Sunday, September 28, 2008

Initial Work and Thoughts on Superstruct

So, I just created some stuff for the Superstruct game: a Twitter account (for in-game) and a blog. The Twitter name is grannus (the Gaulish god of healing), and the blog can be found here: I also registered at the wiki site for Superstruct and maybe later this week I can start working on an article or two for that.

The twitting will be for in-game interaction and monitoring. The blog will be an in-game journal of the everyday that also discusses the threats and issues we're dealing with in this particular future. I have a number of ideas for the wiki, including laying out large ideas that people might find useful for the whole problem-solving aspect of things. Still in-game, but building on the character motivation that I've created, which is future-me becoming fed-up with being reactive and wanting to connect with people to consider fresh solutions to all of humanity's big problems.

And by the way, if folks who are not part of the game want to know what the big problems are, there are videos up giving an overview of the superthreats; you can find them here:

Having now seen the videos and the site, and having pondered the scenario, I have a few initial reactions:

1) I found three of the superthreats to be pretty compelling, basically those that deal with food, energy, and climate. I think that partially stems from the fact that they are all connected. Food is a problem partly because of the use of biofuels, lack of fuel makes transporting food more expensive, and the climate has a major impact on growing food. I'm curious if people will pick up on this and how much cross-threat thinking there will be, given the interrelated nature of these three superthreats In the videos, there are a series of questions about each threat that the game is trying to answer. I think that one thing I want to do is to start forming questions that bridge the threats and perhaps allow for solutions to address multiple threats simultaneously. That is probably a bit too bold, but it might be a good thought exercise. . . .

2) The other two threats I found to be a bit contrived, although based on legitimate concerns. The nameless internet terrorists are too amorphous, and the pandemic seems, honestly, too tame. Hopefully both of these will be developed as the game proceeds, but I really want to know why these hackers are doing these awful things, and why the pandemic seems tailored to fit game conditions. I also want to hear more about what the heck "civic rights" are (contrasted, I suppose, with human rights or civil rights?) and why one of these questions implies that we all need to have a national identity or we are like lost children. There are a lot of assumptions about community and the lay of the global political land that I want to take apart and ponder. . . .

3) I've been thinking a lot about how to approach the game, and what I want to accomplish. I am still figuring this out (and will probably post on it later this week), but I realized just today that I want to do more than provide a little background color and some backpatting. I cannot provide large amounts of technical input, but as I look at the scenario overall, and begin to think of how these threats would affect individuals, populations, and places, I begin to see places where I can contribute and provide analysis. It's going to be important to focus on a few things. Some advisory board members are dealing with a specific superthreat, but (as far as I know) I am a generalist, tasked to help keep the game going as a whole and contributing where I think it necessary. My natural inclination is to look at things that other people aren't (which often seems to be an anthropologist's stock-in-trade!) and question things that other people aren't questioning.

But I can't just be reactive. So, I also have to have some goals and limitations in mind. I have three very general goals in mind right now, the first of which is to use the game to see how people construct a threat. Are there particular trends in how people respond initially, and what assumptions do they have about the nature and ramifications of a given threat? The second goal is to observe how people's responses to the threats relate to real-world community conditions and political considerations. Would some ideas really work, for example, given how I know the United Nations system works? The third goal is to provide solutions that relate to what communities and organizations can actually do. My initial application included a vignette of what I thought the world would be like in 10 years, and I tried to base it on what people in my community are doing now and what they might do if things continue to deteriorate. Honestly, I think most of what I wrote is too optimistic, but possible. I want hammer out ideas that could actually be picked up and used by people, based on present conditions with as little pie-in-the-sky thinking as possible.

I think this is hard to do for this kind of experiment. When we talk about the future and work on solutions, we inevitably overlay our worldview and our aspirations on that future, even if specific conditions are already laid out for us, as Superstruct does. While the threat videos presented bad things happening, the sense of threat did not seem too great The GEAS volunteers in the videos often did not give the viewer good news, but their relative detachment from what was happening implied that not everyone was equally affected by the threats. The presence of a cabal of altruistic, well-spoken, observant, apparently bourgeoise reporters who want to find solutions and are already somehow part of a large network of problem-solvers is itself pretty optimistic, although perhaps the creation of something like that is a goal of this experiment? I think that perhaps I also have a fourth goal, which is to ponder the roots of this game and its significance as an event, and to wonder what the formation of the experiment itself means.

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