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THE FUTURE IS FICTION: PLAYFUL FUTURE-THINKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE WITH FUTURECOAST

February 4, 2014

A Chronofact from FutureCoast.

A Chronofact from FutureCoast.

Sometime in the near future(s), something will go awry with the voicemail system sending messages spiraling back through time, a phenomenon that is being referred to as “chronofall.” These messages take the form of small, elegant crystalline structures referred to as “chronofacts” that can be decoded to reveal a taste of life in the future. But these chronofacts aren’t just coming from “the” future: chronofacts carry voicemails from the cloud of all possible futures: happy futures, bleak futures, unimaginable futures. A new project called FutureCoast and its “Coaster” enthusiasts seek to collect as many chronofacts as possible, with the goal of cataloging and organizing them into coherent glimpses of the possible futures awaiting us. And when the next big chronofall happens in February, they’re going to need your help.

FutureCoast, set to launch on February 5th, 2014, is the latest project by veteran game designer Ken Eklund. Like its predecessors World Without Oil and Ed Zed Omega, FutureCoast aims to open the doors wide to a new kind of conversation about the world we live in. This time, the subject is one of the most polarizing topics, the kind of thing you don’t usually want to bring up in mixed political company: climate change and one of its key indicators, rising sea levels.

Climate change, its effect on polar ice, and rising sea levels are topics that spawn impassioned opinions and difficult discussions from many different scientific and political angles. The heart of the FutureCoast design seeks to create a playful, inclusive common ground where information and idea sharing happens, where everyone’s thoughts about the future have a place, and where a meaningful dialog and a common ground can be created to replace the animosity that these topics can evoke.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Columbia University’s Polar Partnership. Eklund dates the idea of FutureCoast back to a conversation with Dr. Stephanie Pfirman, Professor of Environmental Science at Columbia, in 2009. Dr. Pfirman, interested in the idea of World Without Oil, wondered what a climate change game look like, and Eklund began working on prospective ideas for a WWO-like game that would encourage conversation about climate change and rising sea levels. FutureCoast was accepted into the NSF grant, and work on the project began in earnest in 2011.

FutureCoast‘s structure is almost “retro” in its conception, elegant in its simplicity yet with the potential for powerful collaborative storytelling to take place. The premise of the overarching story hinges on voicemails that filter to our present from the near or distant future(s) that can be decoded, collected, and shared. FutureCoast invites its audience to pluck their personal vision from among all the possible futures and share it in a voicemail. The audience will also be able to create playlists – mix tapes, Eklund playfully calls them, and officially named “Timestreams” – by choosing amongst the voicemails and piecing them together into a kind of narrative of the future. Through FutureCoast, players have the ability to both create the future and to curate it in meaningful ways.

 

Ed Zed Omega: A Serious Game Visualizing New Approaches to Education

August 17, 2012

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“There’s this expression, “zed omega.” It means “so over.” When you go zed omega, you are done.”
–Ed Zed Omega Revealed 

When it comes to public or private education, everyone has an experience, everyone has a story, and everyone has an opinion. The internet is rife with pointed discussions about the problems in education, and full of suggestions on how to solve them. While education issues vary broadly from state to state and nation to nation, they share at least one commonality: solutions tend to be easy to propose but difficult to implement. Education reform is an ongoing conversation amongst government officials, educators, and the public, and conversations between these groups are often politically charged and riddled with miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Andi McDaniel and Ken Eklund have brought something new to the conversation about education with their freshly-launched project, Ed Zed Omega. The project focuses on a set of voices that often gets lost in the cacophony that pervades the education discussion: the voices of those most directly affected by our education systems, the people currently subject to the state of “being educated.” Ed Zed Omega features the stories of six fictional teens who have decided that they are done with education, and that they’re not going back. Their guidance counselor, Mary Johnson, has convinced them to use the time they would have spent in school to complete one more assignment, exploring solutions to the problems they perceive in education. Ed Zed Omega launched on August 15, 2012 and will run through November 15, 2012 to follow their journey.

Several people and organizations are involved in the creation of Ed Zed Omega. The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) put out a call to producers working on innovative storytelling through their Localore initiative. Ken Eklund and Andi McDaniel were matched up through Localore to create a proposal for one of ten projects to be featured by AIR/Localore. The project is funded through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPC) and presented by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT).

Eklund is no stranger to interactive narratives and serious games. In 2007, he created World Without Oil, the award-winning alternate reality game that jump-started a conversation about a near-future crisis where oil was in short supply. McDaniel is an interactive media producer for TPT, and her work in photography, print, radio and video span a wide range of topics and themes. When the pair first got together to start discussing their proposal, they didn’t know that the focus would be education. However, TPT had historically done programming for kids and parents, as well as several documentaries on education. The subject of the high school dropout rate came up – 1.2 million kids dropping out of school every year for myriad reasons – and Eklund and McDaniel recognized the narrative power of teens who have disengaged with the education system. They envisioned the Zed Omegas, teens who feel let down by education and who want to try something different. They call it “dropping out loud.”