Spaced Invaders uses play, retro video games to re-energize blighted spaces

                                     
Designer Giacomo Ciminello uses play to help spark ideas. In his People’s Liberty grant project, Spaced Invaders, he wants to use it to re-invigorate blighted spaces.
 
Ciminello’s concept uses the aesthetic of vintage video games like Space Invaders to create large-scale interactive games in blighted spaces in Cincinnati in order to help people interact with and have fun in those spaces.

Giacomo Ciminello Ciminello has a long history of using play in creative ways. A Cincinnati transplant from Philadelphia, he graduated with a bachelors and then a Design for Social Change masters from the University of the Arts in Philly. While working in advertising and with corporate clients, he helped found PlayPhilly, an organization that aims to energize concrete “grayspaces” through creativity and play.
 
He has helped start a similar organization, PlayCincy, since moving here but has also noticed big differences between the two cities.
 
“On the East Coast we were working with concrete alleys and sort of spaces between buildings,” Ciminello says, “whereas out here there are entire abandoned blocks.”
 
Those large blighted spaces are part of what inspired Spaced Invaders. The project is Ciminello’s first large-scale, tech-heavy enterprise in Cincinnati. Previous projects, like PlayCincy’s Lite Brute and Maxx Chalkers, use simple materials that reminded players of childhood toys and games.
 
Spaced Invaders also gives participants and spectators a sense of nostalgia for games but uses a much more sophisticated setup and set of technology resources.
 
The game features a huge light projection into the space and software that tracks players’ movements, allowing them to become a part of the game. The setup hearkens to the wildly popular Lumenocity light show, but with an interactive element.
 
It’s also part of the growing popularity of vintage video and arcade games from the 1980s seen in institutions like 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, which opened their Cincinnati location in Over-the-Rhine a few months ago. But this version of the nostalgia will require participants to actively play.
 
“You can’t do this standing still,” Ciminello says. “You have to do 20-yard sprints.”
 
According to Play Theory, that kind of activity changes the way you think and gives individuals a totally different experience in the blighted spaces Ciminello wants to re-energize.
 
“It's a workout!” exclaimed the first player to try the game in the project’s first public test Aug. 27 at Brew House in Walnut Hills.
 
Some logistics of the setup have yet to be finessed. Last week’s test, for instance, was delayed slightly to allow for de-bugging the software and setting up the technology.
 
But once the program was up and running, it inspired wonder and curiosity in everyone present. As volunteer players raced around the Brew House parking lot in reflective vests, defending from pixelated alien invaders, the small crowd egged them on, rejoicing their accomplishments and commiserating with their losses.
 
Ciminello hopes to continue building from this test, recognizing that People’s Liberty has been supportive in pushing the project to be bigger and better. Next steps for Spaced Invaders will involve more events in other spaces and developing other games, even site-specific games that use the landscape features in particular areas.
 
He also hopes that Spaced Invaders will not be the lone project to make use of these concepts.
 
“It's all going to be open source,” he says of the software. “We’re not going to lock it away.”
 
The idea is that the Spaced Invaders base and available software will inspire other local designers and DAAP students to build upon the concept and develop new ways to use play theory to transform spaces.
 
“This should be something that helps people stretch their imaginations,” Ciminello says.
 
If you want to stretch your own imagination, sign up at fighttheblight.org and follow #fighttheblight to learn more.
 
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