What challenges are we going to face in the next 10 years? And what kind of ideas are going to help us in overcoming them?
Even though predicting the future is not a game, a game is exactly what the Institute for the Future used to answer these dilemmas: on 8th October 2008, Jane McGonigal, reasearcher at IFTF launched Superstruct ([ˌsuːpəˈstrʌkt] To build over or upon another structure; to erect upon a foundation), a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) that outlined the world of the future, thanks to the ideas and the collaboration of hundreds of users.

After six weeks the game came to its conclusions, hundreds of ideas, superstructures for our future, guidelines to redefine the world of today and to improve and prepare it for the challenges of the next decade. From big new infrastructure projects to nanotechnology, from overcoming economies of scale to projects of “vertical farming”, everything merged into a final report and finally landed on the desks of Wired (the italian edition of the magazine).
Our story began here, when the folks at Wired called and asked us to visualize the complex net of ideas and assumptions that game’s users produced.

The goal of the project is to engage a broad public in considering the dilemmas we face in our current, everyday lives and think together about resolutions that go beyond the familiar ways of dealing with problems”

Jane Mc Gonigal, Superstruct game designer

The design process

As designers, our work consisted in representing visually all the scenarios and give the viewers a look of what they might expect for the next 10 years. To do that, we followed an initial two-step-analysis:

1. create a logic structure, find patterns and correlations between the different scenarios and semantic areas of the single predictions. IFTF predictions were defined by 7 keywords, at the base of which there were 7 key ideas:

  • Amplified optimism
  • Scale extreme
  • Adaptive emotion
  • Simulation as game
  • Evolvability
  • Collaboration environment
  • Reverse shortage

All the predictions were recorded inside these 7 macro-ideas. Further on they were classified in 5 areas – politics, infrastructures, environment, economy, society – and then clusters of the classified predictions were made inside any of the 5 chosen fields (for example, in the Economy area, predictions of ‘micro-philanthropy networks’ and ‘seed networking’ were clustered under ‘solidarity networks’);

2. arrange the discovered structure to achieve one macro reading orientation. The 5 areas had different degree of abstraction, i.e. the predictions of an area were more abstract than the ones of another, so we have ordered them from the more abstract (politics) to the less (society).

Everything led to the narrative idea. We thought about the story we wanted to tell, and to do that we evoked a precise imagery: the idea came from the retro-futurism of ‘50s when everything seemed possible and the consequences of the smallest transformation were exaggerated on purpose to open people’s mind in wonder.

The project

Basically the map is designed to overlap this allegorical plan of illustration/collage to the semantic level of the network of keywords on top. But probably the most important result we chased for the entire design process was to tell a story made up of multiple tales and not to convey one privileged solution to the audience, in any way: the faraway viewpoint of the Map of the Future communicates our distance from the future and gives the observers a panorama. The aim of this map was to provide a starting point, a common imaginary, to start discussion and analysis on the world to come.