Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commoning

Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commoning
World Game Seminar at New York Studio School (1969, New York). Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries Special Collections

»Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone« Buckminster Fuller[1]

»Imagine a future where cities are modeled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games« – Ekim Tan[2]

In recent years there has been a major upsurge in theories around and prefigurative experimentation with various alternative institutional models (e.g. commons-based urban co-governance, platform cooperativism, alternative currencies,[3] universal basic assets,[4] circular economy) that challenge the unquestionability of the neoliberal narrative[5] and reflect and integrate to various degrees new and old ideas about possible alternative forms of societal and political economic organization. The many (political) challenges associated with the uptake, experimentation with and scaling of such path-deviant models have prompted parallell developments of more nuanced theories around innovation and institutional change,[6] as well as the articulation and development of novel techniques, tools and platforms that may help incite and facilitate transformations towards sustainability.

With regard to the latter, sustainability foresight is increasingly recognized as a key component. Foresight in short entails various typically participatory and transdisciplinary engagements – e.g. in the form of creating visions, scenarios, backcasts and transition pathways – that help actors better understand and account for possible futures and the processes of change, so that wiser preferred futures and pathways can be created.[7] Additionally, developments in experiential futures and speculative design,[8] generative city gaming[9] and internet and communications technologies (ICTs) enabled network foresight[10] have begun to outline exciting new possibilities of more engaging, strategic, cross-scale, multi-actor, collaborative and anticipatory (i.e. futures oriented) forms of deliberation, cosmopolitan city-making and governance.

Two concepts crucial to zoom in here are anticipatory governance and global foresight commoning. Anticipatory governance may denote practices that involve tools, systems and open knowledge platforms that empower futures-inquiry and futures-making by enabling the smaller and larger scale pre-imagining and exploration of dynamics of change and near and distant future possibilities and in turn informing the development of strategies, pathways, policies, designs and experiments.[11] Global foresight commons has been taken up by some scholars as a concept denoting »a network of globally distributed and shared resources between people, institutions, businesses and other communities, which provides an increasing and useful pool of knowledge, ideas and capabilities that potentiate all of humanity’s capacity to think about shared futures in effective ways.«[12]

While as of yet largely speculative and/or experimental, in very recent years projects have emerged that may be considered as prefigurations or components of more integrated, cross-scale, polycentric and collaborative foresight, knowledge, design and governance supporting systems, i.e. systems that support »wiki-commoning«,[13] social innovation, policymaking, socio-technical-ecological transition design[14] and reflexive transition management.[15] Interesting existing examples of such projects include:

  • Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: a repository that maps more than a hundred initial case studies, and allows, by means of a questionnaire-type interface, for the crowdsourcing of ‘seeds’, i.e. initiatives, at least in prototype form, that represent diverse »social, technological, economic, or social–ecological ways of thinking or doing.«[16]
  • TRANSIT Critical Turning Points: a platform that contains a database and global map of social innovation initiative case studies, and an overview of ‘critical turning points’; i.e. the »breakthroughs, setbacks, and surprises« concerning their emergence and development.[17]
  • Open Futures Library: a »publically contributed, indexed, searchable collection of future scenarios and other images of the future.«[18]
  • Play the City: a transdisciplinary research organization and online platform that researches, develops with urban stakeholders, and offers a database of games around issues such as urban transformation, social change, smart cities, and sharing and circular economy.[19]
  • Foresight Engine: a »platform for engaging various publics in rapid conversation about pressing issues of the future, using basic game dynamics to make it fun and encourage participation.«[20]

The Co-Cities project’s ( platform may also be regarded as a possible prefigurative constitutent of such systems, which, much akin to Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, counts more than a hundred initial case studies and offers a global map and questionnaire-based crowdsourcing of new entries, albeit with an explicit focus on forms of collaborative city-making and participatory urban governance, and the teasing out, application and refining of institutional design principles for the urban commons.[21]

Numerous questions regarding such systems however remain, of which, to conclude, I outline some of the most pertinent:

(1) In what ways may such and other (digital and/or face-to-face) tools and platforms complement each other in creating more robust and comprehensive toolboxes, or pooling, co-creative and moderation systems; e.g. linking »seed« case studies, designs, design principles and repositories; existing scenarios and other tools for and ways of expressing, experiencing, exploring, playing and experimenting with possible, plausible, probable, desirable, utopian, dystopian, heterotopic and other alternative futures (e.g. films, games, theatrical performances, comics, interactive virtual reality experiences, and artefacts from the future); with ICT enabled network capabilities; new tool and content generation; transition pathway mapping; »citizen sensing«,[22] simulations of (gl-)urban socio-ecological metabolisms; and value and »strong sustainability«[23] based service and product design; in virtuous cycles of open sharing, co-production, experimentation and co-evolution?

(2) In what ways and by what means can lessons learned from such endeavors be transposed to the real world by trandisciplinary communities of practice?[24]

(3) How can such engagements commensurate different interests, worldviews and ways of knowing, and/or make any inherent tensions, discomforts and knowledge gaps productive?[25]

(4) Whose and what kinds of »transformative capacities«[26] are being and can be developed through the use of such approaches, and how do and can these contribute to smaller and wider transformative change?

(5) In what ways may these approaches represent new »emancipatory and egalitarian modalities of politics«[27] and cosmopolitan forms of city-making,[28] and how may these correspond to (i.e. be in conflict with, compliment, transform) existing institutional and actor constellations, norms, roles, responsibilities and power relations?

(6) What are the useful and appropriate forms of analysis, moderation, transposition, codification and meta-data enrichment of small and larger scale workshop, interview, questionnaire, deliberative poll, scenario, game-play, etc., results, for various applications in open knowledge pooling and (co-)creation?

(7) How can »seeds«, theories of change, design tools, etc., be integrated in the form of engaging game based, network enabled, and other (hybrid?) practices of foresight? How can and/or should the mechanics, design and set-up of these today account for and/or incorporate the politics of transformations towards sustainability?[29]

(8) What kinds of tools can enable the evaluation and (re-)combination (through »bricolage«) and multi-tier scaling (i.e. scaling up, out and deep)[30] of »seeds« or social innovations to foster more future-fit, multi-dimensional and complex socio-ecological systems oriented experiments, transition pathways and institutional alternatives?

(9) Assuming that today radical transformations are necessary to stay within surmisable planetary boundaries,[31] how can the design and set-up of such tools, systems and platforms ensure that co-creation involving different stakeholders is deliberatively yet normatively geared towards path-deviant and more radical innovation, rather than path-dependency and the status quo?

(10) Can immersive and confrontational experiential futures (e.g. confronting actors with ‘voices of future generations’,[32] or undesirable socio-ecological futures extrapolated from scenarios and simulations of continued status quo) accelerate (social, political, economic, etc.) paradigm shifts, and what may be the ramifications of such tactics and strategies?


[1] Fuller, B. (1971). The World Game: Integrative Resource Utilization Planning Tool. World Resources Inventory. Carbondale.




[5] Longhurst et al. (2017) Experimenting with alternative economies: four emergent counter-narratives of urban economic development. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 22, 69–74

[6] Haxeltine et al. (2016). TRANSIT WP3 Deliverable D3.3 – A Second Prototype of TSI Theory.

[7] Inayatullah, S. (2008). Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming. Foresight, 10(1), 4–21.

[8] Dunne, A., & F. Raby (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge & London: MIT Press; Candy, S. (2010). The Futures of Everyday Life: Politics and the Design of Experiential Scenarios (PhD thesis). School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.

[9] Tan, E. (2016) The Evolution of City Gaming. In: Portugali J., Stolk E. (eds) Complexity, Cognition, Urban Planning and Design. Springer Proceedings in Complexity. Springer, Cham; Schouten, B., Ferri, G., de Lange, M. & K. Millenaar (2017). Games as Strong Concepts for City-Making. Playable Cities, Gaming Media and Social Effects; Other interesting examples of ‘commons transition’ games include Utopoly (, Transition Ingredients Cards ( and C@rds in Common (

[10] Ramos, J.M, Mansfield, T. & G. Priday (2012). Foresight in a Network Era: Peer-producing Alternative Futures. Journal of Futures Studies, 17(1), 71–90; Raford, N. (2014). Online foresight platforms: Evidence for their impact on scenario planning & strategic foresight. Technological Forecasting & Social Change (97): 65–76.

[11] Ramos, J.M. (2014). Anticipatory Governance: Traditions and Trajectories for Strategic Design. Journal of Futures Studies, 19(1), 35–52; Boyd, E., Borgstrom, S., Nykvist, B., & I.A. Stacewicz (2015). Anticipatory governance for social-ecological resilience. Ambio, (44): 149–161.; Ravetz, J. (2017). From “smart” cities to “wise”: synergistic pathways for collective urban intelligence, JPI Urban Europe – Urban Transition Pathways Symposium;


[13] Iaione, C. (2016). The CO-City: Sharing, Collaborating, Cooperating, and Commoning in the City. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 75(2): 415-455.

[14] Irwin, T. (2016). Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research. Design and Culture, 7(2), 229–246.

[15] Voß, J., & B. Bornemann (2011). The politics of reflexive governance: challenges for designing adaptive management and transition management. Ecology and Society 16(2): 9

[16] Bennett et al. (2016). Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(8): 441–448.;


[18]; see also Priday, G., Mansfield, T., & J.M. Ramos (2014). The Open Futures Library: One Step Toward a Global Foresight Commons? Journal of Futures Studies, 18(4): 131–142.



[21]; see also

[22] Gabrys, J. (2014) Programming Environments: Environmentality and Citizen Sensing in the Smart City. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(1): 30 – 48

[23] Hobson, K. (2013). “Weak” or “Strong” Sustainable Consumption? Efficiency, Degrowth, and the 10 Year Framework of Programmes. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 31(6), 1082–1098

[24] Cundill, G., Roux, D. J., & J. N. Parker (2015). Nurturing communities of practice for transdisciplinary research, Ecology and Society, 20(2): 22.

[25] Vervoort et al. (2015). Scenarios and the art of worldmaking. Futures (74): 62–70.

[26] Wolfram, M., Frantzeskaki, N., & S. Maschmeyer (2016) Cities, systems and sustainability: status and perspective of research on urban transformations, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (22): 18–25.

[27] Swyngedouw, E. (2016). Unlocking the mind-trap: politicising urban theory and practice. Urban Studies, 54(1): 55-61

[28] Manzini, E., & M. K. M Rithaa (2016). Distributed Systems And Cosmopolitan Localism: An Emerging Design Scenario For Resilient Societies. Sustainable Development, 24(5): 275–280

[29] Patterson et al. (2016). Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1–16; Avelino, et al. (2016). The Politics of Sustainability Transitions. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 18(5): 557–567

[30] Moore, M.-L., Ridell, D. & D. Vocisano (2015) Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep: Strategies of Non-profits in Advancing Systemic Social Innovation. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship No. 58, Large Systems Change: An Emerging Field of Transformation and Transitions (June 2015), 67–84; Olsson, P., M.-L. Moore, F. R. Westley, & D. D. P. McCarthy (2017). The concept of the Anthropocene as a game-changer: a new context for social innovation and transformations to sustainability. Ecology and Society 22(2):31.

[31] Steffen et al. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223): 1259855

[32] Y. Kamijo, A. Komiya, N. Mifune & T. Saijo (2017) Negotiating with the future: incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations, Sustainability Science, 12, 409-420.

Un focus sul gaming applicato ai nuovi modelli di collaborazione tra gli attori operanti a livello urbano, uno sguardo sui progetti sperimentali già attivi a livello internazionale, e alcune domande aperte sui tool digitali che sono emersi e quelli che emergeranno.