Games, play and protest see saws: the BIG meet

Award-winning creative director, Ben Templeton writes about the workshop he organised with the Invisible Arts Network.

The gaming industry is now widely reported to be worth more in revenue than the film and music industries combined. Grand Theft Auto 5 is one of the world’s highest-grossing single pieces of IP, clocking up over $6bn. But the headlines only tell part of the story, because play is fuelling creative practice of all kinds around the globe.

From Playable Cities and Lost Palaces to protest see-saws, water fountains that talk and museum spaces cast as board games, play has broken free from the screen. I first encountered Bare Conductive at an Artful Spark event in 2016. My eyes lit up like the LEDs in Matt’s demo but it’s taken over three years for me to finally get my hands dirty. This is partly a fear of electronics – “I can’t do that!” – and partly waiting for the right opportunity.

The Invisible Arts Network (IAN) is a community of artists, creative technologists and cultural leaders from the Hereford region. In November, the network assembled to unpick the power of play and its role in the arts. Just a week before we gathered with shiny gadgets and creative aspirations, the beautiful red-brick building was a foot deep in floodwater. The River Wye had burst its banks and maintained a lurking presence throughout the day.

Alongside a rundown of the best playful interventions from around the world, I curated a range of hands-on demos, from AR and VR to mobile play, immersive audio and of course physical computing. Participants could play communal Pong on the big screen, observe a life-sized Statue of Liberty, dive with otters, whack moles through a fruity interface and trigger an audio storm all from the comfort of the workshop space.

In only an hour or so of tinkering the night before I’d loaded various demos onto the board and settled on a proximity + audio demo, fuelled by the standard Bare Conductive audio library. With dark storm clouds brewing outside, there was a lovely pathetic fallacy in the sound of rumbling thunder that participants triggered every time they passed the demo table in search of coffee.

Rich Matthews, Head of Development at Rural Media, who hosted the event, took a shining to Bare Conductive’s capacitive touch hardware. “VR steals the headlines at the moment but it’s so refreshing to see how quickly you can put something together with the Touch Board Pro Kit that’s just as captivating. It’s a real light bulb moment for me. This sort of physical interaction can be so much more engaging.”

With the early evening sun shimmering on the swollen River Wye behind us, it was time to pack up the kit and find it a new home. Emma Plover, Young Artist-in-Residence with IAN was the lucky winner of a Touch Board Pro Kit. “It looks really interesting. I’ve not worked with electronics before but it’s something I’d like to try.” Aware that all eyes in the room were on her and the coveted prize, Plover continued: “We can all get together and share it!” Emily Goss, a Digital Futures student at Hereford College of Arts, won a Piing pro-account for the game of her choice, worth £500.

Thank you to all the artists and studios who provided work and made kit available: Bare Conductive, Piing Live, PRELOADED and Silvia Mercuriali. And thank you to everyone who helped facilitate the day: Emma, Rich, Julie, Elle and Simon, and the fab staff at De Koffie Pot.

Author: Ben Templeton

Ben Templeton is an award-winning creative director and facilitator in the field of games and playful technology. He has been the driving figure on innovative, international projects for organisations including LEGO, Tate, Science Museum and the V&A.