Programming as play

Austin Z. Henley discusses programming as play:

Sometimes I enjoy programming as play. The only goal is that I make something fun and whimsical that serves no real purpose except maybe that I can share it with friends.

Similarly, I’ve written about why I prefer making useless stuff, which caused quite a ruckus on Hacker News and Reddit.

But I find it so freeing when there is no expectation to accomplish an objective or for the outcome to even be usable. I just want to enjoy the creative process of building something and possibly show it to others. Many people seem to think of programming as purely pragmatic. Something you do only for work or to get a task done.

I want to change the notion that programming has to be a serious endeavor.

In fact, there is an academic paper that studied this phenomenon: Expressions on the Nature and Significance of Programming and Play. They did a qualitative analysis on Hacker News comments to understand how programmers interpret programming as play through their own experiences.

That isn’t to say that play is useless, or at least not in the sense that I wrote about before. I think it is quite the opposite! There is something about the expectation of doing something to get a job done or to learn or to make money that takes away from the enjoyment of just doing.

Even so, people have successfully applied play to more serious tasks. For example, GidgetScratchMinecraft Education, and Lego MindStorms incorporate elements of play to teach children how to program.

My goal really is just to have fun though, and learning is a nifty consequence.

Read more here.


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