Make it sew

The aca­demics team­ing up with Dis­ney’s R&D aim to find the game in quilt­ing


The aca­demics team­ing up with Dis­ney to find the game in quilt­ing

The sewing-ma­chine ver­sion of quilt­ing game Thread­steading is, to an ex­tent, the ti­tle’s ‘hand­held’ port. Af­ter all, the orig­i­nal ver­sion was cre­ated for a rather less por­ta­ble con­trap­tion – a 13ft-wide quilt­ing ma­chine, housed in the textiles lab at Dis­ney Re­search in Pitts­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia.

Thread­steading it­self bears loose com­par­i­son with area­con­trol table­top games, but here the ‘board’ is a piece of fab­ric, upon which two play­ers – us­ing a con­trol panel hacked into the guts of a sewing ma­chine via an Ar­duino – sew their game­play progress into place. The win­ner doesn’t just walk away vic­to­ri­ous – they also get to keep the quilt they cre­ated, which must be re­placed with a fresh fab­ric panel for the next game.

The project came about af­ter Gil­lian Smith, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in Game De­sign and Com­puter Sci­ence at North­east­ern Univer­sity, met Lea Al­baugh, re­search as­so­ciate at Dis­ney Re­search, at 2015’s Dif­fer­ent Games Con­fer­ence. They started by as­sem­bling a team of aca­demics and re­searchers around them with a shared in­ter­est in craft and game de­sign. Come the sum­mer of that same year, the pair pulled their col­lab­o­ra­tors to­gether for a week of game jam­ming to see how they could best har­ness their 13ft gi­ant as an en­ter­tain­ment plat­form. “We wanted to cre­ate an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence that would show how we can use th­ese ma­chines in new and in­ter­est­ing ways,” Smith ex­plains. “I’m fas­ci­nated by how us­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of con­trollers and ma­te­ri­als can prompt us to cre­ate new kinds of games.”

While Thread­steading’s plat­form is strik­ing, its most in­ter­est­ing fea­ture is the way in which its game­play me­chan­ics are in­spired by the rules and prac­ti­cal­i­ties of quilt mak­ing. Play­ing well en­gen­ders – to a de­gree – pro­duc­ing an aes­thet­i­cally con­sis­tent, authen­tic quilt; a spin on consumer as cre­ator pos­si­bly unique to games to­day.

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