In 2016 I organized a workshop on “Professional play” at the software testing conference Let’s Test. This is the first part of my summation and thoughts behind that workshop.
How does play and playful activities such as LARPing fit into a professional context, and why is it relevant to bring it up at a software test conference? Play is important. It is a crucial activity that teaches us about other people and the world around us as we grow up.
Magic circles and game worlds
When talking about “play”, the term The magical circle is often brought up. The magical circle is a little plane of existence that is both its own, and a part of our world. I like to call it the game world. Let’s use my daughter playing with her friends as an example. From my perspective there are two kids rolling around on the living room floor, eating the uncooked pasta my daughter just got from the kitchen. From their perspective they are two dogs, a big-sister dog and a little-sister dog, and they are eating dinner they found outside their doghouse (which is really just the living room table).
The game world has boundaries. The two dogs exist in their game world, the two kids exists in my world. However, I can clearly see their game world, and I know that I’m not a part of it. I exist outside of it because I’m not a part of their playing. Sometimes my daughter steps outside of their game world to interact with me (She wants something to drink), and as soon as the two kids have had a drink, they step back into their game world and continue playing.
The game world has rules. The dog-home and it’s inhabitants are all subjected to them. One dog is the big-sister dog and thus acts like that. If my daughter who is the big-sister dog tries to behave like a baby-dog, she will be corrected by her friend. Likewise, the dogs doesn’t all of a sudden turn into fire-trucks (Unless the dog-game-world ends and is replaced by a new game world). There are a bunch of unwritten rules that are accepted and governed by the kids playing.
Aspects of play
Play changes as we grow up, and not every adult “play” or know how to play. Fortunately many forms of leisure activities still resembles a form of play from our childhood. Sports, board games, computer games and the like have similar structures. They have a game world, such as a game board for playing chess. Boundaries, such as that special clothes you’d only wear at a golf course. Rules, such as the mythical offside rule in football.
I do live action roleplaying (LARP) as a leisure activity, and I benefit a lot from it. Writing my master thesis I looked into why I benefit from it, from a professional/career perspective. I ended up dividing LARP into three aspects: A physical, a social and a playful aspect.
Note that these three aspects aren’t written for a software testing context exclusively, but can be applied to any professional context really.
The next post will look into the physical aspect, and all the good stuff that comes from using your body for learning new things and socializing with others.
The playful aspect is by far the most arbitrary. The word in itself is a bit silly. “The playful aspect of play”. The playful aspect seems either obvious or superfluous. But since we’ve gone through the physical and social aspects, this last post addresses the parts of play that are harder to fit into the aforementioned “boxes”. Between the physical and the social parts of playing, something else takes place as well…
Last month I did a one-week project where I put an app through usability testing. The company that hired me was very careful not to tell me a lot about the app and their system, since they wanted me to see it for the first time. That was a very wise decision on their part. While I performed the first testing, and got to know the app, I was struck with the value of this very first meeting with the system.