Minimalism as Play

Play Anything
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I just started a new book called Play Anything, by Ian Bogost. It’s not directed at minimalism, or zero-waste, or really anything that this blog is supposed to be about. But it got me thinking.

Bogost starts by redefining “fun”.

Yeah, I’d like to think I’m going deep.

He claims that “fun” isn’t pleasure. Instead:

Fun is the feeling of finding something new in a familiar situation.

My first reaction was skepticism. A “what’s that supposed to mean?” kind of feeling. I don’t believe it’s an intuitive redefinition. I wouldn’t have come up with it on my own. But then again, I’m a mathematician, not a philosopher. I kept reading, to see if he would back up his claim with anything approaching rigour.

A little later, he starts digging into more of the basis for his redefinition. First, he redefines “play”.

Play [is] doing what we can with the materials we find along the way.

In essence, Bogost argues that the fun of games, like Tetris and soccer, come from the limitations. We accept that we can’t use our hands in soccer, because that’s the way it is. It’s arbitrary, but it’s a limitation, and that’s what makes it fun. He says that when we take life as it comes, with all its inherent limitations, we can find fun in everything (by our new definition of fun, mind you). He goes on to say that sometimes by imposing artificial limitations on everyday life, we can create fun where once there was only boredom.

That was what got me thinking.

Minimalism is arbitrary, right? Laying aside ascetic and philosophical considerations, there’s nothing inherent in life that requires everyone to be minimalists. Obviously, not everyone is.

In essence, we minimalists are taking life and imposing a limitation on ourselves, usually in an attempt to increase our pleasure in other parts of life. But according to what Bogost’s claiming, maybe it’s the act of limiting ourselves that creates (at least some of) the fun?

A similar idea applies to zero-waste. It’s an arbitrary limitation that I’ve imposed on my life. It dictates how I shop, making every trip to the grocery store a fresh challenge. It influences the decisions I make, since I’m always attempting to stay inside the lines I’ve set for myself.

And perhaps that’s why I’m enjoying the dual-challenge of minimalism and zero-waste. I’ve always enjoyed games, and these are just games on a grander scale. Games that affect every part of my life instead of three hours on a Saturday afternoon.

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