contemPLAYte: Playable Fashion Workshop at Eyebeam

Woah, it’s about time for a blog post! I’m more of a tweeter than a blogger, but I’m going to give this a go, so bear with me (you’re welcome to bare with me too, just ask first) as I strive for some semblance of sense!

I spent this last weekend at the New York Hall of Science teaching a Playable Fashion workshop with folks from Eyebeam.  Before we get started on details of the weekend, let’s take a quick tour of Playable Fashion.  


If you asked me 2 years ago if I’d ever have anything to do with fashion, we’d both think about it for a sec and then laugh hysterically.  But ‘playable fashion’ is actually pretty rad.  In a way, this concept of ‘playable fashion’ turns the fashion industry (think: consumerism, mass-culture, fat-shaming, etc.) on its head because it’s maker-centered.  If you’re not familiar with the general idea of maker-culture, it’s a push for integrating tech into  new or unexpected places (ex: fashion, physical games, art, etc) with a DIY vibe.  ‘Maker’ tools are generally open-source and encourage hacking, modding, and knowledge sharing. As someone who is relatively new to the maker-movement, in my experience maker spaces encourage innovation, experimentation, community, and even failure.  The top-down, teacher-student paradigm even disappears at times, like when young people are teaching adults or when groups of incredibly diverse people collaborate to problem-solve.

ANYWAY, back to the workshop!

So, in this exploration of Playable Fashion we hopped right into making some conductive gloves to use as game controllers.  The specifics of the workshop were devised by Kaho Abe and Ramsey Nasser, but I led classes this weekend with a computer science PhD student named Eddie.  

Day 1:

I lead our day one adventures in playable fashion. We focused on the ‘fashion’ part of playable fashion, and everyone designed a pair of conductive gloves.  Students took a pair of plain black gloves and added a foam pad covered with copper fabric to each hand.  We decorated the gloves with foam, markers, and fabric and then set-out to make them into game controllers.  Using the Adafruit FLORA micro-controller, we made the gloves into a simple switch and connected it to the keyboard.  Since each glove had a conductive surface (copper covered foam) students could clap to complete a circuit and trigger the keyboard spacebar.  Put simply, we swapped out a hand-clap for the spacebar. Aaaand then we spent a good amount of time playing one-button games like Canabalt and Space is the Key and tweaking the response time of the gloves.

Day 2:

Eddie took the lead for day two, and taught students the basics of Unity.  Ramsey made a game called BuzzKill specifically for the workshop, in which a pair of hands swat at buzzing flies.  We taught students how to switch out art and sound assets, and Eddie helped a few who wanted to jump into more complex coding mods. We plugged our customized gloves into the newly-modded games and voilà, playable fashion! We ended up with a handful of fully-functional student projects featuring One Direction, Kanye West, banana peels, astronauts, and kittens.  We had tons of fun, lots of laughing, plenty of troubleshooting, and overall I’d say a pretty good time. Three cheers for informal education!