This is part of the series on book reviews.
"The Game Design Reader" (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman)
This companion to Rules of Play is simply a collection of important essays and other written works about games. It includes pretty much everything that I'd call "foundational" to the field: Costikyan's I Have No Words, Church's Formal Abstract Design Tools, Bartle's Player Types, and so on.
Unfortunately, it tries to be a little of everything; there's some New Games Journalism, some pieces on players and gamer culture, and other things that don't really have to do with designing a game. And most of the articles are freely available online anyway, making me wonder why I should force my students to pay some exorbitant amount of money for a textbook.
This is not to say that the articles (design-focused and otherwise) aren't useful. They are still important works in their own right, many people in the industry have read them already, and any serious student should read everything in this book. It's just that no matter what the subject of the course, the majority of the works in this book won't be relevant. I suppose you could build a course around the book, "Important Readings in the Game Industry," but I'm not at liberty to do that right now. An alternative is to require this book for several courses in game design and game studies, with each course covering different readings… but that requires a bit of coordination between professors to ensure minimal duplication, and pity the poor students who take half the courses only to have to purchase the same book again if it ever goes to a Second Edition.
Students: If you’re serious about games, you should have at least a passing familiarity with everything in this book. Buy it on your own and read it over a summer when you’ve got nothing else to do. Or, if you’re on a tight budget (and what student isn’t?), find the book in your local bookstore, copy down the table of contents, and track down all of the articles online. For those few readings that can’t be found online, you should be able to check out the appropriate works from a library, or just read them in the bookstore.
Instructors: I’ve gotten by with just assigning relevant online readings, without forcing students to buy this book. I do suggest to my students to track down additional relevant readings from the book on their own time.
Professionals: At the very least, take a look at the table of contents and see how much of it you recognize. If you haven’t seen anything mentioned, you’ve got some wonderful reading experiences ahead of you. More likely, you’ll recognize some important works that you’ve encountered before, and the rest won’t be relevant to you. Take a look and decide for yourself.