Playground as Factory

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Work should be like play. Playgrounds are set in a way so that the consequences for trying something and making a mistake are low. -- David Merrill
All work is simply badly designed game play. - PatrickMeier.


Playground as factory is the idea that one gives up information through play, and that game mechanics get people to give away information or provide information to a system. This playground becomes a hidden factory. Underneath is real work, but on top rides the feeling of play.

In November 2009, Trebor Scholz organized a conference called “The Internet as Playground and Factory” at Eugene Lang College of the New School in New York.[1] The idea of the conference was to examine the voluntary and involuntary labor conditions of the web. Much of one’s physical experiences can now be managed through the web. Airline tickets can be booked, bus schedules secured, and stocks traded. Shifting these turned into factories of their own experience. Food review sites such as Yelp! are created through work so that visitors can experience situations of play. Once the individual understands that they have more control in planning an enjoyable situation for their future self to live in, they are more willing to put work in beforehand.

The term Stigmergy was first used by French biologist Pierre-Paul Grassé in 1959 [2] to refer to termite behavior. He defined Stigmergy as the “Stimulation of workers by the performance they have achieved”.[3] Every click on a website is a form of work, a form of labor. Opening an E-mail is a stimulating experience, a reward for the performance of the individual. In some cases, the information is the reward, but it is the action that is the most rewarding. The action of clicking to receive stimulation is reinforced over time, causing more clicks and more voluntary contribution. Facebook is an example of a stimulating architecture that uses Stigmergy to increase worker involvement. For most, Facebook is an entertainment platform or playground. But in play there is work. A playful environment increases contribution and reinforces the idea of a voluntary socieinformation society.

For example, Foursquare awards points to users who check into a place, and more points for users who create a place. Creating a place is technically a data entry task, but the addition of points makes the task into an experience that is rewarding for the user. When the points one user has accumulated is constantly compared to others, it becomes a digital playground with competitive elements and playful behavior. In this way, a seemingly dull and repetitive task becomes incentivized and even sought out, as the place database becomes increasingly populated, the amount of new territory, as well as the chance to earn a higher level of points, decreases.


  1. Scholz, Trebor. The Internet as Playground and Factory: A Conference on Digital Labor. Eugene Lang College. The New School. New York. Nov 12-14, 2010. Accessed 15 Apr 2011.
  2. Grasse, P.P. La reconstruction du nid et les coordinations inter-individuelles chez Bellicosi-termes natalensis et Cubitermes sp. La theorie de la stigmergie: Essai d'interpretation des termites constructeurs. In Ins. Soc., 6, 41-83. 1959.
  3. Bonabeau, E. "Editor's Introduction: Stigmergy." Special issue of Artificial Life on Stigmergy. Volume 5, Issue 2 / Spring 1999, p.95-96.