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

Life is no game. It’s demanding, boring, and rarely fun. But what if we’ve got games wrong? Playing anything—whether an instrument, a sport, or a video game—takes hard work and makes absurd demands. Where’s the fun in that?

In Play Anything, acclaimed philosopher and award-winning game designer Ian Bogost reveals that play isn’t a mindless escape from boring reality. Instead, play is what happens when we accept limitations, narrow our focus, and—consequently—have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating cards to make a poker hand is no different than treating chores and obligations as tools by which we can discover new happiness.

Ranging from Internet culture to moral philosophy, from ancient poetics to modern consumerism, Play Anything reveals how today’s chaotic world can only be tamed—and enjoyed—when we first impose boundaries on ourselves.


  • Preface: Life Is Not a Game
  1. Everywhere, Playgrounds
  2. Ironoia, the Mistrust of Things
  3. Play Is in Things, Not in You
  4. From Restraint to Constraint
  5. The Pleasure of Limits
  6. The Opposite of Happiness
  • Conclusion: Living with Things
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index


Play Anything is nothing short of brilliant. It proves that philosophy can be 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, 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, 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 in 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, author of How We Got To Now and Everything Bad Is Good For You