The Power of Play

by Susa Breese ’21

How did a cardboard box make its way into a museum? By playing with the ordinary until it became extraordinary. Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center Sandbox Team brought its project, SpaceBox, to the Chicago Design Museum’s Hey! Play! exhibit this fall, where it will stay until February of 2018, running parallel to its showcasing in the Innovation Playground exhibit at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain.

The Sandbox Team is a group of students, faculty and staff that explores and creates new and novel human-computer interface designs at Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center. Game Programming major Robin Shafto’s idea to turn a cardboard box into a controller is not an uncommonly whimsical idea for the Sandbox Team to tackle. “Most of the time we end up with alternative game controllers in one way or another,” says Ken Howell, faculty advisor of the Sandbox Team,  about the projects the team takes on.

There were many concepts originally discussed in early stages of development. The basis for the project started in how a kid could turn a box into anything imaginable. It eventually grew into an exploration of control systems. The team talked about turning various common household items into interactive experiences. Robin Shafto ‘18 turned her idea into a physical build in which sensors were embedded into a cardboard box allowing players to steer through space by leaning from side to side in the box, put up “shields” by lifting the side flaps, and shoot asteroids by hitting thefront flap. The space aspect came from the rest of the Sandbox team developing the software or the game for the box to interact with.Champlain students on the EMC’s Sandbox team were able to turn a cardboard box into a alternative game controller so compelling that it was showcased at the Game Developers Conference (the world’s largest event for the professional game industry) in the spring of 2017. SpaceBox was seen by curators at the Chicago Design Museum at GDC and soon enough, SpaceBox was set to be featured in the their Hey!Play! exhibit, an exploration of games in modern culture.

Being a part of the Sandbox team or any team at the EMC is a unique experience for a student, as it is truly a taste of the real world through a creative, professional lens. Team members are able to work on a real project with real opportunities to connect with the outside world and gain real recognition for their work. The Sandbox team especially lets imagination run free and allows students to play their way into breakthrough inventions such as SpaceBox. SpaceBox was simply Robin Shafto’s idea two years ago, but is now the very first patent Champlain College has applied for.

Polygon’s What is Spacebox? Video

Learn more about SpaceBox and other EMC projects

ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain’s Innovation Playground exhibit

Chicago Design Museum’s HEY! PLAY! exhibit