The Deep Truth of Ordinary Things

bogost-play-anything-high-resLast week I got to watch a couple of episodes of the first season of Black Mirror, a BBC anthology show that’s been called the technology version of The Twilight Zone.  While the content pushed a number of envelopes, it did so to help us see something about the way we live life today, which isn’t always that easy or simple of a task.  How do we regularly look at the world around us with fresh eyes?

According to Ian Bogost, we do it by “playing games.”  From the preface to his new book, Play Anything:

The lesson that games can teach us is simple.  Games aren’t appealing because they are fun, but because they are limited.  Because they erect boundaries.  Because we must accept their structures in order to play them.  Soccer sees two teams of eleven players attempting to use their feet, torsos, and heads to put a ball into a goal.  Tetris asks you to position falling arrangements of four orthogonally-connected squares in order to produce and remove horizontal lines.  And yet the experiences games like soccer and Tetris create are far larger than those boundaries convey on their own.  That bounty results from the deliberate, if absurd, pursuit of soccer and Tetris on their own terms, within the limitations they erect.  The limitations make the games fun.

Which, quite honestly, is also true of good and engaging works of fiction.  Bogost continues:

What is we treated everything the way we treat soccer and Tetris- as valuable and virtuous for being exactly what they are, rather than for what would be convenient, or for what we wish they were instead, or for what we fear they are not?  Walks and meadows, aunts and grandfathers, zoning board of appeals meetings and business trips.  Everything.  Our lives would be better, bigger, more meaningful, and less selfish.

That’s what it means to play,  To take something- anything- on its own terms, to treat it as if its existence were reasonable.  The power of games lies not in their capacity to deliver rewards or enjoyment, but in the structured constraint of their design, which opens abundant possible spaces for play.

It truly is a well-rendered introduction, one that holds much promise for the rest of the book.  It seems to be a good turn-around on the idea of play, which has become a watchword for 21st century entertainment and culture.  From the preface’s last paragraph:

The ultimate lesson games give is not about gratification and reward, nor about media and technology, nor about art and design.  It is a lesson about modesty, attention, and care.  Play cultivates humility, for it requires us to treat things as they are rather than as we wish them to be.  If we let it, play can be the secret to contentment.  Not because it provides happiness or pleasure- although it certainly can- but because it helps us pursue a greater respect for the things, people, and situations around us.

Theological Thinking and Doing

revolutionI’m always interested in (and frustrated by) the weird intersection between thought and action in the Christian faith.  The two should be hold well together, but we tend to focus one over the other, disparaging thoughtless deeds or deedless thought.  N. T. Wright acknowledges this early in The Day the Revolution Began.  It makes sense to how many books about the cross one might need to read (or write) in order to understand the implications of the event.

Theology, after all, was made for the sake of the church, not the church for theology . . . “The Word became flesh,” said St. John (1:14); and Paul described the “words of the cross” as “God’s power” (1 Cor. 1:18).  The flesh and the power are what matter in the end, rather than the pretty patterns of our words.  The point of trying to understand the cross better is not so that we can congratulate ourselves for having solved an intellectual crossword puzzle, but so that God’s power and wisdom may work in us, through us, and out into the world that still regards Jesus’s crucifixion as weakness and folly.  Yes, there are puzzles . . . But Jesus died for our sins not so that we could sort out abstract ideas, but so that we, having been put right, could become part of God’s plan to put his whole world right.  That is how the revolution works.  

A lot of it boils down to where you start and where you want to end.  Simple and complex, because starting and ending locations can be tricky at best and disastrous at worse.

I’m a little over halfway through The Day the Revolution Began.  It’s a great drawing-together of threads from other books by Wright.  His argument is convincing.  He’s trying to draw a better, wider horizon for how we think about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And he does it by getting us to think as much like the early Jewish Christians as possible.

Sunday’s Best: Elementary Epistemology

Today’s Frazz by Jef Mallett gets something right about knowledge and our current approach to it.


A co-worker recently asked me what two or three questions would be vital in helping our school move forward as a learning institution.  I came up with two primary sets of questions (and one practical question).  Set one: what gospel will we preach (and how will we preach it)?  And set two: what view of the world will we teach (and how will we teach it)?  This Frazz strips speaks well to the second set.  How do we maneuver a world where knowledge is constantly pursued with little or not sense of embracing knowledge that does not change (and that ultimately leads to wisdom)?  Good and necessary questions to ask.

(image from

Strange Birthdays

Marvel’s Doctor Strange drops in a couple of weeks.  It will be interesting to see how the movie does . . . and what kind of movie the story tells.  The box office has felt tired of late.  And Strange is different enough that there might be an air of predictability around it.

Here’s a recent Jimmy Kimmel clip with the movie’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, playing the magician forced to do tricks for a kid’s birthday party.