Play Matters by Miguel Sicart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The account of play in Play Matters is quite interesting, though too unsystematic and too rooted in postmodern ideas. The account also suffers somewhat from “Huizinga-Syndrome”— that is, finding “play under nearly every rock in the social landscape” (Suits, “Words on Play”). One of the central aspects of Sicart’s account is that play is appropriative: it takes over other parts of our lives and experiences. This tends to assimilate everything as play. Seeing play as carnivalesque, as Sicart presents it, also tends to bring too much under the concept: everything from vandalism to political activism gets swept into play.
I liked his conception of play as a way of experiencing and being in the world and that it is not mere frivolity or childish. Sicart discusses play as a way of expressing and experience ourselves in the world. It is a way of seeing the world and a way of relating to the things and people around us. In these ways, play can, importantly, be productive of certain kinds of values, experiences, and community.
Another really interesting part of the book is Sicart’s distinction between play and playfulness. Playfulness is the application of aspects of play to contexts that are not play. So one might be playful in a book review or wedding ceremony without subverting the actual ends of those activities and subsuming them into play itself. Play as such has a logic all its own and wouldn’t be appropriate for all contexts. But one could still be playful in those contexts. Some of my criticism of his Huizinga-Syndrome might be resolved if instead of seeing all the things he presents as play, these are just a certain kind of playfulness.
The first two chapters, where Sicart discusses his account of play and then playfulness, are the most philosophically worthwhile parts of the book. As Sicart extends his account into other areas, the postmodern roots show themselves more and the philosophical content dips. The discussion becomes overly broad, ambiguous, and sweeping as postmodern influenced writing characteristically gets. But, then, maybe Sicart is just being playful.
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