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Jesper Juul

Jesper Juul is Assistant Professor at the New York University Game Center. He is the author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds and A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players, both published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games

We may think of video games as being "fun," but in The Art of Failure, Jesper Juul claims that this is almost entirely mistaken. When we play video games, our facial expressions are rarely those of happiness or bliss. Instead, we frown, grimace, and shout in frustration as we lose, or die, or fail to advance to the next level. Humans may have a fundamental desire to succeed and feel competent, but game players choose to engage in an activity in which they are nearly certain to fail and feel incompetent. So why do we play video games even though they make us unhappy? Juul examines this paradox.

In video games, as in tragic works of art, literature, theater, and cinema, it seems that we want to experience unpleasantness even if we also dislike it. Reader or audience reaction to tragedy is often explained as catharsis, as a purging of negative emotions. But, Juul points out, this doesn’t seem to be the case for video game players. Games do not purge us of unpleasant emotions; they produce them in the first place. What, then, does failure in video game playing do?

Juul argues that failure in a game is unique in that when you fail in a game, you (not a character) are in some way inadequate. Yet games also motivate us to play more, in order to escape that inadequacy, and the feeling of escaping failure (often by improving skills) is a central enjoyment of games. Games, writes Juul, are the art of failure: the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience it and experiment with it.

The Art of Failure is essential reading for anyone interested in video games, whether as entertainment, art, or education.

Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds

A video game is half-real: we play by real rules while imagining a fictional world. We win or lose the game in the real world, but we slay a dragon (for example) only in the world of the game. In this thought-provoking study, Jesper Juul examines the constantly evolving tension between rules and fiction in video games. Discussing games from Pong to The Legend of Zelda, from chess to Grand Theft Auto, he shows how video games are both a departure from and a development of traditional non-electronic games. The book combines perspectives from such fields as literary and film theory, computer science, psychology, economic game theory, and game studies to outline a theory of what video games are, how they work with the player, how they have developed historically, and why they are fun to play.

Juul presents a classic game model, which describes the traditional construction of games and points to possible future developments. He examines how rules provide challenges, learning, and enjoyment for players, and how a game cues the player into imagining its fictional world. Juul's lively style and eclectic deployment of sources will make Half-Real of interest to media, literature, and game scholars as well as to game professionals and gamers.

Reinventing Video Games and Their Players

We used to think that video games were mostly for young men, but with the success of the Nintendo Wii, and the proliferation of games in browsers, cell phone games, and social games video games changed changed fundamentally in the years from 2000 to 2010. These new casual games are now played by men and women, young and old. Players need not possess an intimate knowledge of video game history or devote weeks or months to play. At the same time, many players of casual games show a dedication and skill that is anything but casual. In A Casual Revolution, Jesper Juul describes this as a reinvention of video games, and of our image of video game players, and explores what this tells us about the players, the games, and their interaction.

With this reinvention of video games, the game industry reconnects with a general audience. Many of today’s casual game players once enjoyed Pac-Man, Tetris, and other early games, only to drop out when video games became more time-consuming and complex. Juul shows that it is only by understanding what a game requires of players, what players bring to a game, how the game industry works, and how video games have developed historically that we can understand what makes video games fun and why we choose to play (or not to play) them.

A BIT of The Art of Failure

Every day, hundreds of millions of people around the world play video games—on smart phones, on computers, on consoles—and most of them will experience failure at some point in the game; they will lose, die, or fail to advance to the next level. Not completing Super Real Tennis is not a tragedy. But it feels like a failure. This BIT explores how it feels when we fail.