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'Superstruct' findings could help us prepare for grim future

The Institute for the Future has released the first results based on its award-winning 2008 alternate-reality game, "Superstruct."

The Institute for the Future has released its initial findings from its alternate-reality game, Superstruct. Institute for the Future

Last year, the Institute for the Future created an alternate-reality game, Superstruct, designed to crowdsource scenarios to try to save humanity from fictional "superthreats" discovered in 2019 that are thought to mean the end of humanity by 2042.

Now, the IFTF has issued its first findings from the 1,000-plus stories, 500-plus discussions, and 500-plus "superstructures" created by the worldwide community of the game's players, and while there's some reason for hope, there's also a lot to be pessimistic about.

In a report issued Wednesday evening, Superstruct's program director, Kathi Vian, lead scenario designer, Jamais Cascio, and lead game designer, Jane McGonigal, that they had crunched the community's collective submissions and settled on three main scenarios.

First, "The Long crisis," which "plots a path of slow response, resistance to change, and attempts to maintain current power relationships."

Second, "Emergence," which "follows a course of rapid adaptation from the bottom up, without much unifying direction."

And finally, "The great transition," which "envisions a world remade by technology, a challenge to the planetary dominance of humans as a species."

"All these scenarios are troubling," the report concluded. "They challenge us to ask hard questions about the choices we're making today and are likely to make tomorrow. They disabuse us of utopianism. But perhaps they also inspire us to think beyond our current tracks, to search for the breakthrough ideas that will provide a fourth, fifth, or tenth scenario."

"The Long Crisis" posits a timeline starting in 2010 and ending in 2060 that spells out a series of grim climate changes, as well as a general deterioration of geopolitical stability and the human condition.

Yet, the report also has some hopeful conclusions about general human behavior.

"Superstructing means reinventing our tools and processes, our organizational structures, and even our concepts of cooperation and collaboration," the report's summary reads. "So how do we know when we're on the right track? How do we know when we've gone beyond the best practices of contemporary organizations to superstruct our projects?"

The conclusions are varied, but the IFTF summed them up in five pithy, bullet-pointed sections that are expanded upon in the report's summary. Briefly, though, the report's authors wrote:

"You'll know you're superstructing when you've achieved: More and different participation."

"You'll know you're superstructing when you begin to implement what once were: Nearly inconceivable possibilities."

"You'll know you're superstructing when you're inventing and testing: Smaller and bigger practices."

"You'll know you're superstructing when you are creating: Stranger and more shareable products."

"You'll know you're superstructing when you are designing and participating in: New and world-changing processes."

There's much more about the results of the months of data-crunching in the report itself, which is easily found online. All told, though, I suppose the findings shouldn't be all that surprising. We can all see the direction the world is heading and the urgent necessity for massive intervention. Yet any such intervention is made difficult by the political, military and physical challenges involved in implementing them.

Still, while purely fictional, the point of Superstruct, and the value in the findings, is that we should now have a little bit better sense of what's coming, and perhaps, how to stave off the things we don't want.