A Black Phenomenology
144 pp., 5 x 8 in, 1 b&w illus.
- Published: February 7, 2023
A provocative study that reconsiders our notion of play—and how its deceptively wholesome image has harmed and erased people of color.
Contemporary theorists present play as something wholly constructive and positive. But this broken definition is drawn from a White European philosophical tradition that ignores the fact that play can, and often does, hurt. In fact, this narrow understanding of play has been complicit in the systemic erasure of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) from the domain of leisure. In this book, Aaron Trammell proposes a corrective: a radical reconsideration of play that expands its definition to include BIPOC suffering, subjugation, and taboo topics such as torture. As he challenges and decolonizes White European thought, Trammell maps possible ways to reconcile existing theories with the fact that play is often hurtful and toxic.
Trammell upends current notions by exploring play's function as a tool in the subjugation of BIPOC. As he shows, the phenomenology of play is a power relationship. Even in innocent play, human beings subtly discipline each other to remain within unspoken rules. Going further, Trammell departs from mainstream theory to insist that torture can be play. Approaching it as such reveals play's role in subjugating people in general and renders visible the long-ignored experiences of BIPOC. Such an inclusive definition of play becomes a form of intellectual reparation, correcting the notion that play must give pleasure while also recasting play in a form that focuses on the deep, painful, and sometimes traumatic depths of living.
“An insightful set of reminders of the colonial, subjugating elements of historical game studies that helps define Black game studies. Trammell provides not only critique but also charts a productive, inclusive way forward.”
Lindsay D. Grace, Knight Chair in Interactive Media, School of Communication, University of Miami; Vice President, Higher Education Video Game Alliance
“Repairing Play brilliantly blends theories of play and affect with memoir, illuminating what it means to 'play the game' through the lens of Black radical aesthetics. It is a quintessentially American meditation, one that unlocks new possibilities for the field.”
Soraya Murray, Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of On Video Games
“Trammell provides a revolutionary redefinition of the concept of play by overturning the givens of play as free and constructive, revealing the toxic and haphazard nature of play. A must-read for all games scholars.”
Souvik Mukherjee, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta; author of Videogames and Postcolonialism: Empire Plays Back
“Trammell makes a compelling and much-needed intervention in the legacies of oppression in both game studies and play theory, insisting on a reparative definition of play that foregrounds Black histories and Black radical traditions.”
TreaAndrea M. Russworm, Professor of Interactive Media and Games, University of Southern California; coeditor of Gaming Representation