Play

Play is doing; play is being. Play is orderly, procedural, and rule-bound; play is disruptive, anarchic, and rebellious. Rules provide a context for playful action (Sigart 2014), and yet, rules can never predict what players will do. Play is as precocious as it is precarious; it can spring into life one instant, only to be dashed to pieces in the next. Play’s experiential complexity underscores the need for critical media scholars to attend to media culture as lived, meaning-making acts and not simply as discrete texts or by-products of larger industrial structures.

Play is a valuable keyword for media studies both because it underscores that making sense of popular media requires audiences to participate in meaning-making processes (i.e., they have to play media makers’ sometimes proverbial, sometimes literal games), and because it emphasizes that these interpretive practices have political stakes and consequences when audiences break from producers’ expectations. This might …

This essay may be found on page 138 of the printed volume.

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