Superstruct: The world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game

James Egan
J. Egan|10.06.08

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Superstruct: The world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game
Forget what you typically expect from your average client-based MMO. In fact, the title you're going to read about here differs markedly from the type of game we normally cover at Massively, but that makes it no less interesting. Superstruct is truly something different -- a futuristic alternate reality game that launches today (October 6) and lasts only 6 weeks, developed by a team at The Institute for the Future (IFTF) -- a not-for-profit think tank based in Palo Alto, California. For lack of a better, and less inflammatory, description, Superstruct is a thinking person's MMO, and is in many respects a social experiment; the game is an attempt to harness the collective intelligence and problem-solving abilities of its playerbase to make forecasts about the world's future and its escalating problems.

In fact, Superstruct bills itself as the world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game, with the tagline: Play the game. Invent the future. Despite being set in 2019 and looking forward to world issues that will become crises 20 years beyond that, Superstruct's genre is more futurist than sci-fi. Superstruct doesn't feature the traditional game elements we've come to expect from a massively multiplayer title. Instead, it fosters new ways for players to work together, testing out their ideas and strategies in a creative, collaborative brainstorming experiment that spans different mediums. Plausible future scenarios will be posited to the player base, challenging them to really think and produce compelling responses to the events in the game.

A September 22, 2019 press release for the game states: "Based on the results of a year-long supercomputer simulation, the Global Extinction Awareness System (GEAS) has reset the 'survival horizon' for Homo sapiens - the human race - from 'indefinite' to 23 years." Taking that idea further, the Superstruct premise is that between 2040 and 2050, five immediate threats to the future of the human race have emerged and will lead to the collapse of society as we know it. You, as the player, get to immerse yourself in and flesh out the near-future setting of 2019 as you grapple with these issues, expressing your views through forums, blogs, videos, photos, comics, art, and wikis. Virtually any mode of conveying your ideas contributes to the collective pool of thoughts and solutions.

Players add their blogs and sites to the Superstruct Wiki and can also follow along with what's happening on the Superstruct Facebook page. They 'superstruct' or build upon previously established foundations to deal with the the game's vision of the world in 2019:

"Super-threats are massively disrupting global society as we know it. There's an entire generation of homeless people worldwide, as the number of climate refugees tops 250 million. Entrepreneurial chaos and "the axis of biofuel" wreak havoc in the alternative fuel industry. Carbon quotas plummet as food shortages mount. The existing structures of human civilization-from families and language to corporate society and technological infrastructures-just aren't enough. We need a new set of superstructures to rise above, to take humans to the next stage."

Within this paradigm, there are five categorized 'superthreats' that players will deal with: pandemic disease (Quarantine), collapse of the global food system (Ravenous), a world divided by its alternative energy technologies (Power Struggle), dystopian scenarios where the escalation of cyber crime is compounded by privacy-nullifying surveillance technology (Outlaw Planet), and the diaspora of refugees fleeing climate change and war (Generation Exile).

Our existing societal structures can't deal with these impending catastrophes, thus challenging players to take on the role of their future selves and create superstructures that prolong humankind's existence. If these issues seem daunting for a game, not to worry. As an individual player you're not expected to have the answers, but collectively, you just might come up with a few.

Superstruct is the brainchild of Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research & Development at IFTF, and Kathi Vian, Director of IFTF's Ten-Year Forecast Program. McGonigal, perhaps best known for her work on the I Love Bees campaign for Halo 2, writes that there are also honorary game masters for Superstruct, a roster that includes notable authors and visionaries in the tech industries thrown into the mix:

• Tim Kring, creator of the NBC TV series HEROES
• Warren Ellis, superhero comic book author and novelist
• Tara Hunt, social network expert and author of The Whuffie Factor
• Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and essayist
• Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia
• Ze Frank, funniest person on the Internet
• Chris DiBona, Open Source program manager for Google
• Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media
• and more surprise guests to come!

These game masters will give out honors to their favorite superstructures at the end of the game, on November 17th. If we've sparked your interest in this game, read on for Global Extinction Awareness System video footage showing the different scenarios players will encounter, followed by a simple video tutorial by Jane McGonigal on how to play Superstruct.

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