9-1 | The Aesthetic of Play

Book Review

The Aesthetic of Play

Brian Upton
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015. Acknowledgements, introduction, and index. 336 pp. $29.95 Hardcover. ISBN: 9870262028516

by Mark Chen

First Paragraph:

Let us play a game. Let us imagine you, the reader, are playing a game that I, the author, designed. I set up particular sys-tems intended to constrain the arena that you can play in—in this case, by explic-itly laying out the contract between you and me and the piece you are reading. I determined pacing, sections, and the over-all narrative of this piece; I worked with English on paper or a digital medium and within the limits of this genre. Let us call these constraints the “phase space” that you occupy through engagement with this piece. You, however, anticipate the next move, imagine intent, and predict topics and discussion points. You move within the phase space, such that, at any given moment, your possible moves shift, limited by your immediate circumstances. We will call all your possible moves at any given moment your “horizon of action” and your set of desirable moves your “horizon of intent.” As you read, you will make decisions that explore your horizons and move you to new places within the overall phase space. Maybe you will skip ahead, maybe you will reread sections to gain new insights, or maybe you will just keep reading while also reflecting on how this piece relates to others you have read or designed. If I did my work right, you will want to keep playing and reading, to continue exploring the space, to discover what is possible, possibly to come up with some interesting moves within our explicit contract. If I designed the game well, engaging with this reading has enough variability, predictability, and uncertainty to sustain your play-read. As you interpret this piece in very specific ways depending on your background experiences and your playing nature, maybe you will get out of this something worthwhile. And maybe that is how you generally approach new experiences.