These questions interest me:
* What are the mechanics of human cognitive play? Can these mechanics be modeled?
* What are the outcomes of cognitive play? To what extent are these random?
* What is the evolutionary function of cognitive play? Is it, in other words, a good thing?
My first attempt to answer the questions above was The Nature of Computer Games: Play as Semiosis (Peter Lang, 2003), published as a part of the Digital Formations series. This book describes a universal mechanic of cognitive play and lies counter to those cultural studies that subsume the study of games and play within the study of society. I argue that the most fundamental qualities of human cognitive play originate in natural causes beyond influence of social discourse.
I completed an extension to The Nature of Computer Games that describes and analyzes the aesthetic pleasures of video game play with reference to early 20th-century formalist models of literature. This book, Play Redux: The Form of Computer Games (University of Michigan Press, 2010), promotes a formalist model of computer games in opposition to the notion that game studies is rightfully a variant of cultural studies. You can read this book online.
Reviews of Play Redux
My most recent effort is Games Are Not: The Difficult and Definitive Guide to What Games Are (Manchester University Press, 2017). This book explains and understands games as paradoxical: a sort of dialetheia that defies explanation and understanding through any means other than the roundabout and the mysterious. The argument this time is that games both are and are not what you think they are (which, as it turns out, explains as much about thinking — and semiosis — as it does about games). And yes, it’s a good thing.