Fun and (striving) games: Playfulness and agential fluidity

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Games: Agency as Art is wonderful, and in my opinion the most important book in the philosophy of games since Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper. In effect, Nguyen takes Suits’ idea of ‘reverse English’, develops it into a full-blown theory of ‘striving play’ and then runs with it. And boy does he run with it! The concept of striving play in Nguyen’s hands turns out to be incredibly powerful. By shining a light on the distinctive aesthetics of agency, it avoids assimilating the aesthetics of games to more familiar aesthetic values. It helps explain how games can enhance our autonomy, provide relief from morality, transform competition into cooperation and illuminates some of the dangers of ‘gamification’. Because I think Nguyen’s approach is fundamentally right-headed, I will not try to refute his theory or pick various nits about the details. Rather, my aim is to help build and enhance the theory. Nguyen’s book paints an impressive mosaic, but he omitted one crucial element: playfulness. Incorporating the idea of the ‘playful stance’ into Nguyen’s theory promises to resolve three otherwise troubling tensions. I begin by laying out the three tensions (section 1), then introduce the idea of playfulness (section 2) and explain how this idea can mitigate these tensions (section 3).
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the Philosophy of Sport
Early online date30 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2021


  • play
  • striving play
  • fun
  • games
  • aesthetics


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