Games: Agency as Art (C. Thi Nguyen book)

Published 2021-06-24

I decided to read this book for two main reasons. First, I’d read a few of Nguyen’s papers and heard him on a few podcasts, and found him to be an exceptionally creative and insightful thinker. Second, my work has at times involved designing game-like cognitive assessments, and I thought it could be useful to read a philosophical perspective on games.

I got a lot more than I bargained for. Games: Agency as Art not only convinced me that I should make game-playing a much greater part of my life, but also untangled some concepts that I hadn’t even realized I was confused about: art, beauty, agency, autonomy, motivation. I finished the book two months ago and have thought about it almost every day since then.

People in my reading group found parts of it dry, and I can see why: it’s written by a philosopher, and it’s written (for the most part) for philosophers. Nguyen takes great care to define and defend every assertion, and I’ll admit that once or twice I thought to myself, “yeah yeah, let’s get on with it.”

It’s by no means a light read; I’m glad that I read it slowly, took notes, and paused after each chapter to discuss with my reading group. If you can set yourself up to have that same experience, I think you’ll get a lot out of it. And even if you can’t, I recommend it highly. For a book that appears to be so focused on games, it’s really about much more than that.

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