Review: "Play Matters" by Miguel Sicart

For this week's book review, I read Miguel Sicart's Play Matters. The looks at play as a concept and its many versions and applications, making an interesting case for the importance of play. As a whole, this book did not quite stick for me. After finishing it, I did not feel that I quite understood the purpose of writing the book. That is not to say, however, that I gained nothing from reading it. There were a few points and ideas Sicart shared that were interesting to me, a few of which I will outline below.


The first point I found interesting was when he began to try to define "play." He first describes play as the moments between the mundane tasks we "have to" do, our leisure time. He discusses playing games on his phone to pass time between meetings or while waiting in line ("the pleasure of wasting time"). He then, however, goes on to suggest that our mundane tasks can also be considered play, that our experimentation, our trial-and-error processes, can become a form of play and of understanding the nature of existence.


I also found interesting his discussion on the appropriative nature of play. He discusses how play appropriates spaces and objects into the act of play. For example, a parking lot can become a battlefield in a game of "Ninja." A ball can be used to play a sport, or it can be appropriated into a prop for a make-believe game, like an ancient artifact. As Sicart says, "We spin the pen, make a ball of a piece of trash, and invent ways in which a phone or a computer can be entertaining. Anything can be turned into a toy." Play does not necessarily arise from objects or spaces intended for play, although these objects do exists, like a football and a football field.


Finally, I enjoyed his discussion on the nature of video games as a form of play. Sicart discusses different types of play in video games, that most virtual game worlds are designed to lead a player through a particular game. “Sandbox” style games, however, allow players to more or less freely explore a virtual environment and experiments with props and actions. In this way, some videos games can be more appropriative than others, in cases where the player chooses what types of activities they want to do in the virtual environment (for example, in a game like Fallout, a player is prompted to follow a main quest but may spend a significant amount of time trying to throw a basketball into a hoop, just to test the limits or capabilities of the virtual world. Virtual reality controls add an even more interactive and immersive layer to this concept). Today, some designers are even trying to incorporate digital elements into physical play spaces, for example, through projectors or touch screens. These can supplement a child's ability to appropriate a space for their own play, both by using imagination and by transforming the space visually and interactively through the use of technology.

© 2020 Braeden Raymer