Essays and articles

Over the years, I have written a great number of essays about game design, from highly practical articles about the design process to theoretical rants. A selection of my favorites are below, with a bit of context for each.


Manifesto for a Ludic Century (2013)
• This audacious little essay was originally written for  A Gameful World, edited by Steffen Walz and Sebastian Detering. Prior to the book’s publication, I worked with Heather Chaplin and to publish the essay online. Some responses.

Foreword to The Well-Played Game (2013)
• When Bernie DeKoven republished his classic book about play with MIT Press, he asked me to write something for the new edition. This essay connects Bernie’s amazing book with contemporary ideas and movements in games.

Foreword to Characteristics of Games (2012)
• A short introduction to the amazing book on game design by Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and Robert Gutschera. I make a case for books that go deep into understanding the nuts and bolts of games, lest we miss the tress for the forest.

Jerked around by the Magic Circle – Clearing the Air Ten Years Later (2012)
• This infamous essay sets the record straight about all of the misconceptions that have sprung up around the concept of the “magic circle” since the publication of Rules of Play.

There is Magic in Games (2008)
• The forward for the second edition of Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop!, this short essay tries to capture the spirit of what is meaningful for me about game design.

Gaming Literacy – Game Design as a Model for Literacy in the 21st Century (2007)
• Originally written for (Re) Searching the Digital Bauhaus and later for The Video Game Theory Reader, this essay considers game design as a model for new kinds of literacies.

Introduction to FIGMENT (2007)
• This unpublished essay was written to accompany FIGMENT, a game I created for a book called Switching Codes. (The game was published, but the essay was not.) I include it here because it represents my first use of the concept of the “Ludic Century,” which has found it way into other papers and talks.

Creating a Meaning-Machine – The Deck of Stories Called Life in the Garden (2007)
• An essay about the design of my interactive paper book Life in the Garden, written for Second Person, that discusses the joys and challenges of procedural writing.

Hustle and Flow – The Intangibles of Running a Game Company (2006)
• Included in the book Business and Legal Primer for Game Development, I wrote this essay with Gamelab co-founder Peter Lee. It contains advice about creating company culture, a sense of employee authorship, and other crucial but “intangible” aspects of running a game studio.

Redesigning Shopmania – A Design Process Case Study (2006)
• Co-authored with Gamelab Senior Producer Catherine Herdlick, this essay describes in detail our late-stage design iterations on the Gamelab title Shopmania.

A Bill of Rights for Game Developers (2005)
• This intentionally provocative thinkpiece was based on a keynote I gave at the Montreal International Game Summit. It was originally published for the International Game Developers Association website and subsequently as a feature at

Learning to Play to Learn (2005)
• Co-authored with Gamelab game designer Nick Fortugno for, this practical design piece outlines common pitfalls in designing games for learning and suggests some solutions.

The Missing Piece (2003)
• This catty little rant about the game industry was written for an early issue of the German game magazine GameFace and later republished in the Australian Playthings.

Creating a Culture of Design Research (2003)
• This mini-essay was published in Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, a book that Brenda Laurel put together, and it outlines strategies I used in crafting the company culture at Gamelab.

Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process (2003)
• Also a chapter of Design Research, this piece outlines the basics of iterative design by examining how the games SiSSYFiGHT, LEGO JunkBot, and LOOP were created.

Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four naughty concepts in need of discipline (2004)
• This essay appears in the volume First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Although the book came out after Rules of Play, I wrote this essay much earlier, and the “four naughty concepts” were to become foundational concepts for Rules of Play.

Sexplaythings (2003)
• I was asked to contribute something for an issue of Print dedicated to the theme of sex. My response was to design seven concepts for games on the theme of sex.

Do Independent Games Exist? (2002)
• Written many years before “indie games” became an industry buzzword, this two-pronged meditation on the problems with the game industry was first published in the catalog for the museum exhibition Game On.

No Future (circa 2001)
• This choose-your-own-adventure style interactive story about the ad world was written with game designer Frank Lantz for a design magazine that decided not to publish it, citing the difficulty of scattering the essay throughout the pages of an issue.

Thinkpiece for “Playing by the Rules: The Cultural Policy Challenges of Video Games” (2001)
• In addition to addressing and critiquing the question “Are videogames art?,” this paper spends most of its time detailing a Canadian court appearance I made as an expert witness in a videogames trial.

Against Hypertext (2000)
• A diatribe against the hypertext model of interactive narrative, this essay was written as a response to a piece by Stephanie Strickland, both of which appeared in American Arts and Letters #12. Despite this essay, Stephanie and I get along very well.

The Rules of the Game (1999)
• This essay on boardgames and their implications for design was published in the first (and only) issue of If / Then, a design journal in book form edited by Janet Abrams.

Rules, Play and Culture: Towards an Aesthetic of Games (1999)
• This short essay on game design, co-authored with Frank Lantz for the now-defunct Merge Magazine, was the first appearance of the rules/play/culture schema which was later to find full fruition in the structure of Rules of Play.

Technologies of Undressing: The Digital Paper Dolls of KISS (1996)
• This essay was written with film scholar Elena Gorfinkel and was spurred by our mutual fascination with the internet culture of Kisekae dolls. It was published in the now-defunct tecnhoculture journal 21C and the design journal Zed.



Short form writings on game design and game culture from the late 90s through the present.