So you want to learn more about the science of game studies? Perhaps the ways that games can be used to bolter learning? Or the science behind “video game disorder”? Or just whether or not games are really helping or hindering your social life?
Today, there are loads of books, articles, and op-eds out there filled with this kind of information making it difficult to know where to start. Here are my top 5 books that I consider essential for those wanting to learn more about the science of games.
Before I get in to the list, I would specify that these books are focused on the psychology of games. This is important, as game studies is an interdisciplinary study, with scholars coming from all walks of life: sociology, anthropology, communication science, media studies, humanities, computer science, and more!
Perhaps most importantly the books listed below are equally relevant and accessible to those brand new to the field or have been studying it for more than a decade (like myself)!
Getting Gamers: the psychology of video games and the impact on the people who play them is from Jamie Madigan and was published in 2015. Jamie is an organization psychologist and brings that particular viewpoint to this work, and all of his work really (he also hosts a fantastic podcast, the Psychology of Games, that I highly recommend)
This book doesn’t focus so much on media effects but gamers and gaming communities. There is a lot of emphasis on motivation – motivation to play, to grind, why we all want those achievement badges, motivation to be part of a gaming community, motivation to spend money on loot boxes and in-app purchases.
Jamie’s reading is also a delight. He is a wonderful storyteller.
This book changed me in all the right ways. Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they do to us was published by Pete Etchells in 2019. This book is half autobiography, half psychology and science. This book touches a lot on the history and development of video games (which is truly fascinating) and media effects… but at the end of it, it’s really about our relationships with games. Why we love them.. And sometimes hate them, and why – for a whole lot of us – they become a part of who we are. It reads more like a memoir than a science book and lot of it circles around grief (so be prepared for that). It is beautiful and poignant and my words do not do it justice.
The psychology of video games is a brand new book (2020) from Celia Hodent and is part of the psychology of everything series from Routledge.
This book is a fantastic, short, overview of well..the psychology of video games. What I really love about this one, and why it makes such a good addition to this list, is it is the first one I’m noting here that talks about game design. It talks about the structure of game design and user research and how that plays into the psychology of play and why – after decades of playing games – we still enjoy playing games.
She does a great job at really starting from the beginning and explaining basic psychology terms like working memory and motivation. It’s thoughtful and well-written, and easy to follow and is an essential addition for a “game studies 101 toolkit”, especially because of its emphasis on game design.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to include any of my books on this list but to be honest it is the only book of its kind. The Video Game Debate presents a series of essays on the different “debates” around the different effects of games on one’s physical, social, and psychological well being. This is the book I wish I had as I was sifting through thousands of research articles from hundreds of different journals (which was truly my motivation to put this together).
The Video Game Debate was published in 2015 and is a series of essays written by experts in the field. It was really important to me to highlight the different areas of expertise and have them summarized basically from the leading researchers in that particular area. Topics include, the impact of violent video game play, video game addiction, and gaming communities.
In 2020, The Video Game Debate 2 was published. This isn’t so much a follow up to the first volume but a companion book that discusses the new debates about game studies that have emerged over the last five years. Topics such as loot boxes, serious games, and games in therapy are discussed in this new volume.
Discovering statistics? Yes, discovering statistics. If you want to be able to sift through the good from the bad from the omg how did that get published you need to have a basic understanding of statistics. Even if you come from a field where statistics are not heavily focused on. Andy field is a wonderfully, funny writer that makes statistics accessible and relatable. I have been working with data for many many years now and I still go back and reference this book often.
Also, if you are someone who is teaching statistics and you aren’t using an andy field book, you are doing your students a disservice.