George Buckingham, aka v21, has written this really interesting reading list for game developers. I like it because it has a lot of material on it I don't know yet, and comes from a different angle than I tend to come from.
He asked for feedback (actually, argument) on Twitter, and so I replied, one thing led to another, and now I've compiled a very quick and decidedly non-comprehensive list to complement/extend George's. I've read all the books on here - some classics, such as the full MDA paper, are missing because I somehow still haven't read them.
Here is the list:
Greg Costikyan's I Have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games. Deservedly a classic.
Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things.
Donella Meadow's Thinking In Systems: A Primer (thanks Martin for reminding me of this).
L. Rust Hills' Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular and Thomas McCormack's The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, two books on writing written by editors, not writers, a crucial difference.
Those two books were recommend to me by my dear friend Mark Barrett, way back in the 90s. Mark is a very smart guy who has taught me more about storytelling than anyone else - stuff I'm still digesting to this day. I recommend reading some of his articles here.
Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing was recommended to me by Hal Barwood. It may take years before I can tell you how it has influenced me, but influenced it has.
If you're going to read one book about classical story structure - three acts, five acts, a thousand faces, etc. - I think it should be John Yorke's Into The Woods, because it references and analyzes all the other ones.
Lee Sheldon's Character Development and Storytelling for Games, because Lee wouldn't forgive me if I didn't add it. And also it's a good book.
Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design, probably the best general book on game design out right now.
Any game design by Robin D. Laws. I've learned something - specifically, something about how game mechanics and theme interact - from all of his games. As a Vance fan, I love his Dying Earth rules. I also recommend Hamlet's Hit Points, although I think you can probably get the gist of that just from reading the archives of his blog.
And last but not least, Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.
There. It could be shorter. It could be longer. It could be more balanced - it's heavier on books and on storytelling than George's. But perhaps it's of interest.
Update: James Wallis also wrote a list. There's some overlap with this one. He has gone deeper into the screenplay books. I've read Syd Field's Screenplay but can't remember a thing about it. Save the Cat sits on my shelf, unread. I've read Hero With A Thousand Faces but I consider it more a psychology/anthropology book. I bought and read Impro on his recommendation and remember liking it, but it obviously didn't pop into my mind this morning, but please do not consider that to be a... whatever the opposite of an endorsement is.