“Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation,” wrote British sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey would know a thing or two about what’s to come, seeing as he literally wrote a book called Profiles of the Future. And yet Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson, heads of the Situation Lab and professors at OCAD University in Toronto beckoned their students to do exactly that.
The Thing From the Future is an “imagination game” that places players in the role of prognosticators attempting to dream of those realities yet to come. There are arc cards that create particular scenarios such as “collapse 7 years from now,” terrain cards to define context, object areas that pick an item such as a postcard, and mood cards to, well, set the mood. Winners are decided by consensus.
What ensues—players “competing” to devise whatever they can—is as much jazz improvisation sessions as it is game. One possible outcome was an artifact, called the Child Share Information Kit (tagline: “Because 52 parents are better than two”) which was an information packet for timesharing child-rearing. Another one was a receptacle for trash that let users find out how they’re feeling.
Both Candy and Watson come at games from unorthodox perspectives. Candy is known for his design fiction and serves as a research fellow at the Long Now Foundation. (That’s the same foundation that’s putting a clock that will run on a 10,000-year time scale in an underground facility in West Texas.) Watson is a game designer and recently delivered an apropos definition of games at this year’s Different Games: “Games are semi-regulated situations that unfold over time and resolve based on the creative participation of one or more players.” The “creative participation” is the raison d’etre of The Thing From the Future and gives players enough guidelines to invent freely on their own.
“We’re saying to people, there are a million different possible prompts in this deck,” Candy said. “And you can take any one of them and run with it and delight and desire and provoke and dismay people with it.”
The Thing from the Future is available for $40 CAD from the Situation Lab website.