Homo Ludens in Computational Culture
The play element at the heart of our interactions with computers—and how it drives the best and the worst manifestations of the information age.
Whether we interact with video games or spreadsheets or social media, playing with software shapes every facet of our lives. In Playing Software, Miguel Sicart delves into why we play with computers, how that play shapes culture and society, and the threat posed by malefactors using play to weaponize everything from conspiracy theories to extractive capitalism. Starting from the controversial idea that software is an essential agent in the information age, Sicart considers our culture in general—and our way of thinking about and creating digital technology in particular—as a consequence of interacting with software's agency through play.
As Sicart shows, playing shapes software agency. In turn, software shapes our agency as we adapt and relate to it through play. That play drives the creation of new cultural, social, and political forms. Sicart also reveals the role of make-believe in driving our playful engagement with the digital sphere. From there, he discusses the cybernetic theory of digital play and what we can learn from combining it with the idea that playfulness can mean pleasurable interaction with human and nonhuman agents inside the boundaries of a computational system. Finally, he critiques the instrumentalization of play as a tool wielded by platform capitalism.
“What qualities do we need to thrive in a world where we're constantly overwhelmed by software systems? Sicart's surprising answer to this important question is: imagination, openness, and love.”
Frank Lantz, Game Designer, NYU Game Center
“Sicart invites us to think deeply about what play means in digital society and provides readers with a delightful, poignant critical reflection on how play can teach us about contemporary digital culture.”
Larissa Hjorth, RMIT University
“In Playing Software, Sicart offers a rich, thought-provoking meditation on our entanglements with software, both for good and ill, and how play is crucial to the task of being human. A fascinating book!”
Clive Thompson, columnist, Wired magazine; author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World