Uncertainty in Games

Greg Costikyan. MIT, $19.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-262-01896-8
Game designer and science fiction writer Costikyan claims that uncertainty is a necessity of a fun and rewarding game experience, whether that happens to be a board game, videogame, or something like rock/paper/scissors. After a brief introduction to types of play in animals and humans, Costikyan states that uncertainty is essential because predictability inhibits fun. He analyzes the role this characteristic plays in numerous games, including Super Mario Bros., Cityville, Diplomacy, and poker. For each game, he provides a rundown of the rules of play and strategies that players might invoke. Addressing the role of randomness, he notes that even highly strategic games often contain an element of luck, which has its own benefits. Other sources of uncertainty include hidden information, narrative or development anticipation, and uncertainty of perception, for each of which he provides multiple examples. Costikyan closes with thoughts on game design and the importance of the right amount and types of uncertainty for a successful and popular game, noting that "there are almost as many ways to design games as there are game creators, and there is always something new to be learned with each game played." This concise treatise will highly interest game designers and those wishing to hone their game-playing strategies. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/18/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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