500 pages of detailed, practical instruction on creating world-class games that will be played again and again.

  • Winner of Game Developer's 2008 Front Line Award in the book category


Everyone in the game industry is involved with game design on one level or another- every contribution of content to a game is part of the design. Those with the title of Game Designer will be most interested, but this text will also be of interest to all those involved in the game development process, including game programmers, game artists, game producers, etc.

Table of Contents

Introduction; The History of Games; The Most Important Skill; Holographic Design; The Cycle of Design; Excerpt: Lehman and Witty: The Psychology of Play (1927); The Psychology of Play; The Spectrum of Humanity; Excerpt: Julian Jaynes: The Orgin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Chapter One: The Consciousness of Consciousness; The Subconscious Mind Part I: The Player; Excerpt: Salvador Dali: Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship: Secret Number Three: Slumber With a Key; The Subconscious Mind Part II: The Designer; Essay: Greg Costikyan: I Have No Words and I Must Design; What is a Game?; The Elements of Game Mechanics; Toy Design; State and State Change; Skill and Chance; Decisions; Feedback- The Heart of Interactivity; Interfaces; Patterns of Rewards; Game Balancing; Case Study: Deconstructing Pac-Man; Essay: Scott Kim: What is a Puzzle?; Puzzle Principles; The Psychology of Story; Interactive Stories: The Promise and the Problem; Story and Gameplay- The Conflict and Solution; Story and Game Worlds; Lessons from Tabletop RPGs; Essay: Henry Jenkins: Transmedia Worlds; Transmedia Worlds; Excerpt: Scott McCloud: The Vocabulary of Comics (from Understanding Comics); Characters in Games; Excerpts: (various) Christopher Alexander: A Pattern Language; Architecture in Games (Level Design); Elegance; Character in Games; Essay: Brian Moriarty: The Point; Social Principles in Multiplayer Games; Online Communities; Technology; Iteration; Playtesting; Brainstorming; Team Communication; Design Documents; Business; The Art of the Pitch; Excerpt: Mills Penny Arcade (1920); Location Based Entertainment; Serious Games; The Ethics of Games; The Deepest Theme; The Future; Your Secret Responsibility


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© Morgan Kaufmann 2008
Morgan Kaufmann
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About the Author

Jesse Schell

Jesse Schell is professor of entertainment technology for Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint master's program between Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science, where he teaches game design and leads several research projects. Formerly he was creative director of the Walt Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio. Schell worked as a designer, programmer, and manager on several projects for Disney theme parks and DisneyQuest. Schell received his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master's degree in information networking from Carnegie Mellon. He is also CEO of Schell Games, LLC, an independent game studio in Pittsburgh, and chairman of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). In 2004 he was named as one of the World's 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT's Technology Review.

Affiliations and Expertise

Jesse Schell is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), where he teaches game design and leads several research projects. He is also CEO of Schell Games, Pittsburgh's largest videogame studio. Previous positions include Creative Director of the Walt Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio, Chairman of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and professional juggler. In 2004 he was named as one of the World's 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT's Technology Review.


"If you’re nineteen and have no idea why you adore videogames — you’re just enchanted by them, you can’t help yourself — dude, is this ever the book for you. You are the core demographic for this particular textual experience. Put down the hand-controller, read the book right now. I can promise you that you will grow in moral and intellectual stature…. Instead of remaining a twitchy, closeted, joystick geek, like you are now, you will emerge from this patient master-class as a surprisingly broadminded adult who quotes Herman Hesse and appreciates improvisational theater and Impressionist painting. You will no longer kill off parties with your Warcraft fixation. Instead, other people your age will find themselves mysteriously drawn to you — to your air of quiet sympathy, your contemplative depth. Wise beyond your years, you will look beyond the surface details of shrieking monsters and into the deeper roots of human experience…. Schell’s creative approach is full of autarchic frontier self-reliance. Out there on Tomorrowland’s Gameification Frontier, a theorist intellectual has to slaughter his own hogs and parse Aristotle’s Poetics on the back of a shovel. But boy, it sure is roomy over there. It’s a large, free, democratic book. It’s Emersonian in its cheery disorganization. The book’s like a barbaric yawp from the top of a Nintendo console…. I’d read it now, before things get out of hand." – Bruce Sterling on’s "Beyond the Beyond" blog

"As indicated by its title, Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses uses many different perspectives (the titular lenses) which each prompt their own important questions, ranging from "What problems does my game ask the players to solve?" to "What does beauty mean within the context of my game?" These distinct points are interwoven throughout a step-by-step analysis of the design process that begins with the designer and his or her basic idea, and builds successfully from there.