Play Matters

Crowd at Ann Hamilton, The Event of a Thread

When Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters was published in August of last year it immediately went on my to-read list but it took me a while before picking it up. When I did I was immediately hooked. Not since The Well-Played Game have a I come across such a thoughtful treatment of play.

Play Matters is also the best discussion of playful design I have read in book form or for that matter any place else. Given the fact that we have adopted the term “playful design” to describe what we do, I am always looking to improve my own thinking on the subject. In that regard, Play Matters is very helpful as it provides a vocabulary for talking about play, playfulness, and playthings, and the craft of designing for them.

In fact, it is such a good book on the subject, that I would recommend it to any designer, not just designers of playthings, by which I mean games, toys and playgrounds. It will make you think differently about the relationship between the things you make and the people you make them for. It will help you understand that anything can be played with, and that this is a good thing.

Miguel convincingly argues for an understanding of play as an act of personal expression. Play is a way for people to understand and engage with the world. Seen this way, play is an act of production, not consumption. Put in lofty terms, which Miguel doesn’t shy away from, when we play we are fully human.

Because of this, play matters. And because of this, it is important for us designers to acknowledge the role of play in our work, even when it is our job to make things that are primarily meant to be useful. Even useful things can be approached with a playful attitude. When we design for this kind of playing-while-working we break out of technology-as-servant-or-master dichotomy.

Play Matters is a mere 176 pages long. The final third of the book is taken up by notes for those wanting to do further reading and research. It may be short, and written in an accessible style (which I welcome) but it is not shallow. The book rewards contemplation, and perhaps more importantly it invites direct application in daily practice.

In short, Play Matters is highly recommended to anyone interested in play. But perhaps more importantly, I think it is required reading for anyone interested in design.

Update: I blogged some annotated highlights from the book.

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