The Art of Game Design is pretty awesome. This book is about design. In theory, it's about game design. But if you're designing something for humans, this book contains plenty of wisdom. I think this book contains just one piece of bad advice:
If you are not really interested in becoming a good game designer, put this book down now. It has nothing for you.
I'm content to be a fairly-derivative game designer. I want to be a good documentation-organizer, though; that involves design. This book talks about some stuff that only applies to game design, but it talks about plenty of stuff that carries over to other fields. E.g., figuring out if your product "works" by thinking about how you'd react to it if you were in the audience. Civil engineers need scientific models; but if you'll be measured by humans instead of by the forces of nature, you can do pretty well just by thinking about stuff:
Fortunately for us, game design is not science! ... [Aristotle] is famous for the depth of his personal introspection, and when we examine his works, we find something interesting. His ideas about physics and natural history are largely discredited today. Why? Because he relied too much on what felt true, and not enough on controlled experiments. His introspection led him to all kinds of conclusions we now know to be false, such as:
- Heavier objects fall faster than light ones
- The seat of consciousness is in the heart
- Life arises by spontaneous generation
And many others. So why do we remember him as a genius, and not as a crackpot? Because his other works, about metaphysics, drama, ethics, and the mind, are still useful today. In these areas where what feels true matters more than what is objectively, provably true, most of his conclusions, reached through deep introspection, stand up to scrutiny thousands of years later.
Of course, you have to develop that skill of introspection, to inform it with empathy for your audience. It takes strength to be gentle and kind; it takes practice, too.
The book is structured as a series of questions. If you're trying to become a good designer, you can learn techniques, how to do stuff. But you also want to learn the important questions. The scary thing about a tyro computer programmer who's just discovered Design Patterns is that he wants to apply them everywhere, and forgets that the difference between a design pattern and a neat trick is that a design pattern has a purpose. I'm glad that this book focuses on the questions: once you understand the question deeply, you'll have a much better chance of coming up with the right answer; you'll have much less excuse to choose that answer which is your "favorite" answer for all occasions.
(OK, there's some game-y stuff, too. E.g., a defintion of fun: "Fun is pleasure with surprises." I guess if you're a puzzle-huntist, this would be "Fun with Wow"... Anyhow.)
He also talks about the advantages of writing stuff down. I'm not sure how much this helps most people. It helps me; but then, I'm a writer. Schell (the book's author) is presumably a writer, too—he finished writing a book without giving up. Writing things down helps some people to think about things. But beware of folks who write books telling you that writing things down helps everybody.
He says that writing things down helps you to harness the power of your subconscious. "By recording all your ideas, two things happen. First, you'll have a record of many ideas that you would likely have forgotten otherwise; and second, you'll free up your mind to think of other things."
This book touches on many topics. The cycle of development. The delicate art of second-guessing your test audience. The delicate art of second-guessing your sponsor. It doesn't have tons to say about any one of these, but you'll probably find some new ideas here to chew on.
Oh, if I let myself continue quoting all the parts of the book that rang true, I'm going to end up copying out the whole book. If you're a writer, a UX designer, an instructional designer, or even a game designer, go read this book. Check it out.