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What's On the Designer's Bookshelf? (23 Feb 2005)
For pure theory, I look no farther than Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (MIT Press, 2004). This massive, comprehensive book dissects games, play, and gameplay down to their atomic components and discusses them in detail. It tends to consider non-digital and digital games interchangeably, since rules are rules wherever you are. If you want to know about the effects of positive and negative feedback, or the difference between a cheater and a spoil-sport, this is the place to come. It also includes numerous references to the great theoretical works of Huizinga, Callois, and Sutton-Smith, among others, so it's an excellent starting point for deeper reading.
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