Play in Microsoft Workplace and Group Play for Children with Autism

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

November 5, 2012

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Trien, 585-410-6359,
Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Play in the Microsoft Workplace and
Group Play for Children with Autism
Featured Topics in American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, New York—All work and no play in the office makes for a dull corporate America, according to an interview with Microsoft’s Ross Smith appearing in the latest issue of the American Journal of Play. The notion of playing at work is an oxymoron to some; yet playfulness in the workplace taps into the intrinsic human love of play, resulting in more satisfied and productive employees, says Smith, director of Test for Microsoft Corporation. Salary, bonuses, and time off remain strong rewards, says Smith; but the introduction of play into the workplace fosters an environment of trust, teamwork, risk-taking, and innovation so necessary for business success.

A recipient of the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation, Smith talks to the Journal about his “42 Projects”—a Microsoft initiative that uses video gaming techniques to foster trust and risk-taking behaviors among its employees. (The number 42 is a playful reference to the magic number in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels as “the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of ‘life, the universe, and everything.’”) Says Smith, “Just as play helps kids pretend, experiment, and learn skills they will use later in life, games in the workplace help build a culture that is ripe for creativity and innovation.”

Examples of games at Microsoft include Language Quality, a game implemented to enlist native-language speakers to help the company assess the linguistic quality of Windows translations. Participation is totally voluntary and games are played during an employee’s discretionary time, such as during a lunch break, rather than during core work hours. “People can get very emotional when they feel that game mechanics are put in place to trick them into doing more work,” explains Smith, and that has a “negative impact on trust.” No special time requirements are required for game-playing, either. “We believe that if we required that, these would not be games anymore, they would be work.” People are motivated to play the Language Quality game because they want to ensure that their native language version of Windows 7 is high quality.

“There are distinct areas where games work tremendously well in the modern organization, and there’s an opportunity for everyone to start experimenting,” concludes Smith. “The future world of work will be a better place by incorporating play and games as part of the daily experience.”

Play also has important applications for children with autism as described in the article, “Including Children with Autism in Social and Imaginary Play with Typical Peers,” by Pamela Wolfberg, professor of special education at the Autism Spectrum Program at San Francisco State University, and colleagues Mila N. Kornhaber Dewitt and Kristen Bottema-Beutel.  

The authors point out that challenges with verbal and non-verbal communications tend to isolate children with autism from the peer relationships that are so crucial to development. They take a broad look at uses of Integrated Play Groups (IPGs), which encourage children with autism to join their peers in mutually engaging play. Such groups take place in natural settings at school, home, and in the community, and include peers and siblings who express a willingness to participate. Group participants have opportunities to attend sessions that foster a deeper understanding of and empathy for children with autism. Using such teaching aids as puppets (for younger children) or simulation games (designed for older populations), participants gain insights into how children with autism play, relate, communicate, think, and learn. Adult IPG-trained facilitators act as coaches and then withdraw to the periphery of the group, allowing the children to practice and try out new activities on their own.

“Based on the results of empirical research carried out over the past two decades, IPGs have become recognized as an established practice for children on the autism spectrum,” write the authors. “Our research has consistently revealed more spontaneous, diverse, and complex forms of social and representational play among children with autism over the course of their participation in the IPG intervention.”

Additional articles in this issue of the American Journal of Play:

“Ludic Toons: The Dynamics of Creative Play in Studio Animation” by Pat Power, senior lecturer of Digital Media and Design at London Metropolitan University. Power analyzes the nature of playfulness in animation from such perspectives as creative production, animated output, and audience reception.

“Pretend Play, Coping, and Subjective Well-Being in Children: A Follow-up Study” by Julie A. Fiorelli, a doctoral candidate and Sandra A. Russ, professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University. The authors examine the relationships involving pretend play, coping, and subjective well-being and investigate the stability and predictive power of play skills.

Play Initiating Behaviors and Responses in Red Colobus Monkeys” by Eric A. Worch, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University. Worch examines play behaviors and responses among these highly social, playful primates.

The American Journal of Play, an interdisciplinary scholarly journal devoted solely to the study of play, is published by The Strong in Rochester, New York The complete issue can be accessed freely online at