Designing Playful Systems
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Play is a common, yet elusive phenomenon. Many definitions of play and explanations for its existence have been brought forward in various disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, ethology and in the humanities. As an activity apparently serving no other purpose than itself, play can be simply considered a pleasant pastime. Yet its equation with fun has been challenged by artists and scholars alike. Being in a playful state does not warrant extrinsic motivation or being conscious of an external purpose. However, play creates meaning, and scientists are pursuing functional explanations for it. These conflicting observations are contributing to the ambiguity of play and they raise questions about the limits of complexity that present discourses are able to reflect.
This thesis presents a comprehensive, transdisciplinary approach to describe and understand play, based on systems-theory, constructivism, cybernetics and practical exploration. Observing play in this way involves theoretical analysis, reflection and critique as well as the practice of design, development and artistic exposition. By constructing, re-contextualising and discussing eight of my own projects, I explore the distinction between theory and practice through which playful systems emerge.
Central to my methodology is the concept of distinctions as a fundamental method of observation. It is introduced itself as a distinction and then applied throughout, in order to describe and discuss phenomena of play from a wide range of different perspectives. This includes paradoxical, first-person and conflicting accounts and it enables discourses that cross disciplinary boundaries.
In summary, the three interrelated contributions to knowledge in my research project are: I contribute to the emerging field of game studies through a comprehensive systems-theoretical description on play. I also provide a methodology in which theory and practice inform each other through mutual observation, construction, reflection and critical evaluation. Finally, I present eight projects, including a playful system developed in a speculative approach that I call anthroponeutral design. These results represent a novel transdisciplinary perspective on play that offers new opportunities for further research.