Lost among many half-baked ideas, the seed for the Hungries surfaced serendipitously, as the Chupacabras—one of the teams participating in a joint Mattel-IDII workshop on play experiences for the next generation—telepathically shared the vision of creating a play experience using the concept of recursion. Although neither the structure nor the aims were very clear at the beginning, the design process took charge of helping the Chupacabras verbalise their findings and insights as well as giving a tangible form to the project.
How to represent recursion and build on that notion to enable novel play experiences? The Hungries are toys indeed, but also can be seen as a system for play that is based on the mathematical concept of recursion, that is, the whole system can be understood as a repetition and reference of itself, as it sports a high level of self-similarity at the physical and behavioural levels.
Creating sets, stacking things, grouping and organising collections are all natural human traits that the Hungries family exploit through the abstract framework of recursion, in order to entice children to engage in creative play adventures, using and stimulating their motor skills, the aural world and their imagination.
From the Little Prince to Hofstadter
To create the Hungries, the Chupacabras drew inspiration from many different sources. An obvious reference for the physical behaviour are matryoshkas as well as sock puppets (toys as containers of hands), the elephant-digesting boa from Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and many others.
In a more abstract level, Douglas Hofstadter’s seminal book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid and George Cantor’s naive set theory have been significantly influential as inspirational and post-inspirational resources in terms of helping the Chupacabras understand the scope, context, affordances and possibilities of the Hungries.
How to build a monster family
Many sketches on paper were drawn and several 3D models put together in the process of defining the behaviour and form factor. The Hungries’ behaviour evolved from that of a complex set of toys with multi-sensorial inputs and outputs to a simpler solution focused on sound recording and mixing. Likewise, character design had undergone many transformations, starting from an over-designed cartoony approach to a more simple, open and expressive set of features and affordances.
Electronic components, elastic fabrics and cuddly stuffing stuff is what holds the Hungries together. 2 prototypes have been produced so far, exploring slightly different functional and aesthetic approaches, a third version is in the works.
The Hungries in a recursive nutshell
What if there are infinite Hungries inside one another with infinite sounds stored and infinite ways of mixing them? Can a big-sized hungry be contained inside a smaller one? Is one creature the same as the whole?
When kids play with the Hungries, they are basically using the algebra of sets to play with intersection, union, complements, subsets and supersets as each monster can be contained inside one another and can also be a container for other toys and even sounds, creating many possiblilites for imaginative play.