Rules of Play

Rules of Play is a game design textbook I wrote with Katie Salen that takes a deep look at card games, board games, social games, and physical games, as well as computer and electronic games. The popularity of Rules of Play has grown each year since it was published and today it is used as the primary textbook in wide range of courses related to the design and scholarship of games. It also can be found on the bookshelves of many game designers and on many of the must-read lists of game design books.

The book is structured around four basic sections: an introductory unit that establishes key concepts, followed by three units that look at games as formal systems of rules, as the human experience of play, and as works of culture that interact with their contexts. Each chapter within these units is a “schema” that acts like a lens for understanding what games are and how they function. Formal schema include looking at games through information theory and cybernetic feedback loops. Experiential schema include games as social play, as pleasure, and as narrative. Cultural schema investigate games as rhetoric and as sites of social resistance. There is also a wonderful introduction by Frank Lantz and a handful of guest essays and comissioned games by designers including Reiner Knizia, Kira Snyder, and and Kira Snyder.

I’m greatly indebted to Katie Salen for our three grueling years of collaboration on this book, as well as our patient and supportive MIT Press editor Doug Sery. Katie is also responsible for the book’s smart and delicious graphic design. Rules of play is available in paper and digital form.

Order the book at MIT Press
Order the book at



Game design textbook co-authored with Katie Salen, MIT Press 2004


Considered the standard textbook on game design, addressing the mathematical, experiential, and cultural aspects of games, on and off the computer