Rediscovering Play at the TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace

Every Lego fanatic knows that age is just a recommendation. The same is true of the TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace, the annual exhibit dedicated to futuristic play. Presented in conjunction with the TIFF Kids International Film Festival and running until April 19th, the 2015 iteration of the award-winning digiPlaySpace may be the best one yet, with displays that prove that toys can be as fascinating for adults as they are for children.

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At its core, the digiPlaySpace is about possibility, showcasing pieces that imagine new uses for familiar materials and encouraging visitors to do the same. Pong Invaders Reality may be a straightforward concept – it’s a mash-up of Space Invaders and ping-pong – but its unique combination of physical and digital interactivity makes it unlike anything currently available on a console. Created by Tobias Othmar Hermann, you destroy enemy ships with actual ping-pong balls bounced off a video projected on a blank wall, almost like Ender’s Game as envisioned by Forrest Gump.

The entire digiPlaySpace is filled with equally innovative demonstrations. Thanks to the integration of technology and the maker movement, toy design is advancing so rapidly that it’s impossible to have seen it all before. That’s ultimately what makes the digiPlaySpace so entrancing. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many birthday presents you’ve purchased at Toys ‘R Us. The exhibits at the digiPlaySpace will feel new, punching through the cynicism that naturally develops with age.

It’s a sharp stylistic contrast for those who have become too serious to smile. When kids play, the sheer wonder of the process is often more important than any particular objective. The robot doesn’t need to do what it’s supposed to as long as it does something cool. We forget that as we get older. We pay more attention to form, working to accomplish a goal instead of appreciating the joy of creation.

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The digiPlaySpace puts you back in that more youthful mindset, using technology to show you what could be instead of what is. The technology isn’t necessarily complicated, but it’s all stuff that you’re unlikely to encounter in your everyday consumer life.

Take, for instance, the Pop and Lock Dance Machine by Toronto’s Catshrine, a stop-motion program that makes everyone feel coordinated. Participants strike a series of poses before the photographs get played back as a dance routine that loops as long as you’d care to watch. It’s a clever bit of Vine moviemaking that allows you to view your body and your abilities through a completely different lens, especially if you’ve never considered yourself much of a dancer.

Lieven Van Velthoven’s Headrush combines Kinect with a wearable head tracker to recreate something akin to the Death Star trench run from a first person perspective. In the current build players must duck and dodge trees, buildings, and bridges (any collision lowers your speed), and it’s incredibly responsive and plenty exciting even without TIE Fighters in pursuit.

Other highlights include Marcelo Coelho’s Six-Forty by Four-Eighty, a digital graffiti tool that allows you to paint with giant pixels on a magnetic wall. Every single pixel can cycle through a range of colors depending in the needs of the mural, and you can also copy and paste colors with your fingers in order to save time. Bubl, meanwhile, is a fully 3D camera that creates panoramic images tailor made for virtual reality. With a headset on, the film is played back in all directions, creating the impression that you’re actually skiing down a mountain instead of watching an actor.

Talk like robot

Some of the other exhibits hint at unexpected practical uses for technology. With PILLO Game Lounge, from the appropriately named Pillo Games, players use wired pillows to communicate with each other through a video game. The game asks players to squeeze pillows to perform a series of basic cooperative tasks, an act that is far more soothing than most video game inputs. Like Mouffe, it uses active technology to foster a state of passive relaxation, and the concept could have therapeutic applications in a variety of settings.

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For those looking for more freestyle creativity, the Micro Makers’ Space includes Cubelets and the MOSS Robotics system, modular robotics sets that allow you to design and build your own self-powering robots. The Ototo Sound Lab similarly uses circuits to turn everyday household items into musical instruments. You can follow the instructions or improvise, both with the music and the objects used to create it.

Finally, there’s Australian developer House House’s Push Me Pull You: Dogs, which digiPlaySpace curator Nick Pagee insists should be its own Olympic sport. A cooperative contest that plays like CatDog: The Game, Push Me Pull You pits two adorable two-headed dachshunds (two players per dachshund) against one another in an effort to control a ball. The two dogs can stretch and shrink as necessary, forcing players to work together to generate leverage and run circles around the opponents.

Hitchbot

As for the rest, Micah Scott’s Forest is a stunning light display made in conjunction with students at Ryerson University, while Tangible Interaction’s Visitor lets guests communicate with an alien life form encased in giant, expressive egg. There’s also a robot that hitchhiked all the way across Canada.

But the joy of discovery is part of the appeal, so you’re better off seeing it for yourself. The digiPlaySpace makes for a wonderful afternoon because it’s the rare museum exhibit where you’re allowed to touch everything on display, and that interactivity effortlessly recreates the sense of wonder that you left behind sometime after high school. The exhibit may be designed for kids, but it’s as much for parents as it is for children and is well worth the price of admission.

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As is so often the case, age is just a recommendation.

The TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace is up now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. The exhibit runs until April 19. Tickets are $10.

 

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