Com­puters were designed to do com­plex math­e­mat­ical cal­cu­la­tions, like map­ping the tra­jec­tory of a bullet. But according to new fac­ulty member Gillian Smith, it’s not so easy for a com­puter to under­stand con­cepts like fun, friend­ship and love.

We don’t find games that are about those topics because we don’t know how to model them,” she explains.

Smith, an assis­tant pro­fessor with joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, hopes to change that. “I am inter­ested in fig­uring out how com­puters can help people be a little bit more cre­ative and how com­puters could be cre­ative them­selves,” she says.

Smith is exploring ways to bring crafting and com­puters together with both dig­ital tools and games. A startup com­pany called Play Crafts, which Smith co-​​founded with two friends she met at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, Santa Cruz, gives tech-​​based design tools to quil­ters, sewers and other crafters.

One tool, for example, auto­mat­i­cally gen­er­ates a color palette from a user-​​uploaded photo. “Dif­ferent people love doing dif­ferent parts of craft,” Smith says. “We want to make it so a com­puter can help with the parts you’re less expe­ri­enced with or find less enjoy­able, so we can make it more fun.”

In her aca­d­emic work, Smith is also pur­suing plat­forms where com­puters and crafts inter­sect. She is inter­ested in designing games, or “playable expe­ri­ences,” which present users with tasks and design lim­i­ta­tions to guide their actual quilting, embroi­dering or sewing.

The idea calls to mind an impor­tant ques­tion regarding the nature of gaming and cre­ativity: What, exactly, is a game? And more specif­i­cally, if a user is required to sew a button where he wouldn’t have oth­er­wise planned to, would that inhibit his own nat­ural cre­ative process?

I find that where I feel the most cre­ative comes from a con­straint I’ve been given that I may not nec­es­sarily know about ahead of time,” Smith says.

Per­haps unsur­pris­ingly, Smith uses con­straints to teach game design, which, she says, “forces you to think in a direc­tion you might not have thought before.”

If all of this sounds rel­a­tively out of the box, that’s because it is. The com­puter sci­ence field is still dom­i­nated by men, whereas the crafting pop­u­la­tion is mainly made up of women. It’s no wonder, then, that the two areas haven’t tra­di­tion­ally over­lapped much, but, as Smith explained, “I’m inter­ested in finding ways to use com­puters to diver­sify com­puter science.”