Written by Joshua Copus-Oxland |
Dr. Anne Sullivan is a jack of all trades. She is an Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and specialises in digital media and AI assisted game making. Not only that, but she is also an illustrator, crafter and quilter.
All of the above comes together in her various projects. Loominary is a table top game that uses a loom, of all things, as a main storytelling device. The decisions made while knitting a scarf influence the choices of the game on another screen and by the end, the finished scarf’s pattern serves as a record of the player’s choices. It’s unconventional but has found success at Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade event.
While games are popular with all genders, crafting and knitting has a very niche place within a market which is predominately female. The Artist’s Statement on Loominary’s official website says: “Crafting communities – which are often predominantly women – have created story artefacts for many years, but these stories have not been engaged computationally.”
In a Falmouth University talk this month, Sullivan herself added: “The textile groups I have been a part of and have talked to are not at all actively excluding men, men are of course welcome to join, and some do. However, textile-based crafts in the US are culturally seen as something women do and I think that plays the biggest part in why more men are not involved.”
“Games and crafting are not mutually exclusive because merchandising and fan-crafts can be made from those games. Games that are built around crafting and knitting, on the other hand, are far less common.”
“I found out the market for crafting is very small,” Sullivan says. “There’s not much room there, and as soon as you put games in there, it becomes harder. There’s a lot of crafters, like, quilting is a $3.2 billion industry, and it’s all going to fabric and sewing machines and tools.”
There is a demand for games that incorporate player choice into the narrative. Previously, that’s been met with successes from companies like Telltale Games and DONTNOD Entertainment with The Walking Dead and Life is Strange respectively, but they’ve been criticised for negating the impacts of the player’s choices by the end of the game. That, and their format becoming increasingly oversaturated contributed to Telltale’s downfall as a company.
The game ‘Life is Strange’ – an example of a game that incorporates player choice into the game’s narrative (photo sourced from flickr)
Crafting, however, makes choices a tangible part of the game’s outcome via a medium that is both physical and digital, and therefore could make for a more fulfilling narrative experience. A similar case can be made for table top gaming, which Sullivan notes as “another industry where the margins are very small.”
While the opportunities for craft-based gaming seem slim, Sullivan expresses optimism for computational craft as a tool to teach players how to program and make games, as is the case with BeadED Adventures. Their goal is to make STEM subjects more appealing to young people, who might not otherwise be interested in the field, by giving players a tangible reward and encourage creativity while also learning more about said subjects.
“The hope is with these workshop ideas,” Sullivan says. “These workshops will have a list of materials and hopefully, if we can get a grant, we can then apply for future funding to make it more widely available.”