Play Anything

The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games

Regular Price $35

Regular Price $44 CAD

Regular Price $35

Regular Price $44 CAD

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On Sale

Sep 13, 2016

Page Count

288 Pages




How filling life with playwhether soccer or lawn mowing, counting sheep or tossing Angry Birds — forges a new path for creativity and joy in our impatient age

Life is boring: filled with meetings and traffic, errands and emails. Nothing we’d ever call fun. But what if we’ve gotten fun wrong? In Play Anything, visionary game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost shows how we can overcome our daily anxiety; transforming the boring, ordinary world around us into one of endless, playful possibilities.

The key to this playful mindset lies in discovering the secret truth of fun and games. Play Anything, reveals that games appeal to us not because they are fun, but because they set limitations. Soccer wouldn’t be soccer if it wasn’t composed of two teams of eleven players using only their feet, heads, and torsos to get a ball into a goal; Tetris wouldn’t be Tetris without falling pieces in characteristic shapes. Such rules seem needless, arbitrary, and difficult. Yet it is the limitations that make games enjoyable, just like it’s the hard things in life that give it meaning.

Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances- like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints-as sources for meaning and joy. We can “play anything” by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.

Ranging from Internet culture to moral philosophy, ancient poetry to modern consumerism, Bogost shows us how today’s chaotic world can only be tamed-and enjoyed-when we first impose boundaries on ourselves.

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"[Bogost's] thoughtful book Play Anything makes the point that life's limitations--as with the limitations of a game such as soccer or Tetris--are not impediments to our enjoyment, but rather, what make life or the game fun in the first place."
-New York Times
"Proposing an aesthetic of play, [Bogost] draws on myriad examples, from golf to the task of watering his lawn to his daughter's self-directed rules of 'step on a crack, break your mother's back.' ...[the] idea-driven prose of PLAY ANYTHING might remind you of the applied-philosophy tactics of an Alain de Botton... demonstrate[s] the importance of thoughtful, serious criticism on gaming and play."
-New York Times Book Review

"Of all the books on this list, this may be the hardest to describe, and in my assessment that was an asset. The year saw a few new entries in the 'Tackle life's challenges like a game' category, a thesis that's gaining momentum, but this book goes deeper than most via an enlightening discussion of the role of limits in both games and life. Bogost strikes me as equal parts philosopher and savant game enthusiast-a systems thinker with a penchant for high score formulas-and I'm glad he wrote Play Anything because it's causing me to look at problems in a different way. Read it and I think you'll see why."
-Dan DiSalvo,, Best Brain Books of 2016
"An erudite and often amusing book."
-Wall Street Journal

"Play Anything isn't really just an argument for turning dull tasks into games. It's a manifesto for a different attitude to the world."
-Guardian (UK)

"I can tell you that a great way to have fun with the job of writing a book review-to play while writing it-is by pursuing it earnestly and seriously as a book review. A humble, highly constrained genre. You tell people about the book. You tell them whether you think it's worth reading. (Yes.) And then, instead of allowing your ego to ruin everything by trying to make it cool, you move on in search of the next playground."
"Part personal meditation, part guide to living a happier life, Play Anything is a Walden for the 2010s."
-New Scientist

"Play Anything is a one-stop workshop for how to play in the 21st century... a manifesto, and it declares that more recess is good for the soul. Maybe pick this one up in your off-time."
-San Francisco Book Review
"Empowering, fresh, and engaged."
-Kill Screen

"For anyone who cares or works with or thinks about things like fun, enjoyment, happiness, play, and games, Play Anything is a conceptual thrill ride. Poetic. Deeply philosophical. Refreshingly insightful. It will challenge almost everything that you think you know about play, and then lift you towards a new and remarkably freeing perspective on everything else."
-Deep Fun
"An essential read for those seeking to understand how a new idea of play can be positive for our lives."
-Library Journal, starred review

"[Bogost's] arguments are thoughtful and useful for approaching ordinary experiences. A delightful book that promotes playfulness with a purpose."
-Kirkus Reviews

"It's difficult to imagine a book that takes on David Foster Wallace, Barry Schwartz, Mary Poppins, and a host of philosophers under one premise. Yet Bogost, professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founding partner at a video games company, has done so."
-Publishers Weekly
"Play Anything is nothing short of brilliant. It proves that philosophy can fun, that fun can be profound, and that play is in fact the bridge that connects what is most meaningful and what is most pleasurable in our daily lives. I will be recommending this provocative and entertaining book to everyone I know."
-Jane McGonigal, bestselling author of Reality is Broken and SuperBetter

"This is one of those books that blossoms: now tacking through intellectual history, now seizing on philosophical argument, now touched by memoir. At its hybrid heart, you'll find the meaning of 'play,' as well as 'fun,' and maybe even 'life.' Maybe you pick it up because, like me, you're a fan of Ian Bogost's essays, or maybe because you've enjoyed one of his previous books. No matter how you approach it, Play Anything will surprise you. You'll realize: this is a book with big ambitions, carrying a theory of the world that is covertly radical and, by the end, nothing short of thrilling."
-Robin Sloan, bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
"A landmark. Play Anything is a humane and personal theory of play for the supermodern age. Full of fascinating insight and fresh perspective, Play Anything shows how play serves as a fundamental tool for examining the world around us. Through play we limit, focus, constrain and experiment into order to bring certain aspects of our world to the fore while allowing others to recede. As the basis both for creativity and for well-being, as well as the antidote to detached irony, play is how we all recognize our Davids, big and small, from the infinite blocks of marble all around us."
-Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack Technologies

"Play Anything is a profound book: both a striking assessment of our current cultural landscape, and at the same time a smart self-improvement guide, teaching us the virtues of a life lived playfully."
-Steven Johnson, bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Everything Bad is Good for You
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