Wed 09 Oct 2019

HFM Project Presentations: Data-Driven Larping

At the beginning of his HFM pitch, Dutch digital artist, director, composer and inventor Steye Hallema conceded that Data-Driven Larping isn’t exactly the sexiest of titles. Nevertheless he explained his concept in detail and involved the HFM audience in a very entertaining microcosm of its potential.

Data-Driven Larping is, he explained, the combination of three concepts. First is his Smartphone Orchestra project during which he synchronises all the mobile phones in an audience and applies musical notation to each, which results in a magical sound and light field. “I realise that the potential to tell stories with the audience instead of to the audience is great,” he stressed. “Stories that involve everyone.”

After the Smartphone Orchestra he felt the need to “dive deeper” into two other areas, the first being psychometric profiling. “A very good bad example of this is the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal during which the data of millions of Facebook users was used to map their personalities and then to manipulate the elections of Brexit and Trump and a lot of other places around the world,” he said. “When I heard about this I was both appalled and inspired because, like Cambridge Analytica, I can see the potential of knowing my audience.”

The last element is live action role play (LARP), such as in Dungeons and Dragons, whereby “big groups of people come together and within a set of rules design their own character or avatar and then face challenges, solve puzzles and have a great time – and all those challenges are based on the character they are playing. It seems clear to me that this is where, as a storyteller, I can find really good storytelling mechanics for the Smartphone Orchestra.”

Hallema therefore asked us to imagine groups of people who come together to play live action role playing games in which their own characters are partly designed by their own psychological profile. “And the conversations they have, the challenges they face and the conflicts they need to solve arise from this.”

“We have to approach this extremely delicately but I assume there is a profound potential for conflict and drama in everybody’s personality,” he continued. “These characters could act out absurd fantasy experiences or more serious real-life simulations or maybe even Smartphone Orchestra system-led parties in which they meet other and solve challenges together.”

“To be honest what I am pitching here is more the start of a new form of entertainment that includes concept. We can only make this happen by a lot of testing.”

Which he did on us, the audience, in the process entertaining us with the music of our smartphones, determining our psychological profiles and, of course, as he warned us, gathering some of the personal data of everybody in the room.

Creative producer Marieke Nooren (WildVreemd, the company she shares with Hallema) underlined why the pair were in Utrecht. “We are here to make connections, to share ideas and to get feedback. We would like to set this project up internationally so we are looking for international co-producers, partners and festivals.”

Written by Nick Cunningham