Caught in Play: How Entertainment Works on You

Caught in Play
Get caught up in things? Fun things, obsessive things, pleasurable things? Then I’ve got a book for you – Caught in Play: How Entertainment Works on You.

Caught in Play is written by Peter Stromberg, professor of anthropology at Tulsa and blogger for PsychologyToday. Published by Stanford University Press, this book examines the following themes:

Most of us have, at some point, become so immersed in a book or game or movie that the activity temporarily assumes a profound significance and the importance of the outside world begins to fade… [Yet] basic questions remain unanswered [about this immersion].

What do we know about the overall effect of living in a society in which entertainment is so central? What do we know about how entertainment affects society and the people who participate in it? Why are entertainment activities so important to us, yet frequently dismissed as being unworthy of serious reflection?

Chapters begin with “Caught Up in the Game” and end with “Entertainment and Our Understanding of Self.” In between we get romantic realism, role playing, play and agency in legal drug use, and more.

Caught in Play matters because most psychological and neurological approaches reduce experience and activity to something run only through brain processes without attending to the nature of the activity and experience themselves. These real-world phenomena also bring foundational elements to the overall pattern. We get caught up because of brain and culture, and how experience and behavior link both.

Yet cultural anthropologists often want to cut out aspects of individual life, of processes located in and through bodies, from their analyses. Stromberg attends to play, boredom, imagination, and role taking as equal partners in understanding the captivating power of the streams of entertainment delivered to us today. He also shows how modern forms of entertainment, caught up in capitalism and consumerism, are distinctive in how they play on our own individual engagements, often to extreme ends and for the profit of others.
Caught in Play 2
Peter has set up a great website for Caught in Play. You can read an excerpt on romance and popular advice and keep up to date through Peter’s blog. I enjoyed this post on beliefs, explanations and why we really enjoy entertainment. Peter also considers the applied and negative side of his work on entertainment, play and modernity. He offers us resources on addiction, with more resources to come.

For those looking for other reviews, here’s an Amazon customer:

From the first page, Caught in Play captured my attention and opened my eyes to a world of entertainment and advertising that has become essential to our modern lives. Relatable and entertaining, this book gave me incredible insight to a side of my own character that I had not yet acknowledged.

Engrossing stories about the worlds of Role Playing Games, romance novels, and the development of television commercials left me laughing at myself and those I knew, for who among us has not, themselves, been caught up in their favorite movie, TV show, or book?

And Bradd Shore and Daniel Linger have the more academic views:

The surfaces of play mask some surprising hidden dynamics of modern life. Stromberg delivers a high-flying set of reflections on what lies behind our capacity to get caught up completely in the world of entertainment. Exploring our ever-intensifying ‘stimulus hunger,’ his excursion into the history of modern desire provides a new way to think about the forces shaping contemporary entertainment.

With its lively, ambitious examination of how entertainment has replaced ritual as a means of creating and affirming social ideals and motivations, Caught in Play extends the insights of major social theorists such as Durkheim, Weber, and Goffman. It is a stimulating read that will evoke productive debate over the effects of contemporary forms of imaginative involvement.

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