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shape silver blue emotional futures

Emotional Futures, a web-based game that encourages us to reflect on how technologies are used to manipulate & monetise our emotions

Text by Juliette Wallace

Emotional Futures, IRL, 2023. Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation. Photo: Tarek Effat
Emotional Futures, IRL (2023). Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation. Photo credit: Tarek Effat

Red, yellow, blue. Drip, drip, drip. Blue, yellow, red. Drip, drip, drip. Three elixirs are lined up on an altar, the glass vessels that contain them dispatching the mystery liquids at regular intervals into a series of transparent shot glasses. The rumble of Neukölln and its usual commotion – rowdy boozers and noisy kids – is audible from Hermannstrasse, right outside yet seemingly miles away. Across the room, fashionable Berliners and ex-pats in their 20s focus first on themselves and then on each other. Red, yellow, blue again, but this time in their hair. Some have come together as a group or in pairs, others have ventured alone.

Everybody has their phone out, but for once, it’s not to get lost in their curated digital realities but instead as an act of social engagement. The roundness of the room – a re-purposed church with high ceilings and plenty of natural light at the entrance of the local graveyard/communal garden – encourages cross-clique interaction and the shared air of nervous anticipation and mystery unites. Is this a cult? What have we signed up for? It’s not scary, but it’s not not scary.

Someone speaks, stepping forward and addressing the room at large. Then another, then another. Seven in total, each presenting themselves in a single motion following the last; a ripple of reveals. The speakers had blended in by nature of their age and dress – young and hip, like everyone else in the room – making their respective unveilings equally unpredictable. Each person’s spoken sentence – uttered at a slow, controlled pace – like their revelatory action, begins where the last leaves off, creating a round-robin of information that continues until all is divulged. These speakers are part of something, and now, so are we. Their name is IRL, the game is Emotional Futures, and we’re here to play.

If at any point you become uncomfortable or feel as though you’re crossing a personal boundary, you can stop playing. You are in complete control. Your partner is there to help you, but you can step back at any point. This is the final disclaimer. Then: we begin. 

Emotional Futures is the name of an innovative web-based game conceived during The Communes, a hackathon organised in 2021 by Black Swan, an artist-led DAO. IRL, the group responsible for the work, came together as an artist collective during the event in the realisation of Emotional Futures, their first artwork.

They worked closely with LAS – a ground-breaking Berlin-based arts and technology organisation that focuses on challenging our present and questioning our future – in creating the game and in its staging both online and in physical spaces. LAS Art Foundation, a key player in the Berlin info/tech art scene, was also a partner in The Communes. Event Emotional Futures lives on your phone through a downloadable app. Still, the activity’s value is through human interactions in the real world. Players are invited to invest in their emotional futures through exchanges with others that take place under the pretence of an alternative world, a world in which our feelings are converted into exchangeable and accumulative tender: Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Each player is assigned an Emoxy – an alchemical virtual creature – which they are asked to name. This digital creature accompanies them on their journey, evolving at every level. The role of the Emoxy is to invite the player to continue investing in their growth while simultaneously questioning the game’s logic. By allowing their Emoxy to guide them through the game, the player opens up new possibilities and pathways. As levels unlock, possibilities emerge and the player continues to gather currency that feeds their Emoxy, who grows and changes. 

Emotional Futures, IRL (2023). Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation

The process of successfully playing is achieved through sharing, exploring and divulging personal truths and feelings, as the game dictates, that are converted into these previously mentioned liquid tenders. Each individual acquires and loses drops according to their game process. By the end, everyone’s Emoxy is unique and every player’s emotional vault is full to a different degree. The idea? To get people to consider themselves in a consumerist culture where your image (as is the case with “influencers”) and your very make-up – the fluids and feelings that form you – are up for grabs.

The more players interact with Emotional Futures, the more they are encouraged to reflect on how technologies are used to manipulate and monetise their emotions, say IRL. The game is two-fold: it is a springboard for emotional exchanges that delve deep into the human psyche and promote self-exploration of two or more parallel participants but it is also a warning against losing the right to yourself in a world where this is becoming an increasingly worrying reality.

Despite the dystopian premise of the game and the somewhat sect-like setup of the day’s events, the general energy in the room is open, warm and positive. IRL has worked closely with LAS to put on something that straddles both foreboding and welcoming feelings. This can be attributed to IRL and LAS’s sharp organisation skills as well as the groups’ personnel who are helpful and open. The choice of venue and accessories give the final touches, especially the curious multicoloured liquids in the shot glasses that get passed around at regular intervals following the initial sign-up of players to the game.

These shots are, as the reader may at this point have already guessed, the physical representations of the body-fluid currency that propels the game forward (i.e. Blood (red), Sweat (yellow) and Tears (blue)). Having them distributed in a real-world setting like little glasses of magic adds an extra element of excitement and mystery to the game, which, without these touches, would have to rely on its rather primitive digital imagery. 

Whilst the digital imagery is primitive, the game is complex, and players take a little time to get accustomed to the system. However, with a little help from their peers and the LAS and IRL teams, the group gets into a good flow, and the room is audibly buzzing. This is what is so special about the IRL and LAS ‘Emotional Futures’ event in Neukölln – new ideas are being proposed and explored by young, fresh minds that neither ignore the negative nor gloss over it but rather create a real sense of enjoyment and community through stimulating and challenging activities.

The fact that the game and event are so well planned and executed allows for a well-lubricated environment for the full expression of the visitors and their game partners. This is something rather special and the kind of approach and technology that IRL and LAS are using could go on to make some real changes in the world. 

As the day continues, partners and individuals pair up, swap over and, eventually, teeter off, leaving the IRL and LAS teams to clean up and congratulate themselves on a well-done event. Although the players have left the building, the idea is that the Emotional Futures experience does not end when the players exit but, instead, that they continue by themselves in their own homes and spaces through the app and website.

Hopefully, they share with their friends who do the same. The more people who play Emotional Futures, the more open and engaged people will wander around Berlin…Keep an eye out for IRL and LAS’ next projects – they’re bound to be just as surprising and brain-stimulating. 

(Media courtesy of LAS Art Foundation)
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