Game Design Vocabulary, A

Anna Anthropy / Naomi Clark  
Total pages
February 2014
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Game Design Vocabulary, A
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A Game Design Vocabulary offers a complete shared framework for understanding and evaluating game design — as creators, players, students, or game industry decision-makers. Anna Anthropy approaches games through the lens of storytelling and vocabulary, examining the structure of a game, identifying its verbs, adverbs, objects, and showing how game designers develop these elements over the course of a game. Anthropy uses extensive examples to illuminate abstract concepts in game design. In multiple case studies, she dissects samples from existing games. Every chapter concludes with hands-on design challenges and learning exercises that promote deeper insight — and can be done with or without access to any game development technologies. Instructor resources include a PowerPoint presentation as well as bonus project ideas and extra questions/solutions.


  • Brings together the foundational principles of superior game design
  • Demonstrates key concepts through examples from real games
  • Helps designers discover how their choices truly impact the player’s experience 
  • By leading game design thought leader Anna Anthropy, who has presented in venues ranging from NYU to the industry-leading GDC conference
  • For every game designer, developer, critic, player, student, instructor, and decision-maker
  • Instructor resources include a PowerPoint presentation as well as bonus project ideas and extra questions/solutions.

Table of Contents

Part I Elements of Vocabulary   1
By Anna Anthropy


1  Language   3
Signs Versus Design   4
Failures of Language   7
A Voice Needs Words   9
A Beginning   10
2  Verbs and Objects   13
Rules   14
Creating Choices   16
Explaining with Context   21
Objects   22
The Physical Layer   25
Character Development   30
Elegance   32
Real Talk   34
Review   36
Discussion Activities   37
Group Activity   38
3  Scenes   39
Rules in Scenes   40
Shaping and Pacing   50
Layering Objects   56
Moments of Inversion   60
Chance   61
Real Talk   64
Review   71
Discussion Activities   71
Group Activity   73
4  Context   77
First Impressions   78
Recurring Motifs   82
Character Design   83
Animation   86
Scene Composition   89
Camera   94
Sound   96
Real Talk   99
Review   103
Discussion Activities   104
Group Activity   104


Part II  Conversations   107
By Naomi Clark


5  Creating Dialogue   109
Players   110
Creating Conversation   111
Iterating to Fun and Beyond   113
Your Conversation   115
6  Resistance   117
Push and Pull   118
Flow   119
Alternatives to Flow   129
Opening Up Space   132
Opening Up Purpose   134
The Pull of Rewards   137
Time and Punishment   141
Scoring and Reflection   147
Review   150
Discussion Activities   152
Group Activity   153
7  Storytelling   155
Pattern Recognition   156
Authored Stories   159
Interpreted Stories   172
Open Stories   181
Review   187
Discussion Activities   188
Group Activity   189

A  Further Playing   191
Achievement Unlocked (John Cooney, 2008)   192
American Dream (Stephen Lavelle, Terry Cavanagh, Tom Morgan-Jones, and Jasper Byrne, 2011)   192
Analogue: A Hate Story (Christine Love, 2012)   193
The Banner Saga (Stoic, 2014)   193
Candy Box (aniwey, 2013)   194
Consensual Torture Simulator (Merritt Kopas, 2013)   194
Corrypt (Michael Brough, 2012)   195
Crypt of the Necrodancer (Ryan Clark, 2013)   196
Dwarf Fortress (Tarn Adams, 2006)   196
English Country Tune (Stephen Lavelle, 2011)   197
Even Cowgirls Bleed (Christine Love, 2013)   197
Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013)   198
Mighty Jill Off (Anna Anthropy, 2008)   198
NetHack (NetHack Dev Team, 1987)   199
Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 2013)   199
Persist (AdventureIslands, 2013)   200
QWOP (Bennett Foddy, 2008) and GIRP (Bennett Foddy, 2011)   201
Spelunky (Derek Yu, 2008)   201
Triple Town (Spry Fox, 2011)   202


Index   203


Anna Anthropy is an artist, author and game creatrix working in the East Bay area. As an ambassador for game creation, she works to empower marginalized voices to gain access to game creation. Her first book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, is an autobiography / manifesto / DIY guide. She's radical.


Naomi Clark has been designing and producing games for more than two decades, ever since she started creating text-based virtual worlds as a teenager. She’s worked on multiplayer web games (Sissyfight 2000), casual downloadable games (Miss Management), Flash games for kids (LEGO Junkbot). and Facebook games (Dreamland) while working with companies like Gamelab, LEGO, Rebel Monkey, and Fresh Planet. Naomi has also taught classes and workshops at Parsons School of Design, the NYU Game Center, and the New York Film Academy, and written game analysis and feminist critique for Feministe. She is currently developing an independent game with the Brooklyn Game Ensemble.

Reader Review(s)

A Game Design Vocabulary succeeds where many have failed–to provide a broad-strokes overview of videogame design. Utilizing analytic smarts, an encyclopedic knowledge of games, and subcultural attitude, Naomi Clark and Anna Anthropy get to the heart of how games work.


“Why is this book important? Videogames are the defining mass medium of our time, yet even those who make games lack a clear language for understanding their fundamental mechanics. A Game Design Vocabulary is essential reading for game creators, students, critics, scholars, and fans who crave insight into how game play becomes meaningful.”

Eric Zimmerman, Independent Game Designer and Arts Professor, NYU Game Center

A Game Design Vocabulary marks an important step forward for our discipline. Anna Anthropy and Naomi Clark’s extraordinarily lucid explanatio ns give us new ways to unpick the complexities of digital game design. Grounded in practical examples and bursting with original thinking, you need this book in your game design library.”

Richard Lemarchand, Associate Professor, USC, Lead Designer, Uncharted

“Anthropy and Clark have done it! Created an intuitive vocabulary and introduction to game design in a concise, clear, and fun-to-read package. The exercises alone are a great set of limbering-up tools for those new to making games and seasoned designers, both.”

Colleen Macklin, Game Designer and Professor, Parsons The New School for Design


“Two of my favorite game design minds sharing a powerful set of tools for designing meaningful games? I’m so excited for this book. A Game Design Vocabulary may very well be the best thing to happen to game design education in more than a decade. I can’t wait to put this book in the hands of my students and dev friends alike.”

John Sharp, Associate Professor of Games and Learning, Parsons The New School for Design

“Some of the greatest challenges to the intelligent advancement of game-making can be found in the ways we conceptualize and discuss them. This simple yet profound new vocabulary is long-overdue and accessible enough to help new creators work within a meaningful framework for games.”

Leigh Alexander, Game Journalist and Critic