How the tools and concepts for making games are connected to what games can and do mean; with examples ranging from Papers, Please to Dys4ia.
In How Pac-Man Eats, Noah Wardrip-Fruin considers two questions: What are the fundamental ways that games work? And how can games be about something? Wardrip-Fruin argues that the two issues are related. Bridging formalist and culturally engaged approaches, he shows how the tools and concepts for making games are connected to what games can and do mean.
Wardrip-Fruin proposes that games work at a fundamental level on which their mechanics depend: operational logics. Games are about things because they use play to address topics; they do this through playable models (of which operational logics are the primary building blocks): larger structures used to represent what happens in a game world that relate meaningfully to a theme. Game creators can expand the expressiveness of games, Wardrip-Fruin explains, by expanding an operational logic. Pac-Man can eat, for example, because a game designer expanded the meaning of collision from hitting things to consuming them. Wardrip-Fruin describes strategies game creators use to expand what can be said through games, with examples drawn from indie games, art games, and research games that address themes ranging from border policy to gender transition. These include Papers, Please, which illustrates expansive uses of pattern matching; Prom Week, for which the game's developers created a model of social volition to enable richer relationships between characters; and Dys4ia, which demonstrates a design approach that supports game metaphors of high complexity.
“In drawing out the connections between the deep logics and models of games and the interpreted meaning that players derive from them, Wardrip-Fruin has taken an important step toward a poetics of games: a way to think about them that bridges formal analysis and player responses.”
Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design
“For years USC's freshman coding course has used Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Expressive Processing as an essential text to understand video games as both technologies and experiences. Now, with How Pac-Man Eats, Wardrip-Fruin has provided us with the next level-up in game studies. This is essential reading!”
Peter Brinson, Professor of Practice, USC Games and the School of Cinematic Arts
“Approachable and filled with examples, Wardrip-Fruin's book is an essential read for designers wishing to deepen their design vocabulary. It introduces advanced conversations in game design that move beyond notions of games as a collection of 'mechanics.' What results is a thoughtful organization of the ludic logics at work in games. Marvelous!”
Mary Flanagan, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College; coauthor of Values at Play in Digital Games