Review: Futurecoast is crowd-sourced science fiction

Storytelling has changed little since the advent of the printing press, despite the technological revolutions of the 20th and 21st centuries. The product is still linear, that is, one damn thing after another, to paraphrase Elbert Hubbard. And stories are largely the product of a single individual, though that person may head a team, such as film director. But artists and designers haven’t given up on non-linear storytelling. One example is Futurecoast, a project by game designer Ken Eklund.

Climate change is at the center of Futurecoast. It assumes a warmed world with rising sea levels that modify the world’s coasts. The world exists in a infinite array of possible futures which appear in the present as “chronofacts” that rain down as “chronofalls.” The facts manifest themselves as elegant, transparent forms that resemble the Spirograph disks I used to play with. The forms are themselves coded messages that one character describes as “leaks in the voice mail system of the future.” In the context of fiction, they are snippets of dialog between future lives that the audience eavesdrops. Individual voice mails are compelling, such as one from a woman in Alaska in 2050 discussing a new house built on a man-made island, or one from 2055 Seattle about a scientist hearing stories from his grandfather describing salmon runs that have gone extinct.

But the audience participation is not passive. Futurecast is a game, and players are encouraged to search out chronofacts, upload a photo of the object to the Futurecoast site for decoding, and even contribute their own voicemail that may enter the future to be leaked later. This kind of active role-playing encourages the audience to think carefully about what their lives might be like in a warmed world and share their imaginings. One feature allows the audience to construct their own timeline, underlining the principle that the future is something humans create, not just experience.

Futurecoast is an experiment in crowd-sourced science fiction, and it falls into the new sub-genre of “climate fiction.” Funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant, the project is not intended for commercial success; I doubt a game publisher could find a way to make money off it. But it’s an excellent attempt at a new way to reach an audience, particularly young people, with few options to learn about climate change in a mode different that sensational journalism or doom-and-gloom warnings from gray-haired scientists.

3 thoughts on “Review: Futurecoast is crowd-sourced science fiction

  1. Joe, nice post but one quick question: even the creators of this game have called it in their own words and press release “participatory cli fi” and yet you call this sci fi. Why? I thought you were part of the cli fi community of novelists but not once do you mention cli fi here. did i miss something? this game is not sci fi, it is cli fi, or even some prefer cli fi as a subgenre of sci fi, sure, but why not use the genre term of cli fi, rather than calling it by the longer term of climate fiction? It does not compute. can you explain to this old man. confused by your approach here. you seem to be distancing yourself as much as you can from the cli fi community that has embraced your new novel. — cheers, dan

    re get me rewrite:

    [Futurecoast is an experiment in crowd-sourced, participatory cli fi, and it falls into the rising new fiction genre of “cli fi .” ]

    No?

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    • I love the term “cli-fi” and I’ve used it several times on my blog. It’s absence in this post is not indicative of a change of heart.

      Like

  2. LISA D syas This discussion makes me think of music, and how there are hundreds of categories to define, what is basically just music. You’ve got electro-clash, break-beats, dub, ska, reggae, dance hall, acid jazz and so-on. So, what the emergence of cli-fi for literature is doing, is much like music fans seeking out styles they enjoy. Now, books with climate change at the infrastructure of the story can stand-out from the ocean of general fiction and the lake of science fiction. Readers can more easily find climate change themed books.

    I’m about to proudly join the new genre of cli-fi with the release of my first book ‘In Ark: A Promise of Survival’ in April 2014, a tale about a woman who gets abducted by an eco-survivalist community. I’m referencing this new work as cli-fi in all my promotional materials, and wish there was a cli-fi category I could list it with on Amazon (someday, someday!) The cli-fi category is already helping me link in with a global community of people interested in this type of literature. Without the cli-fi term, I probably couldn’t find these likeminded individuals as easily, as they would probably be swimming in the science fiction lake.

    As a new author, the new genre is giving me support and exposure that I greatly welcome. Thanks for bringing attention to cli-fi

    Like

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