PLAY ANYTHING by Ian Bogost

PLAY ANYTHING

The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Why the best way to happily take on the challenges of modern life is to turn them into games.

Bogost (Media Studies and Interactive Computing/Georgia Institute of Technology; How to Talk About Video Games, 2015, etc.) disputes the common view that playing games is merely a way to escape the trials and tribulations of life. Underlying the author’s narrative is his rejection of the popular idea that happiness and pleasure are the results of escaping from the pressures of life. For him, rules are what make games fun; they provide a safe space in which a player can explore new possibilities and opportunities. As the author notes, looking at things in unconventional and whimsical ways can replace—or at least enhance—the tedium of routine. These kinds of mental tests provide zest to life and are pleasurable for their own sakes. The author examines games through the lenses of many disciplines, including metaphysics, aesthetics, psychology, and, most prominently, philosophy. Take the case of the humble stick. Recently inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York, along with the skateboard and the baby doll, the stick was chosen because it is “very open-ended, all natural, the perfect price.” However, Bogost digs deeper and sees it a bit differently. Sticks have properties such as length, breakability, woodenness, and sharpness, which define their potential and thus, subtly, rules for their use. Rules limit the open-endedness by establishing possible spaces in which working within them evokes creativity. It is no longer simply escapism but “a kind of craftsmanship.” Freedom then becomes “an opportunity to explore the implications of inherited or invented limitations.” Limits also involve humility—not necessarily looking for happiness in ourselves but in pursuing greater respect “for the things, people, and situations around us.” Though some readers may think Bogost takes play too seriously, his arguments are thoughtful and useful for approaching ordinary experiences.

A delightful book that promotes playfulness with a purpose.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-465-05172-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016




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