Jesper Juul: The Art of Failure

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If somebody dies in the game because of your actions, in a way, there is a sense of responsibility...even if it’s just in fictional form.
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Jesper Juul discusses his book The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games with Chris Richardson. Juul has been working with video game research since the late 1990s. He is an Associate Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts - School of Design. Prior to this, he helped start some of the world’s leading master programs in game design at IT University of Copenhagen and New York University Game Center. He has published three books with MIT Press: Half-Real (2005), A Casual Revolution (2009) and The Art of Failure (2013). He is also a co-editor of the Playful Thinking Series (also on MIT Press).He has worked as a game developer and programmer and is currently working on a book on independent video games. He maintains the blog The Ludologist on video games and other important things.


I realize that some of the books I list, I list for the way they are written and structured: Academic writing can easily get bogged down in references and methodological declarations, and it requires great effort to keep a focus on how the questions at hand concretely matter outside the confines of your word processor, and I am always look for ways to deal with that...

This is not a theory book, but it is still the best book about how to make a video game from idea to finished game, and as such it is a book that thinks deeply about video games. I don't write to support game development, but I often ask myself, ‘if this theoretical argument makes no difference for actual game development or game-playing, what is it really about?’  For that reason I like to read game design and game development literature, and to teach game design through theoretical texts.


Thought it's not really my field, I admire the way Norman can explain a complicated theoretical question using concrete examples. I also think it's important for researchers to admit that they've been wrong, as Norman does in this book.


Anthropy's book is a manifesto for a different kind of video game, made on the fly, expressing personal viewpoints, and eschewing the trappings of big-budget games made by the big companies. As such, it ties into a history of alternative or independent media, but it is an inspired take on how such ideas apply specifically to the modern, immaterial, and technological art form of video games.


When I first started as a researcher, I was fascinated by the way Bordwell would weigh multiple explanations of a question, and the way he would switch between high-level theoretical generalizations and concrete cases.

The Ambiguity of Play
By Brian Sutton-Smith

When we were first grappling with how to write about video games, it was a shock to discover that Sutton-Smith had already been writing about the adjacent field of play for half a century. I was seeing myself as a young rebellious researcher, but Sutton-Smith's book is something entirely different - the relaxed work of a senior researcher. This made me understand that research does not have to be about picking a fight.