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  • 1. Making Computer Tasks at Work More Playful: Implications for Systems Analysts and Designers JANE WEBSTER Graduate School of Business Administration New York University 114 Liberty Street New York, N. Y. 10006 (212 285-6006) 2. PLAY - -- EXPLANATION - AS AN FOR INTERACTIONWm COMPUTERS 1. INTRODUCTION Chris sits in front of a computer terminal, Based on the literature on play, this paper mesmerized by the report facility of a argues that designing computer systems to make database program. She designs a report and tasks at work more playful may result in real prints it; she discovers another feature of advantages to users and organizations. the report facility, modifies the report, and prints it again; she explores more attributes The paper first argues that computers are of the system, trying out different features. particularly suited to play, and goes on to Chris has not noticed what has gone on around demonstrate the importance of the topic. her at work since she began to use the After reviewing the consequences of play, the database program. Down the hall, Pat is paper then describes the characteristics of learning to use a word processor. He explores activities that encourage playful behavior, the command to space a document: he tries such as user control. Findings from a pilot double spacing and admires his document; he study of 10 professionals and 5 clericals changes the spacing back to single, and then highlight these reviews. Next, the paper up to triple, all the time feeling in control makes specific suggestions for designing these of the process. Both of these employees are characteristics into tasks on computers. The exhibiting playful behaviors in their use of paper compares the designs of two similar information technologies. computer systems which differ in playfulness. The paper concludes by summarizing the Computers seem a natural area for exploring findings. playfulness in work activities: certain characteristics of computers lend themselves Grossman [l83 stresses the importance of to the development of playful tasks [34]. playing at non-work related games as a respite When the consequences of play are compared from the problems of work, and Marvin 1241 with those of individuals using interactive argues that employees often incorporate a play computers, parallels appear. For example, element into computer systems as a rest from some individuals concentrate so much on the work. Notwithstanding the importance of computer that they lose awareness of what is taking breaks from the pressures of work, the going on around them and of the passage of present research does not focus on this aspect time. Some dawdle over tasks on computers, of play at work. Rather, it focuses only on playing with the functions of the computer the playfulness of computer tasks at work. systems. Others may interact with their computers to the detriment of other work.Permission to copy without fee all or part of thismaterial is granted provided that the copies are not Therefore, the consequences of using computersmade or distributed for direct commercial advantage, may be very similar to the consequences ofthe ACM copyright notice and the title of the publi- play for some individuals, because thesecation and its date appear, and notice is given that individuals are actually playing on theircopying is by permission of the Association for computers. Even in routine jobs, employeesComputing Machinery. To copy otherwise, or to re- try to make their work more playful [15]. Forpublish, requires a fee and/or specific permission example, Carson [I61 studied keypunchers who injected play elements into their jobs by creating a game to play: they would @ 1988 ACM O-89791-262-4/88/0400-0078 $1.50 78
  • 2. arguments that do not support criticalSynchronize their typing, and then would race interpretations of computers as sources ofwith the other keypunchers. organizational control.3. IMPORTANCE TOPIC OF -- 4. CONSEQUENCES PLAY OF -- This paper studies the phenomenon ofplayfulness at work. In contrast, most Writers advance many advantages of play, fromresearch on play has examined children’s play, the immediate subjective experiences ofrather than the play of adults. Although play players (such as positive affect), to theoccurs in many activities, much of the acquisition of new skills and practices, toresearch has focused narrowly on games, rather learning, and to a precursor of creativity,than on the notion of playfulness in a wider abstract thinking, spontaneity, imagination,sense. Similarly, most research on playing on make-believe, and flexibility. Researcherscomputers has studied children or has have also enumerated such negativeconcentrated on games. consequences as an increased time to task completion and the over-involvement in an Much interest has focused on the consequences activity. Webster [341 reviews theseof computers to individuals and organizations. consequences in detail.First, computer impacts arose as a majorfactor in information systems research [13], First, if findings on subjective experiencesand interdisciplinary groups (e.g. at resulting from play may be extended to playfulCarnegie-Mellon) have formed recently to study computer tasks at work, we may hypothesizethis problem. Impacts at the individual level that employees will experience more positiveof analysis have often meant job attitudes, affect at work, heightened concentration, andbut have also included changes in income, less awareness of time. For organizations,employment, social contact, ability to control these outcomes could translate into moreevents (specifically, deskilling and dedicated employees for these particularupgrading), and health [331. However, the tasks.impaCtS Qf the playfulness Qf COqNterS havereceived little study. Second, if findings on learning resulting from play can be extended to learning computer Unions are very concerned with the impacts of tasks at work, we may hypothesize thatcomputers, citing such phenomena as computer employees will be more likely to put effortmonitoring, health effects, arbitrary company into learning new systems, will learn morepolicies, unfair wages, and stress [l, e.g.]. effectively, will be more likely to extendGovernments have enacted legislation to what they have learned to other situations,protect employees for health and monitoring will become more self-directed in theirreasons (Missouri House Bill No. 406, e.g.). learning, and will experience more control. Findings from this research should be of Third, if findings on cognitive flexibilityinterest to those investigators focusing on resulting from play may be extended, then weimplementation successes and failures, and to may expect greater creativity on the job, asthose designing new computer systems. well as more adaptable employees, who areDesigning playfulness into computers may better equipped to respond. Any increasedresult in positive consequences both for flexibility due to play can therefore aid inemployees and organizations. In addition, any organizational problem solving.impacts of playfulness on performancerepresent a major concern of organizations. Fourth, we may expect that playful behaviors on computers at work will take longer to Lastly, in the critical literature, a common complete than less playful computer tasks.theme cQncerns the use of computers by Consequently, making computer tasks at workmanagement to control more playful would not be appropriate inemployees [5, 17, 19, 27, 28, 301. These situations in which time is critical (e.g.,writers argue that control of employees may be dispatching ambulances).accomplished through centralization, throughdeskilling, through power changes, and through Lastly, we may hypothesize that playfuldecreases in employment levels. Less computer tasks at work can be made soattention has focused on the opposite enjoyable that other tasks at work arearguments. This paper does not argue that neglected. Therefore, making some tasks atmanagement control is absent from the use of Work more playful may be at the expense ofcomputers. However, it does emphasize other tasks. 79
  • 3. 5. CHARACTERISTICS PLAYFULACTIVITIES OF since individuals do not need to negotiate -~ roles far these activities. Other methods of focusing attention include competition, the Ellis [151 argues that little effort has probability of material rewards, and danger.focused on outlining the characteristics of Third, individuals control their own actions.human play, and Berlyne 131 concludes that Fourth, playful activities provide coherentmuch disagreement exists on the key requirements and clear feedback. Finally, playcharacteristics of human play. However, needs no external goals or rewards. However,Sandelands et al. 1291, Csikszentmihalyi [121, unlike Deci and colleagues, Csikzentmihalyiand Malone [21] have reviewed the literature argues that the presence of external goals oron some of the characteristics of playful rewards does not stop the activity from beingactivities. This section first reviews these play. He verified the existence of these fivecharacteristics, and then concludes by characteristics through extensive interviewsoutlining their relationships to work. with chess players, rock climbers, rock dancers, and surgeons; Kusyszyn [201 argued First, from a review of the literature on that these characteristics hold for gamblers;play, Sandelands et al. [29] outline template and Bowman[41 demonstrated the applicabilitytheory, a cognitive classification theory of of these characteristics for video weperceptions of task structure. This theory players. In addition, support for control andargues that five perceptual characteristics centering of attention through competition(the activity must exist outside of the real comes from studies of video game; outcomes of the activity must be Mehrabian and Wixen [251 found a positivenonproductive; the activity must be freely relationship between male undergraduateengaged in; the activity must be governed by students’ preferences for video games andrules; and outcomes of the activity must be their self-reports of power, control, anduncertain) of play must be present to identify influence, and Morlock et al. [261an activity as play. If any of these demonstrated that undergraduates whocharacteristics is missing from a task, the frequently played video games were moretheory hypothesizes that the task will not be motivated to master the games throughperceived as playful. Their assumption that competition with themselves and others, thanall five of these characteristics must be were those who played less frequently.present seems overly restrictive. Forexample, the activity of surgery is not Lastly, in Malone’s 121, 221 review of play,outside of the world, nor does it have he labels Csikszentmihalyi’s characteristicsnonproductive outcomes. Yet of play as challenge. He suggests that all ofCsikszentmihalyi 1121 demonstrated that the these characteristics of playful activitiesoccupation of surgery possesses many features result from the requirement of a challengingconducive to play. activity to have a goal with an uncertain outcome. Malone also emphasizes the Second, in Csikszentmihalyi’s [12] review of importance of fantasy and curiosity to playfulplay, he argues that the most important activities. Activities may be more playful ifrequirement of a playful activity is the they encourage fantasies and arouse curiosity.provision of clear challenges, either through Based on the writings of Berlyne [2l,the unknown or through competition. However, increases in novelty, complexity,the resulting uncertainty of the outcome must surprisingness, and incongruity (up to anstill be under the control of the individual. optimal level) may increase curiosity. ToCsikszentmihalyi outlines five characteristics arouse curiosity, these characteristics mustof playful activities. First, playful increase over time, as the individual gainsactivities must be feasible; that is, the knowledge and experience 1151. To determinetasks must be within the individual’s ability. the importance of these three characteristicsRules aid in creating feasible activities. In (challenge, fantasy, and curiosity) to playfuladdition, a variety of graduated activities activities, Malone [211 studied studentsprovide opportunities for play for a range of playing computer games. In one study ofindividual skills, and for learning of new elementary school students, the existence of askills over time. Second, attention is goal was the most important characteristic tofocused through a limited stimulus field. preference for the computer game, followed byAgain, rules help center attention on the scoring, audio effects, and randomness. In arelevant stimuli. Individuals lose self- second study of undergraduate students,consciousness during playful activities. challenge, goals, and scoring comprised theRules aid in the loss of self-consciousness, most important characteristics. In a final 80
  • 4. Table 1: Characteristics of Playful Activities Possible to Characteristic incorporate into work?------------------------------------------- ------__---Activity outside of real world f29] Yes/NoNonproductive outcomes 1291 Yes/NoActivity freely engaged in [291 Yes/NoActivity governed by rules 112, 291 YesUncertain outcomes [12, 291 YesActivity feasible cl21 YesLimited stimulus field [I21 YesActivity controlled by individual cl21 YesActivity provides clear feedback cl21 YesActivity does not need rewards (intrinsic motivation) 112, 141 YesActivity has a goal [21] YesActivity encourages Yantasies [21] YesActivity arouses curiosity [21] Yes 81
  • 5. study of elementary school children, he found the methods for performing these activities.individual differences in the types of The remaining characteristics, however, couldfantasies enjoyed. be incorporated into work situations more easily. Carroll 171 developed a similar list ofcharacteristics of exploratory activities on 6. METHODS MODIFYINGTRE PLAYFULNESS OF 01computers, but concluded that: “I can It callon any substantive psychological theory . . . to COMPUTERS - -clarify my list, since no theory reallyexists” (p. 54). He included such Several writers have suggested methods forcharacteristics as responsiveness, benchmarks modifying the features of computers to vary(goals), acceptable uncertainty, safe conduct, the playfulness of the systems. Table 2and individual control. summarizes these suggestions. For example, Carroll and Mack [91 outline several In the pilot study, when asked to describe characteristics of ITS supportive ofsituations in which computers seem like play, exploratory behavior. Related to ‘activitythe white collar workers listed these feasible’, they suggest that the system shouldsituations as more play-like: asking ‘what be simple, yet functional. Pertaining toif t questions; massaging data; investigating ‘activity outside of real world’, they proposethe possibilities available; learning new that the system should exhibit safety, thatfunctions or programs; producing graphs or is, the protection of the user from extremecharts; seeing results; receiving positive consequences. Safety could result from helpfeedback from tutorials; figuring out new or learn modes. Carroll and Carrithers [81functions; and designing new systems. tested this last characteristic on new Theyattributed the play-like situations to their computer users : They protected users fromenjoyment in solving puzzles. Computers seven common errors often faced when learningseemed more like work when using a well-known a word processing system. In an experimentsys tern. Clericals also suggested that working comparing new users protected from these sevenwith computers seemed like play when figuring common errors with a control group, Carrollout new features, iihen devising ways to make and Carrithers found that the protected groupthe systems work more efficiently, and when performed better, learned more, and had alearning new systems. Similarly, they said better attitude towards the work. Therefore,that computers seemed like work when using a learn modes would protect users as well aswell-known system. Therefore, from the pilot, have ‘nonproductive outcomes’.play-like situations with computers seem morelikely for new functions, with pictorial Play modes, simulator modes, and undooutput, and with immediate knowledge of commands also relate to ‘activity outside ofresults. This supports the characteristics of real world’ and ‘nonproductive outcomes’.playful activities of uncertainty (new First, Carroll and Rosson [ll] suggestfunctions), fantasy (pictorial output), and incorpating a play mode into systems, wherefeedback (immediate knowledge of results). users receive scores, based on their abilities, for accomplishing tasks. This Table 1 summarizes characteristics of playful suggestion also relates to the labelling ofactivities, and indicates those the task as play, and therefore, based oncharacteristics that could be incorporated in social information processing theory, thiswork situations. Clearly, the first two labelling may increase playful behaviors.characteristics (an activity outside of the Second, Carroll and Rosson discuss a simulatorreal world, and nonproductive outcomes) are mode, in which the computer simulates actionsnot as appropriate in work situations as in requested by the user; these actions have nononwork situations. The third characteristic, real consequences. The user may actuallyan activity freely engaged in, may be request these actions later when out of thepossible. Some employees may not have the simulator mode. Third, undo commands (thatfreedom to choose their activities; however, is, inverses of operations) build safety intoat another level, they may be free to choose systems, and therefore allow users to explore functions at little risk. 82
  • 6. Table 2: Methods of Modifying the Playfulness of Activities on Computers Characteristic Features of IT ------------------------------------Activity outside of real world * protect user from commonerrors and 4f help modeNonproductive outcomes * learn mode * play mode * simulator mode * undo commandsUncertain outcomes * variable difficulty levels * multiple level goals (e.g., score keeping; user programming capabilities) * successive interfaces reveal additional functionsActivity feasible * system simple yet functionalLimited stimulus field * little reliance on manualsActivity controlled by individual * user given options to: bypass well-known sections; scan forward to more novel sections; control sound and colour ; control staging of disclosures of new functionsActivity provides clear feedback * provide increased or faster feedbackActivity encourages fantasies * metaphors analagous to familiar objects * icons, mice * cover stories * painting and drawingActivity arouses curiosity * audio or visual effects * maintain on-line cognitive models of users to highlight or create incongruities * prompting dialogs------_--_----__--__---------------------------------------------------- 83
  • 7. Incorporating training, learning, and help in example, though MacPaint) should also increasethe software (rather than through manuals) the fantasy component of the activity.will result in a ‘limited stimulus field’. Carroll and Wack [g] also argue that the best&is may explain some of the playfulness of metaphor is one that suggests itselfthe Macintosh. Without reference to a manual, implicitly and automatically by the program,users can often discover many of the functions such as the Query-by-Example system thatof the software, simply by exploring it. utilizes the metaphor of paper tables. Carroll and hack [lOI go on to suggest that To increase 1control of activity by salient dissimilarities between the metaphorindividual’, Mehrabian and Wixen [25] suggest and the task stimulate thought and enhancegiving users options to bypass well-known learning.sections of programs, to scan forward to othermore novel sections, and to have control over To increase curiosity in computer tasks,the use of sound effects and colour in the Malone [21, 231 suggests that sensory orprogram. cognitive curiosity may be increased. Audio or visual effects increase sensory curiosity To enhance challenge in computer tasks, when used as decorations, as enhancements forMalone [21, 231 proposes that the attainment fantasies, as rewards, or as representationof a goal may be made uncertain by variable systems. Sound or graphics may representdifficulty levels, multiple level goals, information more effectively than characters.hidden information, or randomness. Building For example, three-dimensional graphics shouldadditional hidden information and randomness provide visual stimulation that increasesinto work situations does not seen curiosity. Providing just enough informationappropriate. However, Malone suggests that to make a user Is knowledge seem incomplete,variable difficulty levels can be incorporated inconsistent, or unparsimonious (but not soautomatically by the computer or chosen by the much that the user feels inadequate) willindividual. Multiple level goals may be added enhance cognitive curiosity. This could bethrough score-keeping, such as typing speed, accomplished through the maintenance of on-(which also increases feedback) or through line cognitive models of users [61 thatuser programming capabilities. Feedback may highlight or create incongruities. Carrollalso be enhanced by providing faster feedback. and Rosson Cl11 also propose the use of aCarroll and Mack [91 argue that successive prompting dialog to encourage the user to tryinterfaces could reveal additional functions new things.of the system. In addition, if the user hascontrol over the staging of these disclosures, As an example of the comparison of theuser control will also increase Kg]. playfulness of two systems, Table 3 contrasts the playfulness of two spreadsheet packages. To increase fantasy in computer tasks, It is hypothesized that one system (Excel)I&lone [21, 231 suggests providing one fantasy incorporates more of the characteristics offor all users, several fantasies for users to play than does the other (Lotus 1-2-S). Bothchoose from, or a task which encourages the of the systems will run on the same personalprojection of a fantasy. For example, Carroll computer using software designed forand Rosson [ill propose that computer tasks spreadsheets. Therefore, the two systemscould be presented under various cover differ mainly in characteristics of thestories, such as interacting with a flight software. Both systems incorporatesimulator. Malone recommends the use of characteristics of playful activities.metaphors analogous to familiar objects, such However, based on a comparison of Excel andas VisiCalc which resembles the well-known Lotus l-2-3 developed by Taylor [32], Table 3spreadsheet, or the utilization of icons in links additional features of Excel (not founduser interfaces, such as the Xerox Star in Lotus l-2-3) to characteristics of play.workstation. Mice may also increase fantasy Therefore, it is hypothesized that Excelin conjunction with icons, because users may includes more of the characteristics of playfeel that they are actually pointing to and than does Lotus 1-2-3.moving objects. Painting or drawing (for 84
  • 8. Table 3: Relationships between Characteristics of Playful Activities and Two Computer Systems Characteristic Features common Features to Lotus l-2-3 of Excel and to Excel only------------------------------- -__-------_---- -----------------Activity outside of real world learn mode; undoNonproductive outcomes learn modeActivity freely engaged inActivity governed by rulesUncertain outcomesActivity feasibleLimited stimulus fieldActivity controlled by individual can vary row height; links spreadsheets; calls user-written programs; undo; customizes functions; prints from screen; offers print preview mode.Activity provides clear feedback XActivity does not need’rewardsActivity has a goal XActivity encourages fantasies icons, mouseActivity arouses curiosity can display graphs with spreadsheets; displays colors and fonts. 85
  • 9. 7. SUMMARY 5. Braverman, H. Labor and monopoly capital: The degredation of work in the This paper contends that the characteristics twentieth century. Monthly Review, New York,of computers can encourage playful behaviors. 1974.These playful behaviors at work can have 6. Burton, R. R., & Brown, J. S. “Ansignificant consequences for employees and investigation of computer coaching fororganizations. For example, users may informal learning activities”. Internationalexperience more positive affect at work, Journal of Man-Machine Studies 11 (1979),heightened concentration, and less awareness 5-24.of time. For organizations, these outcomescould translate into more dedicated employees 7. Carroll, J. M. “The adventure of gettingfor these particular tasks. In addition, to know a computer”. Computer 15, 11 (19821,users may be more likely to put effort into 49-58.learning new systems, to learn moreeffectively, to extend what they have learned 8. Carroll, 3. M., & Carrithers, other situations, to become more self- “Training wheels in a user interface”.directed in their learning, to become more Communications of the ACM 27 (19841, 800-806.cognitiveiy flexible, and to experience more 9. Carroll, J. M., & Mack, R. L. Learning tocontrol. use a word processor: By doing, by thinking, and by knowing. In Human factors in computer The paper outlines the characteristics of systems, Abler, Nornood, New Jersey, 1984, pp.playful behaviors, and then reviews methods 13-51.for designing these characteristics intocomputer systems. For example, properties of 10. Carroll, J. M., & Mack, R. L. “Metaphor,the computer system that increase user control computing systems, and active learning”.could include options to bypass well-known International Journal of Man-Machine Studiessections of programs, to scan forward to novel 22 (19851, 39-57.sections, and to control the use of sound 11. Carroll, J. M., & Rosson, M. B. Paradoxeffects and color in programs [25]. Finally, of the active user. In J. M. Carroll, Ed.,based on the characteristics of playful Interfacing thought, The MIT Press,behaviors, the paper contrasts the playfulness Cambridge., Mass., 1987, pp. 80-11.of two computer systems. 12. Csikszentmihalyi, M.. Beyond boredom and anxiety. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1975.References 13. Culnan, M. J. “The intellectual development of management information systems,1. AFL-CIO. “Equitable Life workers win 1972-1982: A co-citation analysis”.breakthrough pactt’. AFL-CIO News 29, 46 Management Science 32 (19861, 156-172.(1984), 1. 14. Deci, E. L. “The effects of contingent2. Berlyne, D. E. Conflict, arousal and and noncontingent rewards and controls oncuriosity. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1960. intrinsic motivation”. Organizational D. E. Laughter, humor, and play. Behavior and Human Performance 8 (1972),3. Berlyne, 217-229.In The handbook of social psychology, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1969, pp. 795-852. 15. Ellis, M. J. Why people play. “A ‘Pat-man’ theory of Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,4. Bowman, R. F., Jr.motivation: Tactical implications for 1973.classroom instruction8*. Educational 16. Carson, B. All the livelong 22, 9 (1982), 14-16. Penguin Books, New York, 1977. 86
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