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Computational Craft: Building Feminist Bridges between HCI, Textiles, and Games

Gillian Smith, Ph.D., Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Friday, March 9 at 10 A.M. in IT 252


Traditional handcrafts provide a rich domain for exploring new kinds of playable and computational experiences. There is significant shared history and conceptual overlap between computer science and fiber-based crafts such as quilting and embroidery. This talk presents three projects that sit at the intersection of games, textiles, and computer science: 1) Threadsteading is a game designed and played on computerized quilting and embroidery machines; 2) eBee is a collaborative strategy game that merges electronics and quilts; 3) Hoopla is an interactive, procedural embroidery generator. These projects share common threads such as bridging the digital and the physical, questioning authorship and creativity, exploring new modes of interaction, and disrupting the gendered assumptions associated with computation and craft. Together, they also point toward new research directions in HCI, AI, games, and education..


Gillian Smith is an Assistant Professor in CS and IMGD at WPI. Her research interests are in computational creativity, game design, computer science education, and the intersection of traditional crafts and computation. Her interdisciplinary work merges technical research in AI and HCI with creative practice in textiles and games, with a view towards addressing social issues and broadening participation and perspectives on computing. She is an award-winning game designer as co-creator of Threadsteading (in collaboration with Disney Research Pittsburgh), a game played on a consumer embroidery machine, as well as co-creator of eBee, a quilt-based board game that teaches basic principles of electricity. She also works with teaching computational thinking through game design, and using AI techniques to gain insight into player strategies and learning. Prior to joining WPI, Dr. Smith was on the faculty at Northeastern University. She earned her PhD in Computer Science in 2012 from UC Santa Cruz, where she was a student in the Center for Games and Playable Media.