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by Catherine Battey
June 11th, 2014

Emotional Arcade wants you to trade in the plastic joysticks and paper tickets at the corner store arcade for a different kind of gaming experience.

We spoke with Brent Hoff, the creator of Emotional Arcade, about his inspiration for the project, participant reactions, and the importance of sharing emotions in today’s emoticon world.]

See it in action at Love Hurts (Short Films) this Saturday night at Industry City!

When we first read about the Emotional Arcade, it sounded really amazing but also a little unbelievable! Without giving away the magic, can you tell us a little bit about how it works?

The Emotional Arcade is an interactive installation where experiencers The Emotional Arcade is an interactive installation where experiencers  engage in competitive games using their emotions. We connect a variety of technologies, (like pheromone-measuring breathalyzers, specially-altered-EEG headsets, and infrared facial recognition software) to carnival-esque game contraptions which functionally allow you to blow up balloons, shoot flame-throwers, or douse your friends just by feeling a target emotion, – specifically – rage fear, lust, bliss, or chill (which is a letting go of all emotion.) Why? Because there should be one place on the planet where the unrestrained is celebrated.

And because it’s fun.

Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea came from?

Sure! A few years ago I had filmed a short doc / art experiment at the Stanford CNI Lab called “The Love Competition,” in which I put seven contestants in MRI machines and gave them five minutes to “love someone as hard as they can.” From a 72-year-old man loving his wife of 50 years, to a 10-year-old boy who chose to love his new baby cousin, everyone emerged surprisingly moved by the experience. One heartbroken contestant, who had walked into the competition believing he was in still deeply love with his ex-girlfriend, came out arms raised above his head, having realized to his shock that he was totally over her. It was fascinating and awesome and even the neuroscientists were surprised by the way everyone had some sort of deep emotional revelation simply by trying hard to feel that emotion. (watch the film at Emotionalarcade.com) Afterwards, I wanted to find out if other people would have similar revelations with different emotions so, working with my artistic-partner-in-arms Alex Reben, we built the “Emotional Arcade.”

How are participants selected for the Emotional Arcade experiments?

Just come to an event. Anyone who wants to can play.

These experiments are friendly competitions, but it seems you are also experimenting with competitiveness. What are some of the reactions you’ve seen from people who win? And from those who lose?

People definitely gloat when they beat their significant other in a lust competition, and one girl got very mad at how her boyfriend refused to stop playing until he beat her at a love competition. But the way more interesting reactions are when people realize they’re no long pissed at their exes, or that they’re actually lusting over the person next to them. At SXSW, during a lust competition, we had a girl suddenly grab the guy next to her and start making out with him…Her balloon filled and burst faster than any I’d ever seen. (So did the guy’s on the end watching them, actually! Ha!)

You’ve expressed that you want Emotional Arcade to be a place where people can openly express emotion, as there are fewer and fewer spaces to do so. What factors, in your opinion, are making it more difficult to be open with our feelings these days?

Yeah, maybe it’s always been difficult. Maybe it’s just the natural evolution of social species? (Would love to ask da Vinci.) That said, we are a nation that puts three-year-olds on Ritalin for being “squirmy.” Any behavior that does not conform to arbitrary notions of normal is an increasingly medicable offense. And look how we all act like moral gestapo on social media. This is why I no longer get naked and scream poetry in public. It’s sad.

Have you participated in an Emotional Arcade experiment thus far?

I destroy people in chill competitions.

Any new experiments in the works you can tell us about?

I’m working on a series of collaborative games where people have to generate a strong emotion together, (one of which is a couples kissing booth competition)… Also an interactive theater piece which will make sculptures out of your dreams using 3D printers.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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