I finished the last chapters of Bogost's Play Anything. I'll probably have some overall thoughts on the book in a separate post. The last chapters of the book strike me as muddled -- he takes a lot of swipes at cultural trends that could probably use some criticism, such as gamification, Csikszentmihalyi's "flow", Positive Psychology, Buddhist-inluenced mindfulness, etc., but they come across to me more like drive-bys than targeted attacks. It seems like he wants to win his case via the breathlessness by which he makes it rather than the soundness of his arguments. It reads like one of those magazine articles that's meant to seem "thoughtful" when you read it but then have a hard time articulating what the actual thoughts were.

Which is a shame, because I think I'm actually sympathetic to some of the ideas he seems to be trying to advance, such as treating the world around us as a thing to be engaged with rather than escaped from or endured.

In terms of substance, this seems to be his overall thesis:

Play invites is to draw an overdue conclusion: that the potential meaning and value of things – anything: relationships, the natural world, packaged goods – is in them rather than in us. Play is not a kind of self-expression, nor a pursuit of freedom. It is a kind of creation, a kind of craftsmanship, even. By adopting, inventing, constructing, and reconfiguring the material and conceptual limits around us, we can fashion novelty from anything at all. Although they refer to poiesis – the making that grounds poetry – instead of play, the philosophers Bert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly come to a similar conclusion about finding meaning in a secular age: “The task of the craftsman is not to generate the meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill for discerning the meanings that are _already there.”

On the one hand there seems to be something true there. The metaphor I'd use is that a creator is "riding herd on" their creation -- they're partly trying to get it where they want it to go, but only by working within the envelope of where the thing is going to naturally go. It's a mutual relationship. You can't force a story to have a different ending than it ought to have, for example. For another example, when I worked in microprocessor validation we were allowed to file bugs against anything, even the spec -- there was no fixed reference point, everything could potentially be part of the coevolution that involves getting a project "done". (This is also the philosophy I'd advise for a playtesting-guided RPG designer/developer).

On the other hand, saying that meaningfulness is "in the things" rather than "between agents and the things/agents they interact with" strikes me as an overcorrection for the "selfishness" that Bogost is so animated about rather than an accurate statement about how the world works.

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