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Casual Creators: Defining a Genre of Autotelic Creativity Support Systems

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Artists, musicians, writers and designers use tools to be creative, whether they are designing a personal opus or producing work for hire. There are many more people who are neither paid professionals nor historic geniuses, but who also enjoy being creative in a casual way. Can we design systems to help these casual users engage with their creative sides?

In this dissertation, I define and describe a genre of systems, "casual creators". Casual creators are interactive, generative systems in which the user explores a possibility space of artifacts, in a way that feels easy, pleasurable, and expressive. Casual creators do not provide the user with the total control of a "traditional" creativity tool like Maya or Photoshop. Instead, they empower the user with some combination of automation, generativity, surprise, or social/community features. Crucially, casual creators is not a genre of new systems, but a lens for looking at many existing (and emerging) systems that share these properties, including digital systems like Kid Pix and Spore, as well as non-digital systems like the Spirograph and Mad Libs.

Contemporary creativity theory provides clues about where creativity happens (’environmental’ and ’embedded'; theories of creativity), and when creativity happens (’flow’ theory, improv). These theories have already been used to design creativity-augmentation systems in the field of creativity support tools and computational creativity. This dissertation combines these theories of creativity with theories of interactivity and generativity, to anticipate and catalog common patterns that can be seen when a user is creatively exploring a generative space.

The dissertation concludes with an initial set of ten patterns, including patterns that emerge from technical aspects of the system’s design and others that emerge from the system’s position in a social environment. Along the way, a couple hundred systems that are casual creators in some way are noted and analyzed. The primary contribution of this dissertation is that the term "casual creators" (and its associated frameworks) has been shown useful for understanding existing and new systems, and that it has seeded a community of practice around such systems.

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