Joshua Tanenbaum, Gillian Smith
There is a growing research community exploring intersecting themes of craft, computation, and fabrication. Researchers in this space come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds: from practicing artists to ethnographers to technologists. All share an interest in incorporating playfulness into their inquiry, using crafting practice merged with computation to investigate contemporary social issues. This Special Topic brings together researchers who incorporate traditional crafting practices into play (and vice versa), combine game design with fabrication and manufacturing technologies, investigate wearable and embodied interactions for games, use play and fabrication as a means to explore design fictions and futures, and treat playful uses of making and crafting as intervention, critique, and subversion.
Austin Toombs and colleagues lead off our collection of articles with a reflective piece on the process of trying to converge playfulness and critical making into a “critical playshop” event. They treat playfulness as a way to bring together a “maker” community and to encourage experimentation by liberating participants from preconceived rules for what they are allowed to make. They present recommendations for running similar playful crafting events, highlighting the importance of collaboration, respecting multiple modes of engagement, and providing scaffolding for participants with less experience.
The themes of making and crafting as a form of play are continued in the piece from Anne Sullivan and Gillian Smith, which investigates the intersection of crafting, quilting, sewing, digital fabrication, and game design as inspiration for new interfaces and new playful mechanics. In this article, the authors present lessons learned from the design of three “craft games,” including craft as a form of exploration and slow play. They aim to harness the playfulness of crafting into more structured, rule-based games. The games they describe all act as bridges between old, traditional craft practices and new computational technologies.
Michael Cowling et al. take a similar perspective in arguing for an augmented-reality future that combines games and digital-fabrication technologies. They describe three prototypes that speak to themes from both prior pieces, on critical making and using crafts as a context for modifying digital fabrication hardware. They argue that fabricating physical artifacts specifically for digital augmentation allows designers to create augmented-reality spaces that are more tightly coupled to the material world.
For Elizabeth LaPensée and Vicki Moulder, the material world is already a rich site for traditional practices and knowledge. They discuss three indigenous game designs that critically engage in these traditional modes of knowing. These games show how the interplay between physical and digital designs can incorporate materials from the natural world into a playful experience, while also using systems of play to reflect upon our own place in nature.
We close with a piece from Katherine Isbister describing the design of Hotaru, a game that uses digitally fabricated wearable controllers to create an experience of social interdependence between players. Hotaru exemplifies how designing games in the physical world can draw on social embodiment to produce certain kinds of meanings that elude purely digital games.
Collectively, these articles tell a story about an emerging generation of interdisciplinary hybrid digital/physical computing contexts that draws on existing HCI traditions—tangible, wearable, and ubiquitous computing; augmented reality; game studies; the Internet of Things; embodied interaction; maker and DIY culture—and recombines them into a broader paradigm.
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