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Playable Fashion

Creating pathways for underserved teens to become future creators in gaming, fashion, and technology

Playable Fashion is a teen program exploring the intersections between fashion, technology and gaming. Youth learn concepts and techniques to create their own art, games and custom wearable game controllers inspired by their own personal narratives. Playable Fashion’s first iteration ran from 2012-2013, and was generously supported by the Hive Fashion initiative. During 2013-2014, the program’s second iteration, Eyebeam partnered with various organizations (mostly fellow members of Hive NYC) to expand Playable Fashion, providing free weekend workshops in all five NYC boroughs and a 19-week after-school program at Eyebeam in Chelsea, Manhattan.

Led by the program’s co-directors Kaho Abe and Ramsey Nasser, working with fellow game designers and educators, the weekend workshops comprised a two-day hands-on introduction to game rules and mechanics, basic circuitry, and programming. Teens learned to make a glove game controller and hacked a digital game in Unity, customizing both to create a playable investigation of a theme of their choice.

The workshops were hosted at the Pixel Academy in Brooklyn, Ralph McKee High School in Staten Island (partnered with Healing Arts Initiative), the New York Hall of Science in Queens, Eyebeam in Manhattan, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Each workshop engaged 10-15 youth participants, targeting underserved youth around NYC, with Eyebeam supported by partners at these organizations (as well as Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library branches, DreamYard, Digital Ready schools, and other schools/networks such as Hive NYC).

Playable Fashion gives under-served teens the tools and knowledge they need to become makers—not just consumers—in games, fashion, and technology. By combining critical skill development in technology—and by providing a participatory means for applying this within the intersection of game design and wearable technology—Playable Fashion gives students the grounding to continue their STEAM learning and to understand the many career possibilities that this knowledge offers.

Project Implementation and Discovery

In the after-school program at Eyebeam (from February to June), Global Kids collaborated with instructors to guide students through a hands-on design process. Students learned how games can be used to discuss global and community issues—and to tell their own stories. Addressing the question, “What would you fight for?” students explored experiences and opinions on issues such as racism, police harassment, war, sustainability, and educational reform. This stimulated a discussion of ways that they could create transformation in their own lives.

Students learned the technology and fashion skills to implement both the hardware and software aspects of a game. This included building electronic circuits, soft switches and physical computing on Adafruit Industries’ open-source programmable microcontroller Flora. Participants then learned concepts, terminology and 2D/3D video game programming with Unity, as well as basic graphic design. The program also explored fabricating wearable and custom interfaces (using digital and analog techniques, from sewing to laser cutting), with embedded technology making these function as game controllers.

Eyebeam implemented a number of new processes through its expansion of Playable Fashion. Make-up sessions were introduced to aid students who needed additional support, particularly to alleviate the learning curve presented by new technology, and to support the variety of learners. Beth Rosenberg of Tech Kids Unlimited also provided  specific advice on helping particular students in this area. Also, playtesting and showcasing their work allowed the students to develop their communication skills and to participate in the formal methods that game designers routinely use to share their work.

Connecting youth to future career opportunities and developing leadership were substantial components of the program. In addition to being taught by practitioners in the fields of gaming, technology, and fashion, students took field trips, first to the NYU Polytechnic Game Innovation Lab and the NYU Game Center at MAGNET, where the they playtested the games of professional game designers and game design students. The students also visited the Final Frontier Design studio to meet Ted Southern (Eyebeam alum and designer of space gloves and suits), and the Different Games Conference (also located at MAGNET) to see their teachers speak and to engage with the independent gaming community, which is more inclusive and diverse. Many of the students felt that their career and learning opportunities had expanded. Playable Fashion alumni also served as peer mentors, giving participants support from fellow teens plus another perspective.

Organizational Impact

Playable Fashion reflects the spirit of Eyebeam’s mission to support cutting-edge work at the intersection of arts, culture, and technology, to share information and knowledge openly, and to educate the next generation. Kaho Abe and Ramsey Nasser, both former Eyebeam Fellows, developed this program to provide learning experiences for young people based on their own professional art practice. As successful practitioners in their fields, they inspire youth and provide a direct link to potential future professions and passions.

Playable Fashion has become Eyebeam’s signature youth program, presenting a model and a basis for new programming, creating opportunities to iterate, refine and scale the curriculum to reach more youth. Eyebeam is also able to provide multiple resources and opportunities for youth through its large alumni network, facilitating ongoing connections. For example, Adafruit’s founder is Limor “Lady Ada” Freed, a former Eyebeam Fellow. In many ways, Playable Fashion provokes artists to work with youth and develop programs beyond their work at Eyebeam.

Challenge and Resolution

Recruitment and retention of student participants presented challenges to the project, as did integrating and implementing partner curricula, and formalizing the student documentation process. Tumblr was introduced to the project late, rather than having dedicated time for blogging during class. The teaching artists found that students shared and documented their own work via the social media tools they already used, rather than those introduced to them during the project.

Participant Feedback

Youth participating in the project felt engaged by it, appreciating the opportunity to connect with people working in fields of interest to them and who were able to communicate with them in meaningful ways.

I didn’t know until [the day] I went to NYU. I didn’t know because like older people and people like my mother, I thought a lot of people were ignorant to game design specifically, so every time I thought about what I want to do and I was looking at college textbooks, it would always be under computer technology or something like that. When, specifically I wanted game design.-Playable Fashion Youth Participant

Because we had mentoring from a professional. We had freaking iMacs and we had two hours perfecting… technically I could have stayed there until 8pm, but it was a two-hour class… -Playable Fashion Youth Participant

Lead Organization:

Partner Organizations:
Global Kids , Digital Ready , Bronx Museum , New York Hall of Science

Project Goal:
Explore fashion, computing and engineering skills to express student narratives and produce real outcomes in game development and wearable technology.

Project Tags:
Design, Games & Game Design, STEM, Youth Development & Leadership

Project Portfolio

  • teaching resources

    Glove Controller Activity Guide

    Activity guide used in weekend workshops about how to create a digital game controller glove.

  • teaching resources

    BuzzKill Game Source Code

    Digital clapping game developed by program directors Ramsey Nasser and Kaho Abe to teach basics in Unity, game design, and programming.

  • tools

    Unity Modules

    A set of Unity lessons and assignments used with students at various times during the project period.

  • tools

    Intro to Flora

    Introductory tutorial about how to use Adafruit’s Wearables Platform.

  • teaching resources

    Image Editing Guide

    Activity guide that introduces how to edit images pulled from the internet in order to create visuals for the game.

  • documentation

    Image Galleries

    Image galleries for Workshop 1, Workshop 2, and  Workshop 3.

  • media

    Playable Fashion Blog

    Blog documenting project events, interviews, images, writing, field trips etc.

  • teaching resources

    Storytelling Activity Guide

    Developed by Global Kids, this activity guides Playable Fashion participants in how to create personal narratives for their games and game controllers.

  • sample works

    Fisticups Game by Abel

    Game developed by Playable Fashion participant Abel in Unity that is accompanied by tea cup and white glove game controller (embedded with Flora).

  • sample works

    Hacked BuzzKill by Jovani

    Playable Fashion Weekend Workshop participant hacked BuzzKill to customize it to make it more personal while learning the basics of Unity.  Using craft materials, she also modded her glove controllers to match!

  • documentation

    Making Fashion Playable at Eyebeam

    Blog post and reflection on Playable Fashion weekend workshops.