Reading List: Hacking the Player Experience

A handful of less usual inspirations to read…

Ian Thomas
2 min readSep 23, 2023

Someone asked me a week or so ago what books I might recommend to read about Narrative Design.

There are some widely-recommended ND books out there which most folk will of heard of — things like The Game Narrative Toolbox series by some lovely people, or Evan Skolnick’s Video Game Storytelling, or Tanya X Short and Tarn Adams’ Procedural Storytelling in Game Design. Good books, coming out of practise from experienced game designers who have worked in the field.

Alongside those, though, I often recommend a few more things that are strongly focused on how the audience perceives, interacts, and thinks at deeper levels, and how we can use those ideas or subvert them. These are very useful when we come to consider how to affect how the player feels, which to me is the core component of narrative design.

So here’s what I recommended off the top of my head!

  • The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman — considered one of the fundamental texts on UX, often part of game design syllabuses, introducing ways of thinking about how users naturally interact with objects in ways that we can leverage to aim for frictionless control or sometimes deliberately subvert. I suspect most game designers or UX designers will already have read this one!
  • Tricks of the Mind” by Derren Brown — my favourite stage magician / mentalist, he and his writing partner Andy Nyman have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves about the psychology of misdirection.
  • Mind Hacks” by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb — excellent text on cognitive neuroscience, discussing how humans perceive and interact with the world in short bite-sized chunks, many of which are ways we can learn from to leverage or subvert how we’re making a player feel. Complements Don Norman’s book in interesting overlaps.
  • Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud — fascinating book that makes you think deeply about how comics work, but also how humans interact with story, time, and filling-in-the-blanks of a framework they are given — something which is immensely powerful and makes storytelling properly interactive.



Ian Thomas

Ian is narrative director, coder, and writer of video games, films, larp, books, and VR/AR experiences. He has worked on well over 100 titles.