Only a Game has an enlightening look at some old (early '80s) research on gaming, long before it was the 'next hot area' for study. Thomas W. Malone was looking at the educational possibilities of games when PacMan was the height of advanced (coin-op) games, and the piece looks at two of his papers and what they can still tell us about games today (or should be telling us about good game design). What Chris Bateman thinks is almost criminal is that more people haven't referenced his research:
In fact, what is most disturbing to me is that Malone's papers aren't cited more often, or indeed, required reading for game designers.
The papers are packed full of little observations which remain as poignant today as ever. For instance, in the 1980 paper Malone notes in the context of the way the game communicates success and failure to the player:
...performance feedback should be presented in a way that minimised the possibility of self-esteem damage.
This is a lesson that a staggering number of videogames have never learned! Most players are easily discouraged, and yet a macho, conqueror-style ethos is still quite prevalent, with failure being met with abuse and ridicule (even in an otherwise charming game such as Katamari Damacy - although at least in this case a touch of humour offsets the problem).
Definitely worth a read through, as most Only a Game posts are.
Malone on Curiosity [Only a Game]