Mjhancock's Reviews > The Place of Play: Toys and Digital Cultures

The Place of Play by Maaike Lauwaert
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's review
Apr 28, 12

bookshelves: video-game, scholarly
Read in April, 2012

Lauwaert discusses the history of toys and play, with a focus on current digital practices. In a nutshell, her thesis is that digital applications of play have facilitated a shift from one to many to many to many, where the policies of manufacturers are affected much more immediately by the actions of consumers and participants. This leads to centrifugal motions, where the core (manufacturer) movements move to peripheral practices, but also centripetal, where the peripheral affects the core.

The book is divided into four parts, each with a main focus. The first part is a history of children's play from the 19ty century on, focusing particularly on the rise of the domestic scene, and the gender difference in toy production. The second chapter focuses on the history of LEGO, especially in terms of what the company facilitates in terms of design and participation. Chapter three is a focus on Sim City and the Sims, looking how digital practices and user created content alters play and design. And finally, the last chapter discusses serious games in terms of participatory play and how to facilitate large group cooperation, using the Amsterdam project "Face the World" as its main example.

The book's topics are rather loose, and, despite a conclusion that sums up its subjects nicely, it could stand to be a little tighter in terms of its ideas. I like that Lauwaert focuses on both the positive side of participatory culture (people get a bigger say in their products) and the negative side (people are basically doing free labor). And her emphasis on tools that facilitate designing is nice, though could potentially have been drawn out a little more. For those looking for a game studies sort of application, there is a connection here, but it's rather slight; her topic is play and participation, not videogames per se. And there's a definite focus on Western Europe over other areas of play, especially in the chapters on Lego and Face the World.

The most valuable part of Lauwaert's study, for my interest, at least, is its history of play. In game studies in particular, discussions of play and game tend to focus on the early pre-digital people such as Huizinga, Callois, and Bateson. These scholars were more interested in developing a general theory of play than situating it historically. By dwelling on the social history of play, Lauwaert draws out how play and toys have always been deeply embedded in social practices and economic policies. That alone makes it worth a look.

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