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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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