Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games Hardcover – September 13, 2016
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
"Proposing an aesthetic of play, [Bogost] draws on myriad examples, from golf to the task of watering his lawn to his daughter's self-directed rules of 'step on a crack, break your mother's back.' ...[the] idea-driven prose of PLAY ANYTHING might remind you of the applied-philosophy tactics of an Alain de Botton... demonstrate[s] the importance of thoughtful, serious criticism on gaming and play."
"An erudite and often amusing book."
"Part personal meditation, part guide to living a happier life, Play Anything is a Walden for the 2010s."
"Empowering, fresh, and engaged."
"An essential read for those seeking to understand how a new idea of play can be positive for our lives."
"Play Anything is nothing short of brilliant. It proves that philosophy can fun, that fun can be profound, and that play is in fact the bridge that connects what is most meaningful and what is most pleasurable in our daily lives. I will be recommending this provocative and entertaining book to everyone I know."
"A landmark. Play Anything is a humane and personal theory of play for the supermodern age. Full of fascinating insight and fresh perspective, Play Anything shows how play serves as a fundamental tool for examining the world around us. Through play we limit, focus, constrain and experiment into order to bring certain aspects of our world to the fore while allowing others to recede. As the basis both for creativity and for well-being, as well as the antidote to detached irony, play is how we all recognize our Davids, big and small, from the infinite blocks of marble all around us."
About the Author
- Publisher : Basic Books; 1st edition (September 13, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465051723
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465051724
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.35 x 9.75 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #120,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Is there value in reading these existential musings of a middle-aged man on the topic of play? It depends on what you are looking for. If you want answers on exactly what play is I don't think they're here. If you want a full exploration of play it isn't here either. If you want to discover how to reconcile premium PC RPGs vs a world where millions of people un-ironically love Farmville, this book has a lot of value. It still won't give you all of the answers you are looking for, but it will give you framing to think about play and games in the 21st century.
You can do the same thing just walking down the street, or in a coffee shop, or a business meeting, or standing in line at a bank. It doesn’t have to be people. It can just be a random street corner with its ordinary surfaces, and all the banal details of the regular world. If you can trick yourself into looking at things as if, as if they were someone’s work, as if they had been arranged with a purpose, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the world’s haunting beauty – the subtle echoes of shape and pattern, the way the light hits the bricks at just the right angle, the suspenseful mystery of an errant shadow, the perfect punchline of an upended cup.
This is the trick that Ian Bogost plays on himself, and us, in Play Anything. And according to this book it’s the trick that games are playing on us all.
This is a strange book, at first glance it looks a bit like self-help, pop psychology, or life advice, but it’s far weirder and more interesting than that. One of the early voices and key figures in the history of game studies, Bogost’s entire career has involved trying to figure out the tricky relationship between games and the world, starting with the primary question – what would it mean to take games seriously? How should we approach games as a topic for serious cultural criticism? For a long time, Bogost’s answer to that question involved thinking through the many ways games can be about the world. As a critic, and as a designer, he has emphasized how games, like other forms of media, can reflect the world – expressing ideas, operating rhetorically, conveying arguments through dynamic models and interactive systems. He has celebrated their power to communicate and persuade and cautioned against their enthusiastic adoption by the snake oil salesmen who would apply them as a magic elixir for shaping behavior.
This book marks something of a radical break with these concerns. In Play Anything games are treated less as things that work on or through or about or against the world and more as aspects of the world itself, invitations to experience the world as it is, not as we imagine, not for our sake, not in our interest, but on its own terms – blunt, indifferent, but also endlessly fascinating and sublime. The way a ball bounces, the way tetronimoes fit together, the way code functions. This new perspective is not a reversal of Bogost’s earlier concerns but it feels like the results of a dedicated effort to get beneath them, to discover something foundational about the underlying nature of play and games. His success in this effort suggests that this book belongs beside Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, Suit’s The Grasshopper, and Sutton-Smith’s The Ambiguity of Play as a key work in the field. It is probably Bogost’s best book to date, and that’s saying something.
It is also (and probably not unrelatedly) his most personal book. The threads that tie the book together are drawn from his life, his work, his family, his habits and hobbies. Bogost is a writer known for calculated erudition and acerbic wit and this book has both, but it has more. It is weird and warm; human, worldly. It is as if, contemplating the central thesis that games provide an opportunity to confront the stubborn truth of the world, he decided to let the lived reality of his own life guide his thinking. Rather than grand theory-spinning we get close observation of games and life as they actually are. Not idealized, not demonized, not disappointing, or frustrating, or thrilling, or boring or amazing or fantastic. Not life-changing, just life. But look at life, look at the ways it moves and doesn’t move. The world, with its limited degrees of freedom, unfolds into intricate arabesques more marvelous than any grand theory could contain. This is the secret of games as Bogost has come to understand them.
In addition to being deeply personal, Play Anything is also deeply philosophical. For those of us who have followed Bogost’s forays into Object Oriented Ontology without every quite understanding how they relate to his work on games, this book closes the loop, providing an intuitive and satisfying connection. The way that games draw us in to trace the convoluted surfaces of objects and rules and materials and code and the brute facts of their behaviors and interactions provides a model for a way of looking at the world beyond the demands of our egos and the distortions of our desires. (The apparent contradiction that OOO itself is an intensely human project, fully subordinate to our egos and desires, it just another one of those facts about the world that we can play with and admire.)
It has long been a habit of many ambitious game creators and critics to expound on the glorious potential of games while disparaging their current status. This book suggests a different way of thinking about games’ potential. It is not up to games to evolve into a more beautiful form, one more pleasing to us, more full of meaning. It is up to us to rise to the challenge they present – the challenge to inhabit the world’s corners, to see how they work and how we work inside them. The beauty of games is the play of close attention, and it’s all around us, waiting for us to look.
The idea of starting a book without finishing it does not frazzle me as I would prefer not to be a slave to be a book that is leading me nowhere. However, I do consider myself able to bring out key details and ideas despite annoyances with a book or writing style.
I struggled with Bogost's writing style. He proclaimed his wonderful ideas (and they were really great ideas - no sarcasm) but in a way that was repetitive and boring. There were many insights that came up and interested me, but so much of it was weighed down by the cloudy presentation he gave in his book.
Also, despite his repetitive style, I continually found myself having to go back to the beginning of the chapter's to identify the definitions he gave to his key terms: boredom, fun, and games. I loved his definitions and they fit into a holistic worldview (one that I encourage) but they were muddled with so much extra verbiage that I couldn't see the forest for the trees or vice versa.
Overall, this is a book that has great idea-sharing potential. But it just doesn't deliver those ideas through a great medium.
For a more cogent presentation of Bogost's ideas, I would recommend checking out an interview between Bogost and Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness podcast.
I’m not sure I completely agree with some of his points, but I do accept his overarching premise: Play requires an embrace of constraints, artificially applied and existing.
Ian deftly navigates pop psychology, religion, sociology, cultural anthropology, and a myriad of other disciplines to make his point. He introduces real world examples (thank goodness!) to complement the deep intellectual dives.
It’s not for everyone, but I’m happy I encountered it (even as I acknowledge it might not even be for me really).