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Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  425 ratings  ·  82 reviews
How filling life with play-whether soccer or lawn mowing, counting sheep or tossing Angry Birds-forges a new path for creativity and joy in our impatient age

Life is boring: filled with meetings and traffic, errands and emails. Nothing we'd ever call fun. But what if we've gotten fun wrong? In Play Anything, visionary game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost shows how we ca
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Basic Books
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Michael Scott
Ian Bogost's Play Anything is a book about how play emerges from the limits in the world around us. Ian introduces "the world" as a giant playground waiting to be discovered, ironoia as the mistrust of things and thus a barrier to emergent play, fun as the novelty and play as emergent quality of things (not of us, individuals), and discusses emergent fun as an opposite of happiness. Overall, this is the worst book I've read from Ian Bogost--there is little structure, much negative tone without m ...more
Oct 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Don't books have editors any more? This one certainly needed another pass or two with a red pencil.

Look, Bogost is clearly a smart guy, and has some interesting insights into game design. And there are definite flashes of brilliance here, especially in his chapter on the concept of "ironoia".

Unfortunately, most of the book is an unfocused mess, with a tone that shifts wildly from pop-culture drivel (a la Malcolm Gladwell) to a deep dive into advanced programming. It's supposed to offer me amazi
Emily Carlin
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Unexpectedly gripping + fascinating + worthwhile. A lot of the big players in my personal canon were put into conversation (e.g. DFW x video game design).

I'm totally, one hundred percent convinced by Bogost and I can already feel the book subtly changing the way I live. Two things I want to critique, though:

(1) I want a better argument for why his approach isn't susceptible to the same critique he turns against gamification -- i.e. that it's sugar coating for shitty things. He critiques the su
Conor Ahern
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I’m not sure I learned anything from this book. I was looking forward to a primer on how to make life more playful—I am perpetually pingponging between being way too stimulated and way too bored—but it did not reveal too much about how to reify playfulness in everyday life. There are a lot of extended meditations on irony, insincerity, consumption, etc. but, as I began to suspect halfway in, it’s one of those “change your way of thinking” books, not an “implement a way of thinking” books, making ...more
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a thought-provoking book that I really wanted to like more than I did. Bogost is an important figure at the interface of game studies and philosophy that I desperately wish people in (ludo-)musicology would heed. (Scholars of ludomusicology – loosely, game music studies – focus exclusively on large-scale console video games, thereby excluding all of the other ways that games/play and music intersect. But I digress...) Despite this book's many merits, I found the tone and the examples tha ...more
Billy Dean
Dec 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
The absence of politics--particularly anything even remotely resembling class politics--is more than conspicuous. Bogost claims that we "look down our nose" at Walmart and McDonalds because we mistake familiarity for a "lack of authenticity" (52f). But most of us recognize that something else is at work in these examples; there is virtually no mention of what kind of company Walmart is, what kind of people shop there, or how Walmart shoppers figure in our rhetoric and cultural imagination. Bogos ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
This isn't a book about how to improve your life by dealing with boredom in constructive ways, it's a book about unhappiness and how powerless we (usually) are to change it. If I had known that going in, I might have liked this book better, but it's poorly packaged and VERY poorly organized. All the best parts of this book are cribbed from more interesting and established writers—the book feels like a very long blog post. ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Here's what I took from this:

Ian Bogost offers guidance for navigating the banality of life, without veering into irony. He suggests drawing a "magic circle" around particular situations or things, then treating these things as a playground. You can play at lawn care, or play an errand at the mall, just as one would play soccer or Tetris.

This is distinct from "gamification." You should deal with the situation or object as it is -- leaning into it rather than disguising it to make the experience
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Whenever I was reading this book, the time always went faster than I expected, and I read further than intended, which is a nod to how well Bogost keeps his writing interesting, unexpected, and worthwhile. Moments in the book become a bit too self-involved, in that a reader is hammered over and over with an invented term, or a simplistic example overused. Bogost can be excused for this as his broader evaluation of our world, and his motivations in sharing a perspective of play, is ultimately rew ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
I don't often find books that I can't finish, but this was one of them. I got into around the 2nd chapter before I completely gave up. I even tried promising myself to read a book I had been waiting for but only after I finished this - didn't work, I just didn't want to pick this book up again. The writing felt disorganized to me, jumping from one place to another and not connecting the dots between them. Maybe the content is good, but I just can't find the main ideas of the chapters. It's all t ...more
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: google-talks
I knew going in that this book was going to be philosophical, since I watched the author speak at Google. Turned out to be basically only philosophical and not much more. The ideas were thought provoking, but the tone has a kind of negativity to it that turned me off a bit.

Whenever I'm reading non-fiction, I kind of groan inside whenever the author launches into the "examples" they provide for their concepts. Bogost tends to drag on with the examples as filler, and cites them again, and again, a
Oct 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't keep going after only 1-1/2 chapters. Just a long ramble, and not very interesting. I just can't figure out what his point was going to be. He talks about irony in play, and about "fun", but the irony of this book is that it's just no fun to read! I'm moving on to something else... ...more
Pål Fiva
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Boring, shallow and repetitive. Spends too much time using DFW as a sort of straw-man cod-philosopher, and returns to the same examples over, and over again.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There is something profoundly humble about things in the wild."

This is basically Bogost's version of play theory from a OOO perspective. It's laden with an eclectic selection of essayistic meditations on specific consumer products, media, art, and more, all of which to argue that play really is about the work of working a thing, and that fun emerges from a rejection of irony and mindfulness and an acceptance of things as they are.

This is at times brilliant, but I am also somewhat uneasy about
May 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
I heard the author on CBC and thought the book sounded interesting. It was a bit of a let down. The book is very repetitive and mostly theory. I had hoped to be able to translate the info into a new approach for myself to diet and exercise. But the info was too abstract and academic to be a good read or of much practical use.
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This books contains words, sometimes those words will be arranged in sentence form, do not be fooled; those sentences will not contain information.

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but this should have been something I liked, but it was awful instead with just a few redeeming spots.

Just read the last chapter The Opposite of Happiness.

Hidden in here are some good points: not using irony to detach ourselves from the world, accepting things for what they are rather than for what we wish them to
Emma Frey
May 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
You know, not my favorite.

This is another pitch for mindfulness, a philosophy toward which I am unshakably grouchy. "Do the laundry WITHOUT listening to a podcast - you'll find more enjoyment!" *Grumble grumble.*

I'm not being fair: Ian Bogost offers some interesting points on the topic of "ironoia" - the mistrust of things. He suggests we move beyond the comfortable practice of distancing ourselves from the world toward acceptance and curiosity. Kind of like, "Ask not what your lawnmower can do
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: games
An emergent philosophy of games is an important topic and increasingly relevant to our lives. So much of our day is interacting with design that has game elements, and that will only increase. A clear understanding of the purpose and potential of games has real meaning and value.

I wish this book had that.

This is pleasantly written, but amounts to little more than "I read a series of articles and books that spurred some thoughts I'd like to share. I'd like to mention those articles and books in a
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't prepared for how philosophic & metaphysical this book would turn out to be. Just on the the title and with no previous experience with the author, I thought it would be a few clever tips on how to game myself into doing boring work, but it was much deeper than that. I found myself reevaluating my life through the lens he provides and it was a fresh and welcomed perspective. A little disjointed but well worth the read. ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Concept was interesting, but the writing...
Jordan Magnuson
"We don’t play in order to distract ourselves from the world, but in order to partake in it."

"Rather than asking whether our environment gratifies us, what if instead we asked whether we have yet explored the implications and capacities of the things with which we find ourselves surrounded?"

"Playgrounds are places where we dig deep, where we mess things up and tear them asunder—ourselves included—in order to discover what else is possible."

This book surprised me, both in terms of its content, an
Jeremy Ray
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it
There's a whole category of writing in the gaming space of dads who (re)discovered something about play by having a daughter, and while this fits squarely there, you can rely on Bogost to provide an intelligent take with original contributions.

Starting with an anecdote about how his daughter would make a game out of boring situations like shopping at the mall while attached to a parent, Bogost wonders if we might not apply such a technique to any situation in our adult lives. Play Anything looks
Wesley Schantz
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ian Bogost writes for the Atlantic, my go-to for that vicarious thrill of instant publication, instant readership, that sense that words still matter even in the most ephemeral online news. He edits the series of games studies books from MIT that make up that recent Humble Bundle my friend Ryan recommended to me. And he's got a new book out with a provocative subtitle: The Pleasures of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games.

So, Play Anything. Here's what I take to be the central cl
Josh Kanownik
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is not what it is sold as or exactly as it is described. I'm not surprised to see the low average review as a result of that. This book is essentially the result of an existential crisis from the author. What happens when you create an ironic game (Cow Clicker) and people actually like it? Do you give into cynicism and go down a path that leads to a place where nothing matters? Popular alternatives today for middle-aged men are to start a blog or a podcast. In this case the author wrot ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I immediately liked his thesis: that games have something to teach us, that limitations are important, that they can help us appreciate and wrestle with the world as it is. And he’s careful to say that life is not a game, and that not everything—work, chores—should be a game.

And I immediately had a better day for it. More present. More curious.

On the other hand, he sets up arguments that to me feel like straw men: he applies his thesis to counter a world that’s too ironic, too nostalgic, where
Erika Schoeps
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
A non-fiction philosophy book with one central premise; anything can become a game (a fun one, at that) if you find or create boundaries within a certain activity. Truly, that's it.

At the beginning of Play Anything , I was excited by this central idea, scribbling down notes, nodding at the examples, molding Bogost's ideas to certain examples from my own life. And then, the novel fell off for me. Bogost is content to keep repeating his idea, which I found was clear and easy to understand from t
Sarah Lugthart
Mar 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed spending time with this book, listening to it on walks outside. At first I felt the basic argument could be made just as well in a solid commencement speech (like the one Bogost mentions from Foster Wallace). Play (and creativity) benefits from limitations. Don’t take things for granted and don’t succumb to ironoia but really engage with the things around you (like your coffee maker or lawn). Try to see them anew, not taking what you want but letting the thing be in its own right. I st ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This is a big-idea book, and the big ideas in it really are worthwhile. Bogost's writing is another positive: clear, earnest, engaging. Unfortunately, the central points are easily grasped and not developed in any interesting direction. The result is a book made mostly of fluff, page after page of repetition and anecdote.

Ideas: Play is not activity lacking restraint but an attitudinal stance that unreservedly embraces arbitrary constraint, exploring the possibilities therein. If "fun" is reward
Michael MacDonald
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heady and deeply philosophical examination of Play

A truly dense read. I almost abandoned it early on but I’m glad I persisted.

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 complemen
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Ian Bogost is a video game designer, critic and researcher. He holds a joint professorship in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and in Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he is the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Chair in Media Studies.

He is the author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticis

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