I finished reading through Rules of Play yesterday. No, I'm not done posting here though, as I'm going to spend some time reviewing the last two major sections to take some notes. (For all you high school students out there – no, "reading it" does not really count as studying.) And hopefully even after that is done, I'll be actively pursuing the practice of game design enough so that I can share some thoughts here semi-regularly.
I breezed through the last few chapters a bit quickly, but I'm not sure how much time I'd spend reviewing them. (Games as Open Culture, Games as Cultural Resistance, Games as Cultural Environment) They were good, but I think they felt less new to me as I've already been spending a lot of time digging into how games relate and interact with culture. Plus, let's be honest, I wanted to be able to say I had read the whole thing, so I was speed-reading like a madman.
The last chapter felt a bit deeper, dealing with games that blur the "magic circle" that defines a game's existence and boundaries. Having played ARGs like The Beast (which they use as an example), it was pretty familiar ground, but it was still an interesting analysis.
I definitely think it's valuable to frame games in the context of culture, during design as well as afterwards. Just the word "culture" itself is useful, as it doesn't come with nearly as much undefinable baggage as "art" while still conveying some of that sense of creative relevance. Whether you think games have a message or not (and they do), or whether you think they express something about ourselves (as I believe them to), a game you create is inescapably contributing something to the culture we live in.
What do you want to add to your culture? Laughter, enjoyment, escape, hard questions, the satisfaction of achievement? Reinforced stereotypes, or broken and discarded ones? A place for our nightmares, or for our highest dreams, to come to life? Dark, gritty angst, or colorful, bouncy joy? Fear, love, anger, friendship?