Worldbuilding and speculative design was a big theme at Sundance New Frontier 2021, and I had a chance to participate in an experience that facilitated a collaborative & deliberative process of worldbuilding that was called Beyond the Breakdown. Created by Tony Patrick, Lauren Lee McCarthy, and Grace Lee, it builds off some of the foundational work and processes developed by Alex McDowell and the USC Worldbuilding Institute. The core idea of worldbuilding is to design the underlying context and structures of society projected out within the context of a future time and place, and then to apply an evolutionary cultural, technological, economic, political model in order to imagine some potential futures from a variety of different perspectives and points of view. In the end, there will hopefully be some common themes and consensus that emerges.
In order to facilitate this process the Beyond the Breakdown collaborators created a simplified teleconference application that replicates the feeling of a group Zoom call. There were six participants who are on this call along with an AI-assistant named Serenity that’s puppeteered by a human off screen. The goal is to project out into the future into 2050, and then have a group discussion that’s catalyzed by a series of prompts provided by the AI assistant. The goal is to find the underlying principles and values that are consistent today and in the future, to imagine a better potential future, and then create a collaborative community dialogue to see where there are common interests and goals so that people can individuals within a community can start to think about what types of actions that can take today in order to make these imaginal futures a reality today.
I’m really excited about the power and potential of democratizing these types of community worldbuilding practices, an especially the potential of using immersive storytelling to actually build out some prototypes of these speculative futures within a virtual environmnt in order to start to prototype the large-scale designs, architecture, and emergent social dynamics of some of these imaginal futures. We’ll be taking a look at some specific examples of this in our next episode on Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.
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