Jayne Vidheecharoen

Literature Review (Draft 1)

1. Introduction

An overarching theme in this research is investigating technologyʼs role in shaping our experiences within virtual and physical spaces. More specifically, I am exploring how the use of simulation and representation affects our ideas about how we collaboratively work and play in real life. At the same time, I am interested the way human values, emotions, and behaviors can be shaped through hacking the virtual and physical environments surrounding them.

Much of the current research is specific to a defined field. I hope to bring together seemingly disparate fields, such as playgrounds, games, urban spaces, business, and technology. The historic research has interesting insights into larger issues and theories, but doesnʼt account for the way our real lives are increasingly mediated by virtual systems. I am particularly interested in this area of research because I would like to use technology in new ways to create spaces that facilitate idiosyncratic ways of working and playing collaboratively. The organization of the literature reviewed starts by framing the context of work & leisure. Next it focus on the specific spectrum of experiences and values of subjects such as the built environment, magic circles, and abstractions. Finally it zooms back out to look at the bigger picture goals.

2. Work-Leisure Context

The ideas surrounding the work-leisure relationship exposes the ways work and leisure (which includes play activities) have been framed, which changes the way we understand the relationship between the two. Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship, by Margo Hilbrecht, surveys the various theories and research approaches over the decades. For instance, dominant theories about the workleisure relationship in the 50ʼs and 60ʼs primarily focused on menʼs experiences within the manufacturingbased economy. Many neglected the unpaid workforce, such as domestic care-givers who are predominantly women. This emphasizes the importance of considering diverse types of work in our modern interpretations of the term.

The article also explores changing perspectives on work-life balance. While modern teleworking technologies have been promoted as a way to create more balance, the truth is it is often not the case for women with family responsibilities. Hilbrecht also groups modern research under the idea of the “New Economy” in which technology is changing social interactions, turning work into “the new leisure” where

Jayne Vidheecharoen

the boundaries are blurred. This technology-led shift in expectation of what is considered work is especially interesting because it frames the current context in which my proposed interventions can exist.

3. Playing with Public Space

Moving into the physical realm of public spaces, Insurgent Public Spaces, by Jeffery Hou, investigates how people around the world have been reclaiming urban spaces for their own needs. By defying the “design” of the spaces people are challenging the way the spaces are scripted by architects and urban planners. One of the case studies is Rebarʼs Parking Day project. The particularly interesting part about this case study examines Rebarʼs belief that “Deep within every rational system holding societies together are assumptions that, if taken to their logical conclusion, tend toward absurdity.” This idea is particularly interesting because it implies that any rational system can become an opportunity for intervention, improvement, or exploitation.

In Contesting the public realm: Struggles over public space in LA, Margaret Crawford argues that the mutability, contestation, and change is not what constitutes a failure of public space, but instead define it. The emergent activities in Los Angelesʼ public spaces are what enable us to questions about urban citizenship. Therefore we should not mourn the loss of our public spaces but instead see it as a space filled with possibilities. Building upon this idea of reclaiming built environments of possibility, Parkour seems to be especially relevant. From obstacle to opportunity: Parkour, leisure, and the reinterpretation of constraints, by Nathaniel Bavinton, Parkour is explored as both a leisure activity and form of resistance to the scripted use of spaces. At the same time it looks at constraints not as hindering fun but in fact adding value and enhancing it. Thus the play creativity comes not from removing constraints but by reinterpreting and finding new possibility within the constraints.

4. Intentionally Designing for Play

On the other side of the element of play in public spaces, I looked into how spaces have been explicitly designed with play in mind, for both children and adults. Entyrely Fun Playgrounds by James A. Jolley lays out various ways to construct childrenʼs playgrounds using old tires. He is particularly interested in the use of tires because they symbolize advanced technologies yet become eyesores once theyʼre used. Also the fact that theyʼre so hard to dispose of makes them especially suitable for withstanding the repeated impact of children interacting with them. The idea of repurposing old or basic technologies to give them new purposes or to create a new space is especially appealing when considering the speed at which advanced technologies can now become obsolete.

Jayne Vidheecharoen

In Design for Play, Dattner prefaces his playground case studies by writing about the difference between work and play. The way Dattner differentiates between the two makes it especially clear that the book was written in the 70ʼs. He considers work to be performed in the real world, involving real tangible products, and existing within the realm of the possible. On the other hand he defines play as being not bound by reality. Given the intangible aspects of many peopleʼs current jobs it would be hard to claim these definitions still hold true today. But if anything not bound by reality can be considered play, then our newly liberated work life also has this potential.

Looking at the way playful spaces were designed for adults led to researching the tactics and ideas behind the American Dime Museums, particularly the way P.T. Barnum played with our expectations of truth in museums. In Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America, Andrea Dennett exposes P.T. Barnumʼs techniques for manipulating the press and submitting anonymous letters and tips to stir up controversy about the verity of his exhibits. This drove up ticket sales because he knew the audience loved trying to figure out if it was fact or fiction. By inviting the viewers to question his exhibits, he was respecting the viewersʼ intelligence. Many of the viewers enjoyed collaborating on the “intellectual exercise” regardless if it could be proven to be true. It also underscores the value of respecting usersʼ intelligence by inviting them to play along. In Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum, Neil Harris explains how the development of 19th century technologies left people thinking that just about anything mechanically or organically probable was possible, making people very susceptible to hoaxing. This seems especially relevant in our modern times, given the rapid pace of developing technologies.

5. The Power of Play

Investigating play in culture, Johan Huizingaʼs Homo Ludens is often referenced as a classic study. Huizinga defines real world places, from tennis courts to courts of justice as playgrounds because they are special temporary places within the ordinary world where rules enable specific performances. He calls the temporary play spaces “magic circles.” This makes the temporary virtual spaces within our ordinary world especially viable candidates for being considered play spaces. He also believes outlaws and revolutionaries have an element of play in their activities, suggesting that to challenge a tension or an established system is inherently playful since itʼs consciously outside of ordinary life, which is one of the formal characteristics of play. He goes on to describe play as being not serious but also fully absorbing for the player. It also exists within itʼs own rules of space and time, while promotes the creation of real social communities. Clearly, playʼs ability to form communities, while challenging established systems, makes it a very powerful tool to address tensions in real life.

Jayne Vidheecharoen

The New Games Book captures play within a time of conflict. The book organizes several of the games that the New Games Foundation created in the 60ʼs. It also goes into some of the history and philosophies of the foundation. The first game created by Stewart Brand was a way for pacifists and peacenicks, who were opposed to all forms of war and competition, to get back in touch with their bodies and promote intense interaction with each other. He and the rest of the foundation continued to come up with other other alternatives to traditional sports, creating new games that aligned with their particular values.

6. Mixed Realities & Responsibilities

Looking at how play and games can start to bleed into the ordinary world, I started looking into mixed reality. In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal proposes several ways to “fix” reality by employing tactics used in games. Analyzing why games make us happy, McGonigal explains that itʼs actually the element of doing good hard work. While we seem to believe that play is the opposite of work, a good game itʼs actually inviting the user to tackle unnecessary obstacles in an interesting way. Itʼs the intrinsic rewards (such as satisfying work, social connection, and building meaning) that make these games appealing. She also defines alternate reality games as “games you play to get more out of your real life, as opposed to games you play to escape it.” These alternate reality games are especially powerful because games give us permission to play outside of social norms within our real life. At the same time she mentions that itʼs important to consider not only the structure of the game but also what type of behaviors and habits that structure encourages. Jonathan Harrisʼ World Builders also notes that peopleʼs behavior is heavily influenced by the context in which they live, and therefore as builders of context we should be responsible for the type of behavior our spaces might encourage. He urges young designers, architects, computer scientists, and architects to aim to build worlds that nurture people instead of just generating more page views or ad revenue.

7. Abstraction & Possibility

In Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go, a conversation between Celia Pearce and Will Wright, the two talk about his experience designing games and his philosophies behind them. Wright specifically mentions the importance of having a large solution space within a game, allowing players to solve problems in ways that are unique to them. By creating this broader space for solving a problem people tend to have stronger feelings of empathy. Wright also exposes the limitations of simulations and highlights the power abstraction. While the computer may not be very good at simulating specific details, the playerʼs mind is much better at filling in the details.

Jayne Vidheecharoen

Abstraction also becomes a powerful tool for creating new possibilities. A Hacker Manifesto, by McKinzie Wark, outlines the role of the hacker in the creation of new possibility spaces for things to enter the world. Wark explains how hacking is essentially abstracting, and it is through this abstraction that a new space for possibility beyond necessity is created. By liberating objects from their designed purpose, it becomes possible to explore new uses. While these new uses may seem strange but soon may become second nature. So it is through creating new forms of abstraction that “the possibility of the future” is produced. Scott Burnham, in Hacking Design, explains how hacking is able to expose tensions between systems, and wonders what might happen if these tensions were to be addressed directly. Hacking then becomes a tool for also raising questions about our world.

8. Conclusion

Technology has fundamentally altered the separation of work and play, and in a sense blurred the line between fun and function, and opened up a whole space of possibility. At the urban scale we see people are responding to the constraints of the cityʼs scripted functions by improvising and reclaiming their public space and creating new playful alternatives. While working within the system can be fruitful, itʼs also important to consider intentionally designing for play. Old, functional technologies may be repurposed and redesigned for play. And in a time when our working world lives in an increasingly virtual sphere, the idea of work is particularly ripe for the hacking. What was once a serious and quantitatively true system can become a space for collaborative interaction. A new system can emerge that is open to a wide range of “truths,” especially within the context of our rapidly advancing technology. Within the ordinary world, both physical and virtual, there are already “magic circles” everywhere. Being subject to rules and constraints, these areas are also subject to new possibilities.

Approaching these areas within the ordinary world with a different set of values may create a new range of potential uses. Looking at the real world through the lens of a potential game, or opportunity to play, we can find new ways to reshape it. With this power we also have the responsibility of creating worlds that align with our values. But while recreating and reshaping worlds, itʼs also important to keep the system open enough for individual agency by intentionally designing in abstraction. Allowing for abstraction is important because it allows new possibilities to emerge and raise new questions about what we currently accept as fact or normalcy. As a designer working with technology, these lenses and principles may be used as a tool for designing systems for people that respects their intelligence and supports their unique potential for creativity.