On the 31st of May, the warm spring evening in Utrecht welcomed visitors in Impakt, entering a dream-like world matching the lilac sky outside. In the events hall, we enter a dark room scattered with pillows and bean bags, facing a projected screen with the title of the interactive performance-game. “The Great Idle” is a mixed-reality performance by artist Benjamin Pompe that blends live performance with real-time interactive simulation. Visitors could choose whether to experience it online or onsite at Impakt, while traveling to a virtual desert island. We were invited to go to a website through our phones, which asked us to fill in our name, asked where we were located, and told us to await further instructions.
A performer with a motion detection suit stands in front of us and the screen. Once the technicals are in place, we see our performer’s digital twin land on a small piece of land, with dreamy 3D-rendered sand, trees, and a huge sun behind. Our phones ask us questions about the character, the performer reacts, and their movements are mirrored on the screen. They are mostly about surviving, existing, being, on the island – which hats or boots to wear, how is the weather, what kind of berries are ok to eat, how to fish. Each of our decisions is voted on and weighed in, the character will do what we say — I wondered how many paths existed, I remembered the Black Mirror interactive film or the experiences we did with the Hybrid Publishing group in Twine. As the night falls on the island, we enter more of a trippy, hallucinogenic scenario (a mixture of the berries and dreaming?), until we decide it is time to leave the island, the idle time was over.
Idle, idyllic, hybrid: in a dark room, we connected with the character, on the screen and physically, with our phones, and each other there as we rooted for whatever decision we wanted to see happen. I found myself torn between wanting mistakes to happen, chaos, playfully wandering through the wrong paths as we often don’t let ourselves do in real life; and making the right, correct, predictable decisions that are safe and sensible, the sun to shine again. Pope’s immersive experience is one that is accessible, yet not simplistic: at the end, a stream of text contemplates idleness as the island disappears away in the orange horizon. What do we decide to do with our free time? And how does idleness look, sound, feel? This is a performance-game best experienced in a group, fostering that type of intimacy you have when you can just do nothing with someone else.