Designing Another Future

Freyja Harris
Jul 14, 2020 · 4 min read

An insight into designing a climate futures board game

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At our company retreat in September 2019, we were playing a selection of design futures board games. It was during that gaming afternoon that we started to wonder, whether we were up to the challenge of creating a futures board game and how might we go about it. Later in the year, we set aside some studio time to have a go at creating something.

The outcome is “Another Future” of which the v.1 is currently available to print and play. It is a four-player scenario building game based around the climate crisis. Each player adopts the role of a character, one of four fictional futurists. Players must decide whether they work together or push forward their own agenda in the face of the climate emergency.

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To paint a better picture of why we made the game, and some of the main decisions we made, it’s worth giving a brief insight into our research and design process.

We began looking into the history of board games and found that many games were created to promote specific ‘virtues.’ For example, an early version of Monopoly called ‘The Landlord’s Game’ aimed to promote the virtue that land ownership is unfair, while The Game of Life aimed to promote the virtue of the American Dream — the idea that ‘anyone can make it if they work hard enough.’

Reflecting on this, we thought about the ‘virtues’ we try to promote through our work at Andthen. In this game, we wanted to promote virtues that we feel are synonymous with a futures thinking mindset such as, ‘there are multiple possible futures,’ ‘short-termist attitudes are often damaging in the long-term,’ and that ‘everyone has a different idea of what a preferable future looks like.’

Once we had the foundations for the game we began prototyping mechanisms that could communicate our virtues. With a particular focus on one of the virtues; ‘everyone has a different idea of what a preferable future looks like’, we created four roles for the players to adopt which stem from different ‘archetypes’ of futurists, or viewpoints on how to progress society:

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Hal Bass represents a kind of techno-futurist who believes that everything will be solved just-in-time with technological innovations, and of course, he has a back-up plan of living on another planet.

Arial Pike is a socially driven futurist. She strongly feels that to make any progress on tackling climate change we need political and behavioural change.

Fin Pollock is an economic futurist believing that economic growth can be separated from unsustainable resource consumption and harmful pollution.

Rae Flounder represents an environmental futurist campaigning for re-prioritising the natural world over human life to rebalance the ecosystem.

The aim of the game is to complete a 4x4 grid of tiles which presents a collective future world. To build in the other virtues (‘there are multiple possible futures,’ and ‘short-termist attitudes are often damaging in the long-term’) we experimented with different mechanisms which would create some kind of balance between the players’ long and short term decisions, as well as between the different possible futures each player would be vying to build. Ultimately, we agreed on a couple of mechanisms which supported these virtues:

  • Players need to choose between working alone or working together — working alone is the only way to have a ‘solo victory’ yet significantly increases the chance of all players losing.
  • Some cards significantly advance certain players’ agendas in the short term, but also trigger in-game events which disrupt play and make it harder for all players to beat the game individually or collectively in the long run.

The game is available in a print-and-play format. We plan to work on it further in the near future, so we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

https://www.studioandthen.com/another-future

Andthen

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