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Poly’s Artist-in-Residence Gaming in Style

In case you think NYU-Poly begins and ends with STEM education, think again. The university actually has an artist-in-residence, in the Game Innovation Lab: Kaho Abe, who researches and builds games that bring people together face-to-face. She describes herself as a designer interested in improving social and personal experiences through the use of technology, fashion and games.

Abe also teaches classes and workshops on designing and building physical games. “I just taught a graduate class at Poly in the Game Lab called Beyond the Joystick, which was cross-listed for students in both the Digital Media and Computer Science departments,” she notes. “I hope the students left the class being able to think better about how technology can exist in physical spaces and how games can be designed around a more human-centric experience rather than a technology-centered one—not exactly the most mainstream thing when iOS and console games are so popular.”

She says Game Lab director Katherine Isbister was interested in bringing someone to help people think in different ways about the technology the lab researches. “Similarities between her work and mine made it seem like a good fit,” Abe says. “The lab does a lot of physical games and so do I.” The two of them are currently collaborating on a game that combines costumes and game controllers, with financial assistance from a Rockefeller grant for wearable technology to the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center. “Imagine how being dressed up affects the game experience,” Abe says. “Players may imagine the game better, plus technology can be embedded in the costumes to enhance the quality of the experience.” Her background in fashion—she has an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons the New School for Design and worked as a fashion designer for some 13 years—made it a “natural to combine physical games with costumes.”

One of her deepest interests is the intersection between technology and people. “I understand that people almost have a blind or irrational love for technology. That feeling I don’t disregard—it’s important to identify that we have this irrational love. But how do we bring it more into our world than this limited way?” she muses. “The thing I like about physical games is that they work face-to-face—instead of staring at a screen and being stuck in a limited world, we use technology to play with other people. I want to encourage people to think about how to build technology around human-to-human relations rather than human-to-screen relationships.”

Earlier this summer Abe took part in the 2012 World Science Festival, a five-day celebration geared toward engaging the public about science and technology’s wonder, value and implications for the future. Her offering was Ninja Shadow Warrior, a photo-booth arcade game in which players’ moved so that their shadows completed silhouettes of various objects. She encouraged people to play in groups. “If they play with other people, they get better scores,” she explains. “It was really great! Being part of the festival meant a lot of people played my game. There were so many people that day it was crazy!” Another recent project is a physically-active game called Hit Me!, in which players compete in hitting buttons on others’ hats to test their speed and agility. “I’m trying to show that it can be as stimulating as a game on your console,” she says.

“It’s so exciting what’s happening right now. People understand games are not just frivolous—they require a lot of research, discussion and analysis,” Abe says. “I’m thankful to be here at NYU-Poly. It’s an exciting lab to be part of and great to be included in the discussions and activities.”