[REVIEW] Repairing Play: A Black Phenomenology, by Aaron Trammell

A Black woman's hand(Mel's) holds the paperback of Black Play in front of a strongly patterned carpet in complimentary colors. The cover shows Black children running a footrace.

(Buy this book here)

One person’s game can be another’s torment.

Aaron Trammell is a professor of informatics and the editor of Analog Game Studies. He puts this background to good use in this book, analyzing what play really means in a racialized context and a racist society. He pulls from theory, philosophy, cultural wisdom, and pop knowledge and then takes us a step further and starts to sketch a framework for repairing the concept of play entirely. For those who have experienced torment that gave someone else joy, this is a crucial, healing thing to think about. I wish the concept was elaborated on further in the book, but the peeks we get are interesting. The general idea is that by embracing the pain that play can bring, we can reclaim pleasure and social meaning for ourselves.

It’s impossible to live in America with two good eyes and a brain and not notice the constant commodification and consumption of humanity, especially Black people’s humanity. While this book may seem deceptively light on praxis, there’s something so essentially good about rethinking how we are consumed by other’s play–a grim allusion to the party atmosphere recounted in historical accounts of some lynchings comes to mind–and reclaiming it all for ourselves consciously.

That said, when I think of Black play, I think of double dutch. Hot Peas and Butter. Hopscotch. Dodgeball, jacks, roller skating, cheerleading dances, endless games of tetherball, and whatever the heck we used to do on our bikes for 18 hours a day every summer. None of that is in this book. While there’s a lot of talk of Black people being objects of play and our need to reclaim ourselves through play, there’s not much mention of how we already have. I feel like discussing existing Black traditions of play as well as game theory would have made this a fuller, more meaningful read. I’ve been pointed toward the work of Kyra Gaunt, specifically The Games Black Girls Play, as a good place to find those discussions.

Still, this book oiled up my creaky, spring-seeking thoughts, taught me some things, and reminded me to see myself as a member of a community, not a hustling commodity. It also reminded me to go shopping for roller skates.

A round of cat’s cradle and a game of freeze tag to Repairing Play.

(Fellow readers! I haven’t read academic non-fiction in a while but this was a good book to bring me back into the fold. For more non-fiction gems, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop . Remember that any purchases you make at that link will result in a commission being paid to this site. They will go into this blogger’s roller skate fund. Now, go read something good! Peace!)


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